Mar 31, 2013

Easter Resurrection of Palestine

Israeli soldiers in the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Good Friday

Today in Bethlehem, sunny and warmer than usual by 10 degrees (global warming?), is Easter Sunday.  It is a Sunday where Christians following the Western calendar celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  This got me thinking about resurrection, salvation and what the real message of Jesus, the prince of peace was during his short years walking in the hills that now surround me.  “What would Jesus do” is a question that hovers in the background of this troubled land.  Well, actually the land does not have feelings to be troubled so let us say the troubled inhabitants of this land.  I am certainly troubled as most Palestinian Chritisans and Muslims are.  We are troubled because we cannot even get to our Churches and mosques in Jerusalem.  Palestinians who are already in Jerusalem are being pushed out as Israel continues its relentless program to make the city “Jewish” (whatever that means).  On this Easter, Israeli Jewish soldiers even defiled the Church of Sepulchre where tradition holds that Jesus was crucified and also buried.

We are troubled because just yesterday we commemorated Land Day and our commemorations were marred by Israeli violence.  Even trying to cling to memory of our lands stolen from us is a crime in the Apartheid state of Israel.  A law in the Knesset tried to stop commemorations of the Nakba (the catastrophe of ethnic cleansing of 530 villages and towns between January 1948 and December 1949).  But this is just one of hundreds of racist, discriminatory laws that make Israel the quinticential apartheid state.    

Meanwhile the government of Mr. Abbas approved the “Palestinian Authority” (PA) budget of $3.8 billion that Israeli papers said shows continued dependence on Israel and the US.  The PA in the meantime have sentenced morepeople to jail for expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo.  In one case even sentencing a person for 6 months in jail for clicking ‘like’ on a facebook post that critiqued the PA. There is indeed a grave danger that we will have (if we do not have already) a police state serving Israeli interests. Decent people in Fatah must take note of what is being done in their name lest we have a “village league” scenario.  But back to our main bain and what brought to us the disastrous Oslo and all other disasters: the Israeli occupation.  Bethlehem, the Obama visited for 20 minutes, is still besieged and stripped of ist lands. It is still isolated from its sister cities of Jerusalem and Nazareth.  We still have a “permit system” worse than the one practiced in Apartheid South Africa. We still have Palestinian children being jailed and tortured. We still have owerful occupation stripping us of natural rsources and impoverishing us.  I coud go on and on but then I think again what would Jesus do?  He was actually in a similar situation. The Roman occupation was actually milder than the current Israeli occupation (and colonization).

Jesus was a Palestinian martyr; he was born in Palestine and spoke the language of my ancestors Aramaic, the precursor of the Arabic language.  He believed in resistance like turning tables of profiteers at the temple, challenging the “leaders” etc.  And he worked to help the poor and disenfranchised.  “Comfort the afflicted and make the comfortable a little less comfortable” as Dorothy Day once said.  He did not spend any time congratulating the rich and powerful or visiting their palaces.  When he did encounter the rich and powerful (e.g. Pharisees) he called them hypocrites.   I use it also to describe powerful today.  For example they speak of democracy and human rights while daily violating those.  They speak of love of God but they murder, steal, lie, and cheat to get money and resources and land of others. So I think what Jesus would do if he was still physically walking in these hills here is that he would join us in protests at the apartheid wall and stand in front of bulldozers uprooting olive trees and destroying Palestinian homes.  He would also still be telling us to be hopeful that the Son of Man will be brought to life again and that Palestine will be free again.  We Palestinians do have some experience with resurrection J

Israel troops fire at Land Day commemorators/natives as they challenge continued colonization activities

Manipulating the World to Destruction
The "exodus" story did not free the Jews. Just the opposite, it has been used to keep Jews in perpetual bondage
 to a false history and to promote an attitude of constant victimhood, while distracting them from
realizing they might also play a role in the injustices done to others.

