Injustice is human; but more human still is the war against injustice.
The long walk to South Africa’s freedom is marked by two immensely tragic events: the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the Soweto Uprising in 1976, both of which led to the galvanizing of internal and international resistance against the apartheid regime. Ultimately, these events would lead to the long-called for release of Nelson Mandela and to the end of one of the most inhumane systems the world has ever seen.
Without Sharpeville and Soweto, among other landmarks towards victory over settler colonialism, South Africa would still be ruled by a minority of fanatic, white settlers claiming to fulfill the word of (their) God.
Palestine’s long walk to freedom has gone through similar harrowing events, beginning with the 1948 Nakba to the latest eight-day onslaught on Gaza.
In order to understand Gaza in 2012, one ought to trace its origin back to 1948. Two thirds of the Palestinians of Gaza are refugees who were kicked out of their cities, towns, and villages in 1948. In After the Last Sky, the late Palestinian thinker Edward Said argues that every Palestinian knows perfectly well that what has happened to us over the last six decades is “a direct consequence of Israel’s destruction of our society in 1948...”
The problem, he argues, is that a clear, direct line from our misfortunes in 1948 to our misfortunes in the present cannot be drawn, thanks to “the complexity of our experience.”
At 139 square miles, Gaza is the largest refugee camp on earth, a reminder of the ongoing Nakba. The inhabitants of Gaza have become the most unwanted Palestinians, the black heart that no one wants to see, the “Negroes” of the American south, the black natives of South Africa, the surplus population that the powerful, macho, white Ashkenazi cannot coexist with.
Hence the calls to “flatten” Gaza and “send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”
In 2008-9, Gaza was bombed by Apache helicopters and F-16 jets for 22 days, killing more than 1400 civilians. As if that was not enough, Israel decided to return to Gaza in 2012 and repeat the same crimes in eight days, this time killing more than 175 civilians and injuring 1399. These are massive losses for a population of just over 1.5 million people.
Israel’s airstrikes, which damage essential infrastructure and terrify the civilian population, are a form of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. Even more, they are war crimes forbidden under international humanitarian law, specifically the Geneva Conventions.
Yet Israel consistently gets away with war crimes. The official, government-based “international community” does not seem interested in the suffering of the native Palestinians. The much-admired, “better than Bush” American president, Obama, thinks that “Israel has the right to defend itself.” The same right does not apparently apply to Palestinians.
Likewise, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague believes that Hamas is “principally responsible” for the current crisis, as well as the ability to bring it most swiftly to an end. This is in spite of the deadly siege imposed on Gaza for more than five years, so much so that Israel even used calorie counting to limit the amount of food that entered Gaza during the blockade.
The fact that Palestinians in Gaza are not born to Jewish mothers is enough reason to deprive them of their right to live equally with the citizens of the state of Israel. Hence, like the black natives of South Africa, they should be isolated in a Bantustan, in accordance with the Oslo terms. If they show any resistance to this plan, they must be punished by turning the entire Strip into an open-air prison.
Both the US and the UK display deliberate and unconscionable ignorance in the face of the brutal reality caused by Israel to Gaza. As a result of Israel's blockade on most imports and exports and other policies designed to punish Palestinians, about 70 percent of Gaza's workforce is now unemployed or without pay, according to the UN, and about 80 percent of its residents live in grinding poverty.
But don’t Obama and Hague know this?!
As Hamid Dabashi put it:
"Obama is fond of saying Israelis are entitled to defend themselves. But are they entitled to steal even more of Palestine, terrorise its inhabitants and continue to consolidate a racist apartheid state…? Was South Africa also entitled to be a racist apartheid state, was the American south entitled to slavery, India to Hindu fundamentalism?"
The only option for Palestinians is to follow the same route as the South African struggle. The South African internal campaign aimed to mobilize the masses on the ground rather than indifferent governments around the world. What hope could they have gotten from the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Helmut Kohl? It was left to ordinary South Africans and global citizens to show their moral rejection of crimes committed by the ugly apartheid system.
In South Africa’s long walk to freedom, there was no compromise on respect for basic human rights. Apartheid’s attempts to point fingers at “black violence” and “intrinsic hatred” toward Western civilization and democracy, did not hold water.
Similarly, international civil society, and some governments, have seen through Israel’s propaganda campaign where the aggressor is turned into the victim. Across the years, Palestinians have been completely dehumanized. Instead of Reagan and Thatcher, we have Obama and Hague, blaming the victim and condemning resistance to occupation, colonization, and apartheid.
But South Africans did not wait for the American administration to “change its mind.” The global BDS campaign, steered by South African anti-apartheid activists, coupled with internal mass mobilization on the ground, was the prescription for liberation, away from the façade of “independence” based on ethnic identities. Similarly, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions has been gathering momentum since 2005. Gaza 2012, like Soweto 1976, cannot be ignored: it demands a response from all who believe in a common humanity.
Gaza 2012 has, undeniably, given a huge impetus to this process by making all Palestinians inside and outside of historic Palestine realize that “Yes, We Can!” We are no longer the weaker party, the passive victim who does not dare bang on the walls of Ghassan Kanafani’s trunk in Men in the Sun, but rather Hamid in All That is Left To You, the Palestinian hero who decides to act.