Mandela went from leading armed struggle to finding a partner for peace

Articles from 1) Tikkun and 2) Al Jazeera. Notes and links on the new International campaign to free Marwan Barghouti and all Palestinian prisoners.

Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk share the 1993 Nobel Peace prize. (The following year it was shared by Yasser Arafat, Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres.) Although Mandela and de Klerk were negotiating over the future of a unitary state, Israeli and Palestinian leaders know that they need a relationship which does not involve fear, humiliation and mass imprisonment – the basics of human rights.

The ‘Peace Process’ Delusion is Worse than Apartheid

By Lev Grinberg, Tikkun
December 17, 2013

Editor’s note: The article below is an important challenge to the major fantasy encouraged by the Obama White House and Sec of State Kerry: that the “peace process” negotiations might yield a reasonable outcome. Lev Grinberg shows why that is very unlikely. Yet it might come up with a proposed settlement that some in the West will think is quite reasonable. In the Winter 2014 issue of Tikkun we lay out a detailed plan that is the minimum acceptable plan for actually providing a plausible and lasting solution. If you don’t yet subscribe or haven’t joined the Network of Spiritual Progressives, please do so now at Meantime, read Grinberg’s insightful article below!

The death of Nelson Mandela, a major hero of the struggle for freedom and equality in the 20th century, has generated a host of strange and curious comparisons and interpretations. Strangest of all is the one crowning Mandela as the leader of the non-violent struggle. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not have been alone in upholding this distorted notion, but in his case, the political intention is unmistakable: to wit, the reason why the Palestinians are unable to achieve their coveted liberty and equality is that they do not have their own Mandela to lead a non-violent struggle. Such interpretation reflects not ignorance, but a deliberate deception. Mandela’s struggle should be reviewed and compared to the Palestinian struggle in order to understand both the similarities and the differences between them. It is thus worthwhile to consider briefly the link between violence and liberation.

Mandela won his senior position when he decided to lead an armed struggle in South Africa, and established the military branch of the African National Congress. Going underground, he then led terror and sabotage operations against the apartheid regime, for which he was sentenced to life in prison. Twenty-seven years later he was released to conduct negotiations with South Africa’s State President Frederik William de Klerk, designed to put an end to the apartheid regime. De Klerk managed to bring the Whites around to concede a regime of White supremacy and privilege, do away with inter-racial segregation, and accept the principle of equal voting rights for Blacks and Whites. Such concessions were the result of not only the armed struggle, but of the apartheid regime’s mounting unpopularity and of the economic and political boycott imposed on South Africa. In other words, it was only when the White elites of South Africa felt the direct impact of these sanctions that de Klerk was able to convince them that they should renounce apartheid and their privileges. It is important to realize that without violent struggle, the Blacks of South Africa would never have won recognition. But armed struggle alone is not enough, because the powers ruling the State are always more powerful, organized and better equipped. International pressure is therefore necessary. The more international pressure, the less violence is required.

Could an analysis of Black struggle in South Africa teach us something about the Palestinian struggle? I believe that it can, despite the differences between the two regimes in terms of the nature of segregation and types of privileges.

Palestinian violence did engender international pressure during 1988-1992, which resulted in Israel’s recognition of the PLO in 1993. Following this recognition, Yasser Arafat committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and got Mandela’s blessing for it. Unfortunately, mutual recognition has led matters in the opposite direction – to an upgraded version of Israel’s military and economic control and oppression.

Marwan Barghouti at his trial for murder in 2003. He was a leading figure in the first and second intifadas. In 2004 he received several life sentences and has been in an Israeli prison since.

The reason for this is that Israelis, along with the rest of the world, imagined that the sheer act of recognition was the end of the process, rather than its beginning. The world stopped putting pressure on Israel, the Arab boycott was lifted, and every country in the world, including Russia, eastern Europe, China, and the Asian and African continents, have opened their gates for commerce with Israel. Israelis, too, have bought into the peace delusion, turning their attention to internal struggles over Israel’s ‘civic’ agenda, choosing to close their eyes to the doubling and later tripling of the Jewish population in the Occupied Territories. And when the Palestinians resorted to violence once again as diplomacy failed in 2000, Israelis were surprised and disappointed, and supported escalating oppressive violence. Simply put, when the world does not put pressure on the oppressive regime, the privileged group has no motivation to make any concessions. A cyclic routine of violence was thus created, erupting from time to time but never achieving anything beyond mutual bloodshed and destruction.