For Palestinian Americans, home brings little freedom

Btselem: mass arrest of children in hebron

Ahfad Younis encampment attacked by Occupation forces last week

Israelis say to Obama: Thank you for supporting our apartheid state

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD, FABMG

Mar 23, 2013


Sign: US leads terrorism (Raad Adayleh)

I am a Palestinian from the Bethlehem area but who also happens to hold a US passport.  The latter does not allow me to enter Jerusalem and the US government will not protect this or other rights I have (including family reunification). Meanwhile, any Jewish American can come and get automatic citizenship and live on stolen Palestinian land in our city. It is hard to describe the level of frustration that I had watching the theater of media frenzy (devoid of any real substance) about Obama’s visit.  Obama gave a new lifeline to war and conflict by avoiding human rights and international law.  It is the missing ingredient that for the past 65 years precluded peaceful resolution. It is the twisted logic that says the insecurity of the thief must be the only thing to be dealt with by ensuring the victims first recognize the legitimacy of the theft and the legitimacy of the need for the thief to first have full security and immunity from accountability for the theft before the victim is put in the room with the armed thief so that they can work out something (vague and without reference to International law). That formula has been shown to be a disaster and has kept Apartheid and colonization going.   Israel has no incentive to allow a Palestinian sovereign state let alone redress the injustice (e.g. refugees, theft of land and resources etc) as long as it continues to get unconditional check from our tax money and guaranteed veto of the US at the UN protecting it from International law.  This plus over $12 billion in profits from the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (captive market, natural resources etc.) ensures the occupation continues.  But Israeli and American governments are thinking short term.  Long term, the changing reality (in the Arab world) and demographics in Palestine will ensure change. Obama alluded to this when he told Israelis that no wall will be tall enough and no iron dome will be strong enough and that peace is imperative.  The problem is he failed to follow his own logic and press Israel to change and instead repeated the same failed logic that "bilateral" negotiations between a strong occupier/colonizer and a weak leadership of colonized/occupied people is the way to go.

Below are some of the things that happened during Obama’s short visit.  You be the judge of their value or relevance to bringing peace. 

Palestinian and American security coordinate to clean streets of any thing that might allude to Palestinain rights (refugee signs, maps of historic Palestine etc).  They change all manholes in targeted areas spending millions for excessive “security” for the unwanted visitor to Bethlehem and Ramallah. Palestinian security preemptively arrest dozens and suppress peaceful demonstrations succeeding in isolating Obama from seeing Palestinian anger.

Massive traffic jams, and on days of visits an essential siege and curfew on Ramallah area (Thursday) near Al-Muqata and Bethlehem (Friday).  The preparations create significant damage to economy and livelihood of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

Selected choreographed visits by Obama to Hertzl’s and Rabin’s tombs (the former who called for ethnic cleansing, the latter who executed it) but not to Yasser Arafat’s tomb.

American flags placed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) along the streets removed by Palestinian activists. PA security officials suppress demonstrations and prevent activists from getting near Obama. At Ramallah demonstration, PA security dressed in civilian cloths attack demonstrators.

Obama calls on Palestinian officials­­ to resume bilateral negotiations that led to nowhere in the past 20 years, to accept Israel as a “Jewish state”, and not to seek implementation of International law via International bodies like the UN or the International Court of Justice.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the Palestinian mission in Geneva has put out mild drafts that do not take advantage of the strong  findings of the UN Human Rights Council (see item link below).

Obama brokers a deal by pressuring Turkey to accept a tepid Israeli statement of regret for the deaths of Turkish citizens with some compensation for families and restoring Turkish-Israeli strategic relations (presumably including military cooperation). Turkish demands for lifting the siege on Gaza is dropped.

Obama, like his predecessors, identified Hizballah, Syria, and Iran as a dark axis of evil while Israel as a perfect model of democracy and beauty.

Obama in his speeches adopts the Zionist myths that Apartheid Israel is redemptive and that it is the guarantee against another holocaust (it is actually the reverse). Obama fails to mention that this “great and technologically advanced country” is actually built on top of Palestine and by destroying 530 villages and towns and by looting property and patrimony of millions of Palestinians. 

Obama will send John Kerry to try and restart the “Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.” 

Obama defines what we Palestinians want (supposedly a vague “viable state”) even though for most of us, we want return to our homes and lands and freedom from racism and apartheid.

Obama will give Jordan $200 million to help Syrian Refugees.

Obama reminds the Israelis that his administration developed unprecedented support to the apartheid state of Israel especially in the field of security. 

Obama highlighted the Iron Dome system and praised it but now documented data show that they are less than 30% effective as opposed to the government insistence that they had 90% success).

