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Apartheid in the Holy Land
Desmond Tutu, South Africa
April 29, 2002
In our struggle against apartheid, the great supporters were
Jewish people. They almost instinctively had to be on the side
of the disenfranchised, of the voiceless ones, fighting injustice,
oppression and evil. I have continued to feel strongly with the
Jews. I am patron of a Holocaust centre in South Africa. I
believe Israel has a right to secure borders.
What is not so understandable, not justified, is what it did to
another people to guarantee its existence. I've been very
deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me
so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.
I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints
and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police
officers prevented us from moving about.
On one of my visits to the Holy Land I drove to a church with
the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem. I could hear tears in his
voice as he pointed to Jewish settlements. I thought of the
desire of Israelis for security. But what of the Palestinians
who have lost their land and homes?
I have experienced Palestinians pointing to what were their
homes, now occupied by Jewish Israelis. I was walking with
Canon Naim Ateek (the head of the Sabeel Ecumenical Centre)
in Jerusalem. He pointed and said: "Our home was over there.
We were driven out of our home; it is now occupied by Israeli
My heart aches. I say why are our memories so short. Have
our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation?
Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home
demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned
their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions?
Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the
Israel will never get true security and safety through
oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be
built only on justice. We condemn the violence of suicide
bombers, and we condemn the corruption of young minds
taught hatred; but we also condemn the violence of military
incursions in the occupied lands, and the inhumanity that
won't let ambulances reach the injured.
The military action of recent days, I predict with certainty,
will not provide the security and peace Israelis want; it will
only intensify the hatred.
Israel has three options: revert to the previous stalemated
situation; exterminate all Palestinians; or —I hope—to strive
for peace based on justice, based on withdrawal from all the
occupied territories, and the establishment of a viable
Palestinian state on those territories side by side with Israel,
both with secure borders.
We in South Africa had a relatively peaceful transition. If our
madness could end as it did, it must be possible to do the
same everywhere else in the world. If peace could come to
South Africa, surely it can come to the Holy Land?
My brother Naim Ateek has said what we used to say: "I am
not pro- this people or that. I am pro-justice, pro-freedom. I
am anti- injustice, anti-oppression."
But you know as well as I do that, somehow, the Israeli
government is placed on a pedestal [in the US], and to
criticise it is to be immediately dubbed anti-semitic, as if the
Palestinians were not semitic. I am not even anti-white,
despite the madness of that group. And how did it come
about that Israel was collaborating with the apartheid
government on security measures?
People are scared in this country [the US], to say wrong is
wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful—very powerful.
Well, so what? For goodness sake, this is God's world! We live
in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very
powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin,
Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the
end they bit the dust.
Injustice and oppression will never prevail. Those who are
powerful have to remember the litmus test that God gives to
the powerful: what is your treatment of the poor, the hungry,
the voiceless? And on the basis of that, God passes judgment.
We should put out a clarion call to the government of the
people of Israel, to the Palestinian people and say: peace is
possible, peace based on justice is possible. We will do all
we can to assist you to achieve this peace, because it is
God's dream, and you will be able to live amicably together
as sisters and brothers.
Desmond Tutu is the former Archbishop of Cape Town and chairman
of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This address
was given at a conference on Ending the Occupation held in Boston,
Massachusetts, earlier this month. A longer version appears in the
current edition of Church Times.
From The Guardian, April 29, 2002. Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002.