By Ronnie Kasrils
At the onset of international ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ in solidarity with the embattled Palestinian people, I want to start by quoting a South African who emphatically stated as far back as 1963 that "Israel is an apartheid state." Those were not the words of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu or Joe Slovo, but were uttered by none other than the architect of apartheid itself, racist Prime Minister, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd.
He was irked by the criticism of apartheid policy and Harold Macmillan’s “Winds of Change” speech , in contrast to the West’s unconditional support for Zionist Israel.
To be sure Verwoerd was correct. Both states preached and implemented a policy based on racial ethnicity; the sole claim of Jews in Israel and whites in South Africa to exclusive citizenship; monopolized rights in law regarding the ownership of land, property, business; superior access to education, health, social, sporting and cultural amenities, pensions and municipal services at the expense of the original indigenous population; the virtual monopoly membership of military and security forces, and privileged development along their own racial supremacist lines – even both countries marriage laws designed to safeguard racial “purity”.
The so-called “non-whites” in apartheid South Africa, indigenous Africans, others of mixed race or of Indian origin – like second or third class non-Jews in Israel – were consigned to a non-citizenship status of Kafkaesque existence, subject to bureaucratic whims and the laws prohibiting their free movement, access to work and trade, dictating where they could reside and so forth.
Verwoerd would have been well aware of Israel’s dispossession of indigenous Palestinian in 1948 – the year his apartheid party similarly came to power – of the unfolding destruction of their villages, the premeditated massacres and the systematic ethnic cleansing.
Within a few short years the apartheid regime was ruthlessly clearing South Africa’s cities and towns of so-called “black spots” – where the “non-whites” lived, socialized, studied and traded – bulldozing homes, loading families onto military trucks, and forcibly relocating them to distant settlements. Unlike the “native reserves” – soon to be reconstituted as Bantustans – not too far away from industrial areas because the economy thrived on a quota of cheap black labor.
Whilst he did not live to see the division of Palestinian territory after the Six Day War, and the subsequent creation of miniscule Bantustans in the West Bank and Gaza, he would have greatly admired and approved of the machinations that enclosed the Palestinians in their own ghettoized prisons. This after all was the Verwoerdian grand plan, and the reason why Jimmy Carter could so readily identify the Occupied Palestinian Territories as being akin to apartheid. In fact the Bantustans consisted of 13% of apartheid South Africa, uncannily comparable to the derisory, ever shrinking pieces of ground Israel is consigning to the Palestinians.
A further comment about the Bantustans. When I visited Yasser Arafat in his virtually demolished headquarters in Ramallah as part of a South African delegation in 2004, he pointed around him and said “See this is nothing but a Bantustan!” No, we responded, pointing out that no Bantustan, in fact not even our townships, had been bombed by warplanes, pulverized by tanks. To a wide-eyed Arafat we pointed out that Pretoria pumped in funds, constructed impressive administration buildings, even allowed for Bantustan airlines to service the Mickey Mouse capitals in order to impress the world that they were serious about so-called “separate development.”
What Verwoerd admired too was the impunity with which Israel exercised state violence and terror to get its way, without hindrance from its Western allies, increasingly key among them the USA. What Verwoerd and his ilk came to admire in Israel, and seek to emulate in the southern African region, was the way the Western powers permitted an imperialist Israel to use its unbridled military with impunity in expanding its territory and holding back the rising tide of Arab nationalism in its neighborhood.
After the Six Day War, Verwoerd’s successor John Vorster, infamously stated: “The Israelis have beaten the Arabs before lunchtime. We will eat the African states for breakfast.”
But it was not only the racial doctrine of Israel that excited apartheid’s leaders, it was the use of the biblical narrative as the ideological rationale to justify its vision, aims and methods.
The early Dutch pioneers, the Afrikaners, had used Bible and gun as colonizers elsewhere, to carve out their exclusive fortress bastion in South Africa’s hinterland. Like the biblical Israelites they claimed to be “God’s chosen people” with a mission to tame and civilize the wilderness; disregarding the productivity and industriousness of people who had tilled the soil and traded for centuries – claiming it was only they who would make the land flow with milk and honey. They invoked a covenant with God to deliver their enemies into their hands and to bless their deeds. Until the advent of South Africa’s democracy, the racial history books generally taught that the white man arrived in South Africa more or less as the so-called “Bantu tribes” from the north were wandering across the Limpopo – South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe – and that they the were pioneer settlers in a land without people.