Obama claimed the West Bank is in good shape because of Abbas and Fayyad and compared to Gaza which he claimed is miserable under rejectionist Hamas. 

What Obama and his large entourage fail to mention during this supposed “historic visit”: human rights, international law, the tenth anniversary of the murder of US Citizen Rachel Corrie, Palestinian rights and security, justice, land confiscation, apartheid laws, illegality of settlements, US opposition to Palestine joining the UN, applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention, how much taxpayer money is given to Israel, the siege on Gaza, the freedom of movement, the attack on US citizens’ rights by Israel….

While Obama meets Israeli children, Israeli soldiers arresting Palestinian Children

Amira Hass writes on Humanitarian hush money: The generous aid given to the Palestinians through various channels is the reward offered by Western states in exchange for the tolerance they show toward Israeli apartheid. 

A brave Palestinian confronts Obama asking if he had come here to bring peace or to continue arming Israel for war instead of dealing with the substance Obama claims this “heckler” proves democracy

Palestinians build another tent village on our lands while Netanyahu and Obama speak about Iran and continue colonial settlement expansion on natve Palestinian lands. Video with message to Obama

Netanyahu: Leaked video shows how he lied to the US and the world

A short documentary on the relevant issues of the peace process (From the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department)

and here is from Jewish Voices for Peace a short course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

A young Jewish American makes a lot more sense than Obama

Goldstone again? Source: rights groups fear Palestinian cave-in at UN could scuttle action on settlements

Mazin Qumsiyeh

Mar 18, 2013


On the way back from the University of Bethlehem we noted a small bulldozer that has removed a stone monument with a map of historic Palestine (see above) and the olive tree at the entrance of the city (in Alkarkafa).  This was not Israeli authorities but the “Palestinian authority” (PA) from higher up but via the Mayor of Bethlehem.  Instead of the olive tree and the map, the idea is that Mr. Obama will see a new thing: a dove at the entrance of Bethlehem.   The people gathered angry and stopped the work. Some said that the PA was acting as a subcontractor for the Israeli authorities; PA security personnel still patrol the refugee camps like Aida to prevent young people from challenging the Israeli occupation and PA security officials still cooperate with the Israeli security officials.  They arrest Palestinians in the West Bank especially those affiliated with Islamic movements and they ensure that people who get government positions are loyal members of one faction (Fatah). Even strictly financial corruption of many PA officials and even after it is widely documented is not brought to justice. As I said while in South Africa, corruption is everywhere in the world and people need to mobilize against it.  When Abu Jihad (Palestinian hero and martyr of the resistance) was asked about corruption, he answered in the same way as Nelson Mandela answered: we can root it out AFTER liberation.  The experience in South Africa and in Palestine suggest that corruption must be tackled early and forcefully because it is a disease that spreads.   

To President Obama: We ask you not to be delusional in thinking that those who meet with you represent the common people.  When you visit Yad Vashem you should also go down the hill and visit the ruins of Deir Yassin where Palestinians were massacred by the ideological descendants of Herzl whom you will honor.  And you will not be welcomed either in Ramallah or Bethlehem.  If Palestinian officials had any dignity they would have insisted you meet them in occupied Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine. And the gibberish you will hear does not represent the main demand of the Palestinian people: the right to return to our homes and lands. So even if Abu Mazen says he does not want to go back to Safad, no peace will be possible without Restorative Justice.

Tuesday March 19 at 4:00 pm in Front of the US Consulate in Jerusalem
Tuesday March 19 at 4:30 pm Starting at Al Manara Square, marching towards Al-Muqata (Ramallah)
And at his events
Thursday March 21 at 11 am: Obama Arrives Ramallah.  Must be met with black flags
Friday March 22 Noon: Obama Arrives Bethlehem.  Must be met with black flags

Classic Palestinian humor/satire is useful, so here Amer Zaher gives “A Few Travel Tips to Barack Obama”:

This week in Palestine magazine looks at humor in Palestine

Israeli soldiers spray sewage/skunk water at Palestinian houses in Nebi Saleh as collective punishment

Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?