The result of the ‘Peace Process’ delusion has been worse than South African apartheid; more accurately, it was the realization of South African Whites’ frustrated plans: the division and fragmentation of the Palestinians into several separate and segregated areas under various regimes of control and oppression. This was the objective of the failed Bantustan Plan of the South African apartheid regime. Fearing that Israel was pushing him into accepting Palestinian Bantustans, Arafat declared that he would resist the plan, but without international support, his struggle failed. Israel has managed to effectively divide the Palestinians into five different discrimination regimes: the Arab citizens of Israel; the residents of East Jerusalem; the inhabitants of the West Bank; the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip; and the Palestinian refugees who are outside Israel’s control. Each of these groups is controlled in a different manner, so that its political struggle has taken a different shape. The Palestinians are thus unable to unite, and it is eminently clear that without massive international support, they can never break free from Israel’s iron grip. Violence on its own can only lead to another round of pointless bloodshed.

It is important to understand that this is not about the Palestinians not having a Mandela to lead them; Israeli prisons are home to a number of nationally recognized and respected Palestinian leaders. Rather, it is about Israel having no de Klerk to liberate them, and to negotiate towards putting an end to a regime of Jewish privileges. And without de Klerk, even Mandela would have died in obscurity.

Professor Lev Grinberg is the author of Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine – Democracy vs. Military Rule (Routledge, 2010) and Imagined Peace; Discourse of War.

[1] This article was published as an oped in Hebrew (Haaretz December 15, 2013) and translated by Orit Friedland

Cut from the same cloth: Mandela and Barghouti

Often called the ‘Palestinian Mandela’, Marwan Barghouti’s political trajectory is eerily similar to the late leader’s.

By Micah Reddy, Al Jazeera
December 14, 2013

One thing that we can be sure of is that Mandela’s death will be followed by historical whitewashing on a grand scale. It is already happening.

We have seen an unprecedented outpouring of global grief as world leaders looked to the southern tip of Africa to offer their condolences; some a little more disingenuously than others. Even the embattled Bashar al-Assad took a moment inbetween the shelling and slaughter in Syria to offer his sympathies, saying (apparently with a straight face) that Mandela’s life taught a lesson to oppressors.

That Mandela has been eulogised by pretty much every single world leader can be seen as a testament to his abilities as a reconciling leader and pragmatic statesman. But it is also because the memory of a complex life like Mandela’s offers a lot to pick and choose from and, however consciously or subconsciously, his legacy will no doubt be neutered by those with uncomfortable truths to hide.

Mandela the “Black Pimpernel”, the co-founder of an armed resistance movement who uncompromisingly supported the right of the oppressed to resist, will be tamed and tempered before entering the official history books. His legacy may be hollowed of its radical content and reduced to a few saccharine words – love, compassion, forgiveness.

When Conservative Party voices in the UK gush over Mandela’s legacy they are careful to skirt around the awkward fact that they were no friends of the ANC during some of its most trying times, Thatcher having famously dismissed the movement in 1987 as “a typical terrorist organisation”. Those on the right in both the UK and the US, have yet to face up to their complicity in apartheid.

Israel’s amnesia

But the worst case of selective amnesia was seen in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu, who responded to the death of Mandela by saying, “He was the father of his nation, a man of vision, a fighter for freedom who avoided violence. He was a humble man who provided a personal example for his nation during the long years he spent in prison.”

Mural of Marwan Barghouti in handcuffs, one of his many public portrayals on Palestinian walls. Photo by AP

Predictably, there was no acknowledgement of the historical alliance between apartheid South Africa and Israel. In 1948, when both apartheid and the state of Israel came into being, the two countries would hardly have seemed likely bedfellows – just a few years earlier Afrikaner Nationalist leaders had openly been emulating Hitler and supporting the German war machine. But over time Israel would draw ever closer to South Africa and the two pariahs would close ranks against a tide of international opinion.

While Mandela and his fellow Robben Islanders were locked away, the two states co-operated economically and militarily, with Israel playing a crucial role in busting the sanctions imposed on South Africa. Testimonies by Israeli agent-turned-Hollywood billionaire Arnon Milchan, as well as a recent book by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, show strong evidence for secret nuclear cooperation, too.

And even as South Africa’s right-wing allies in the West were falling by the wayside, Israel tried to maintain close ties with the National Party. For the Israeli leadership, it seemed, no amount of apartheid brutality was distasteful enough for them to question their relationship with South Africa. And to do so, would only have invited charges of hypocrisy and some very uncomfortable self-reflection.