Such a colonial racist mentality which rationalized the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australasia, in Africa from Namibia to the Congo and elsewhere, most clearly has its parallels in Palestine.
What is so shameless about this anachronistic colonial barbarism is that Zionist Israel has been permitted by the West to aspire to such a goal even into the 21st Century.
It is by no means difficult to recognize from afar, as Verwoerd had been able to do, that Israel is indeed an apartheid state. Verwoerd’s successor, Balthazar John Vorster visited Israel after the 1973 October War, when Egypt in a rare victory regained the Suez Canal and Sinai from Israel. After that Israel and South Africa were virtually twinned as military allies for Pretoria helped supply Israel militarily in the immediacy of its 1973 setback and Israel came to support apartheid South Africa at the height of sanctions with weaponry and technology – from naval ships and the conversion of supersonic fighter planes to assistance in building six nuclear bombs and the creation of an arms industry.
For the liberation movements of southern Africa, Israel and apartheid South Africa represented a racist, colonial axis. It was noted that people like Vorster had been Nazi sympathizers, interned during World War II – yet feted as heroes in Israel and incidentally never again referred to by South African Zionists as an anti-Semite!. This did not surprise those that came to understand the true racist nature and character of Zionist Israel.
Time and space does not allow further elaboration, but it is instructive to add that in its conduct and methods of repression, Israel came to resemble more and more apartheid South Africa at its zenith – even surpassing its brutality, house demolitions, removal of communities, targeted assassinations, massacres, imprisonment and torture of its opponents, collective punishment and the aggression against neighboring states.
Certainly we South Africans can identify the pathological cause, fuelling the hate, of Israel’s political-military elite and public in general. Neither is this difficult for anyone acquainted with colonial history to understand the way in which deliberately cultivated race hate inculcates a justification for the most atrocious and inhumane actions against even defenseless civilians – women, children, the elderly amongst them. In fact was this not the pathological racist ideology that fuelled Hitler’s war lust and implementation of the Holocaust?
I will state clearly, without exaggeration, that any South African, whether involved in the freedom struggle, or motivated by basic human decency, who visits the Occupied Palestinian Territories are shocked to the core at the situation they encounter and agree with Archbishop Tutu’s comment that what the Palestinians are experiencing is far worse than what happened in South Africa, where the Sharpeville massacre of 69 civilians in 1960 became international symbol of apartheid cruelty.
I want to recall here the words of an Israeli Cabinet Minister, Aharon Cizling in 1948, after the savagery of the Deir Yassin massacre of 240 villagers became known. He said: “Now we too have behaved like the Nazis and my whole being is shaken.”
Recently the veteran British MP, Gerald Kaufman, long time friend of Israel, was reported as remarking that a spokeswoman of the Israeli Defence Force, talked like a Nazi, when she coldly dismissed the deaths of defenseless civilians in Gaza – many women and children amongst them.
It needs to be frankly raised that if the crimes of the Holocaust are at the top end of the scale of human barbarity in modern times, where do we place the human cost of what has so recently occurred in Gaza and against the Palestinians since 1948 in the ‘Nakba’ (catastrophe) they have endured?
How do we evaluate the inhumanity of dropping bombs and blazing white phosphorous on civilian populations, burning people alive, gassing them in a Gaza ghetto under relentless siege with no place to run or hide. For 22 days relentless bombardment whole families vaporized before the horrified eyes of a surviving parent or child.