It was only in the late 1980s that Israel, pushed by its Western backers, reluctantly started to put a little distance between itself and the apartheid regime. When Mandela was released soon afterwards, one of the first leaders he decided to meet was Palestine Liberation Organisation Chairman Yasser Arafat. Mandela told the Palestinians “there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO. We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel.”

By this time, the first Intifada had erupted and Palestinians had brought the struggle for independence closer to home, no doubt encouraged in some ways by the resistance to apartheid. It was the Intifada that catapulted Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti to prominence. The 54-year-old Barghouti, who has widely been referred to as the Mandela of Palestine, is likewise “a fighter for freedom who avoided violence”, to borrow Netanyahu’s words.

Leading from prison

Barghouti’s political trajectory so far looks startlingly similar to the one Mandela took. Barghouti too was faced with an intransigent state that answered legitimate, non-violent resistance with repression. By the time of the second Intifada, which began in 2000, Barghouti was in charge of Fatah’s armed wing. In 2002, he was arrested and later handed down five life sentences, spending three years in solitary confinement.

Behind bars, he commands tremendous respect among Palestinians who look to him as a unifying figure. He is seen as the only leader who could bridge the seemingly intractable Hamas-Fatah divide, and this is the real reason Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders fear him. It is not because he is a diehard extremist of any kind – long before his imprisonment he showed a very real willingness to engage with Israelis; he has been critical of attacks on civilians while holding firm to his belief in popular resistance; and he has called for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. And it is for these reasons that Barghouti offers the best hope for a just and lasting peace. He may yet succeed Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president from behind bars.

Recently, Ahmed Kathrada [above], who was jailed alongside Mandela at Robben Island, launched a campaign to free Barghouti and all political prisoners*. Roughly 5,000 Palestinians, many of them minors, remain in Israeli jails, where they are often deprived of the right to a fair trial. If Netanyahu is serious about peace – and we have no reason to believe that the Israeli government is acting any less cynically than usual in this latest round of negotiations – then he should release Barghouti unconditionally.

As Kathrada said, not doing so would “[disregard] what has proven to be the case in other conflicts – that prisoners, once released, can be instrumental in achieving peace. The unconditional release of political prisoners is a powerful signal that the hardened enemies of yesterday are finally ready to become peace partners today.”

Leaders from across the world have gathered for Mandela’s funeral and the occasion offers an important opportunity for global dialogue. Obama, Abbas, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have all made it down to South Africa, but Netanyahu did not attend, speciously citing financial reasons. It makes his tribute to the departed freedom fighter sound all the more astonishing in its hollow hypocrisy.

Micah Reddy is a South African freelance journalist based in Cairo.

Notes and links

Historical Event on Robben Island: Launch of the International Campaign for the freedom of Marwan Barghouthi and all Palestinian prisoners

On the 26th of October 2014, the 24th anniversary of his release from prison, anti-apartheid hero Ahmed Kathrada announced the launch of an International Campaign for the Freedom of Marwan Barghouthi and All Palestinian Political Prisoners. Kathrada was himself the initiator of the first Free Mandela Campaign after Nelson Mandela’s arrest in 1962. He was himself arrested a year later.

Kathrada explained that an International High Level Committee which will champion the campaign for the freedom of Marwan and all Palestinian political prisoners will be announced at the campaign launch. This committee will include five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The call for the establishment of this committee was made by Ahmed Kathrada at an international “Freedom and Dignity” conference held in Palestine in April at the occasion of the 11th anniversary of Marwan’s arrest.

Following the Robben Island launch, there will be public events in Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Having himself spent 26 years imprisoned under the South African apartheid state, Kathrada’s story has many similarities to that of Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.

Marwan Barghouthi was the first member of the Palestinian Legislative Council to be arrested by the Israeli regime. He spent nearly two decades of his life in Israeli jails, including the last 11 years. Known as the Palestinian Mandela, he is a unitarian widely popular figure and the most prominent of nearly 5 000 Palestinian political prisoners who remain incarcerated in Israeli jails.

As the release of Mandela and anti-apartheid prisoners was instrumental in achieving freedom and coexistence, the freedom of Marwan Barghouthi and all Palestinian political prisoners would pave the way towards freedom of the Palestinian people and peace.

Don’t hesitate to like and share the Facebook page of the International campaign to free Marwan Barghouti and all Palestinian prisoners

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