Guernica, Lidice, the Warsaw Ghetto, Deir Yassin, Mai Lei, Sabra and Shatilla, Sharpeville are high on that scale – and the perpetrators of the slaughter in Gaza are the off-spring of holocaust victims yet again, in Cizling’s words, behaving like Nazis. This must not be allowed to go unpunished and the international community must demand they be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. For the lesson is that if apartheid Israel is not stopped in its tracks these crimes will get greater and spread not only to engulf the entire Middle East and Iran, but indeed anywhere that Israel is challenged . Like the apartheid security forces the hand of Mossad stretches very far indeed. And of course with Israel a key ally in the USA’s “War on Terror” and all the motives for that onslaught, oil resources included, there will be no end to this bloody saga – with the Palestinians targeted to go the way of the extinct peoples of the former colonial era.
But such a fate must not and will not happen, if together with the unconquerable Palestinian people we share the resolve and determination to halt this insidious Zionist project, and its Great Power backing and encouragement.
Once more, let me turn to our South African experience.
There, as with other struggles such as Vietnam, Algeria, the former Portuguese colonies, the just nature of the struggle was the assurance for success.
With that moral advantage, on the basis of a just liberation struggle, we learnt the secret of Vietnam’s victory and strategies according to what we termed our Four Pillars of Struggle:
Political mass struggle; reinforced by armed struggle; clandestine underground struggle; and international solidarity.
At times any one of these can become predominant and it is not for outsiders to direct those at the frontline of struggle what and how to choose but to modestly provide the lessons of our experience pointing out that the unity of the struggling people is as indispensable as the moral high-ground they occupy. For the Vietnamese the military element was generally primary but always resting on popular mass support.
In South Africa the mass struggle became the primary way, with sabotage actions and limited guerrilla operations inspiring our people. It all depends on the conditions and the situation.
But unquestioningly, what helped tip the balance, in Vietnam and South Africa, was the force and power of international solidarity action. It took some 30 years but the worldwide Anti-Apartheid Movements campaigns – launched in London in 1959 – for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – not only provided international activists with a practical role, but became an incalculable factor in (a) isolating and weakening the apartheid regime (b) inspiring the struggling people (c) undermining the resolve of those states that supported and benefited from relations with apartheid South Africa, (d) generated a change of attitude amongst the South African white public generally, and political, business, professional, academic, religious and sporting associations in particular. Boycott made them feel the pinch in their pocket and their polecat status everywhere – whether on the sporting fields, at academic or business conventions, in the world of theatre and the arts they were totally shunned like biblical lepers. There was literally no place to hide from universal condemnation backed by decisive and relentless action which in time became more and more creative.
To conclude: we must spare no effort in building a world-wide solidarity movement to emulate the success of the Anti-Apartheid Movement which played such a crucial role in toppling the apartheid regime in South Africa. Nelson Mandela stated after South Africa attained democratic rule that “we South Africans cannot feel free until the Palestinians are free.” A slogan of South Africa’s liberation struggle and our trade union movement is “An injury to one is an injury to all!“ That goes for the whole of humanity. Every act of solidarity demonstrates to the Palestinians and those courageous Jews who stand by them in Israel – that they are not alone.
Israel has lost in Gaza. Whilst many Palestinians have lost their lives the Palestinians have not been conquered or cowed. Repression generates resistance and that will grow. Israeli aggression stands exposed. A turning point has been reached in humanity‘s perception of this issue. The time is ripe for us to drive home the advantage. When 150,000 Palestinians within Israel itself demonstrated against the carnage in Gaza; when Jewish women staged a sit-in in at the Israeli Consulate in Toronto; when Norwegian tram drivers stopped their transport in sympathy; when municipalities and colleges decide to divest like Hampshire college in the USA (the first that took this step against apartheid South Africa), when Durban dockworkers refused to unload a ship with Israeli cargo; joining with the countless thousands around the world, from Australia to Britain to Belgium to Canada to Cairo, Jordan, Indonesia and the USA we know the times are changing and Zionist hegemony is fast losing control. BDS represents three words that will help bring about the defeat of Zionist Israel and victory for Palestine. Like South Africa this can mean, must mean: freedom, peace, security, equality and justice for all – Muslim, Christian and Jew. That is well worth struggling for!
– Ronnie Kasrils is South Africa’s Minister of Intelligence. This article was based on Mr. Kasrils’ address at “Israel Apartheid Week”, South Africa, delivered on Feb. 28, 2009.