Action: Save Masafer Yatta: Save over 1000 people including 452 children from being forced from their homes and their land that they have lived on for centuries. Tell Israel to let these villagers live in peace.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD

Mar 13, 2013

Six actions

We salute and mourn lost comrades.  We mourn the loss of our young friend Mahmoud Al-Teety shot dead by Israeli apartheid forces who invaded his village.*  We mourn President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela who lifted millions out of poverty and showed that governments can serve people needs rather than corporate greed.  We mourn Stephen Hessel, survivor of the genocides committed by the Nazis and a human rights defender who supported Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel and also helped spread ideas of universal human rights and rejected racist ideas of uniqueness and chosenness. We also commemorate ten years since the murder of our friend Rachel Corrie (US citizen, 23 year old) by Israeli soldiers in Rafah.  May we always remember those who worked for human rights and against tyranny and oppression.

I just returned from my whirlwind tour of South Africa exhausted but energized.  I met with hundreds of people including leadership of the trade union COSATU.  The BDS movement is picking up steam in South Africa thanks to the effort of hundreds of local activists (facing a few rich racist Zionists). I need to digest some information before I write more about this experience (and already it will be useful for a chapter I am working on that talks about Palestinian future options/strategies).  But in the meantime, actions speak louder than words so here are 6 actions YOU can take (at least select three for this week).

Action 1: During Israel Apartheid week kicks off in 250 cities wortldwide.  One of the 95 events in South Africa was hosted by COSATU, and I spoke to labor leaders about the situation on the ground in Palestine.  For more events and information and how you can help, see

Action 2: (from Barbara W) It is clear from the number of elected officials who DECLINED to speak this year at the AIPAC convention (including Obama), that the power of their lobby is eroding.  Code Pink built miniature settlements and a replica of the Israeli Apartheid Wall in front of AIPAC's convention center.   See just a few of the colorful props, street theater, music and humor.
Jewish Voices for Peace posted billboards all over the D.C. metro system saying, "We are proud to be Jewish and AIPAC does not speak for us".  Obama is coming to the Middle East and he met with Arab Americans in the US ahead of his visit (we would like him to meet with Palestinian Americans living here and see life of dispossessed Palestinians instead of Presidential Compounds in Ramallah).  There is a lot of work to do in the US as Congress is still Israeli occupied territory and even at state level Zionists infiltrated; Ohio (USA) state treasury used taxpayer money to support Apartheid So US citizens should write and pressure their government officials to respect human righst and not support apartheid.  The Council for National Interest provides resources

Action 3: Palestinian Agricultural Organizations and Civil Society Networks Call for Ending International Trade with Israeli Agricultural Companies

Action 4: Marathon in Bethlehem April 21st

Action 5: Please Mark your calendar for Sabeel's Global Young Adult Festival July 1-6, 2013
and Sabeel's 9th International Conference 19 - 25, November 2013 

Action 6: Actipedia is an open-access, user-generated database of creative activism. It’s a place to read about, comment upon, and share experiences and examples of how activists and artists are using creative tactics and strategies to challenge power and offer visions of a better society. Actipedia draws case studies from everywhere: original submissions, reprinted news articles, snippets of action reports. We think that by learning from each other we can learn how to better change the world. Join us! Actipedia is a joint project of the Center for Artistic Activism and the Yes Lab.  You can add your events

*Photos of the week: Israel killed a friend/peace activist near Hebron

La Luta continua
Stay human

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD

Mar 10, 2013

Saint George

Below is a talk (“sermon”) I gave Sunday 11 March at the Saint George's Cathedral  in Cape Town.  This is an old and famous Cathedral well known for its struggle against apartheid; Nobel winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu one of its most famous leaders.

Thank you Dean Weeder and all of you for inviting me to your historic church, a church I knew about for over 20 years but have never before had the chance to visit.  I am grateful to be for the first time in South Africa. It is also named after the patron saint of Palestinian Christians whom we call in Arabic Alkhader. I also thank Terry and Lavinia for your kind hospitality. I came to Johanesburg invited by church leaders to attend the Oikotree conference which links ecology, economics, and ecumenical issues. So I am delighted to also have been invited to Cape Town for the launch of the Israel Apartheid Week and to this lovely church.

I was born in Beit Sahour, literally the house of those who stay up at night.  This is the Shepherd's field, where the shepherds were called to go up to Bethlehem to see the new born prince of peace.   In Luke we read: " And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good
tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord....." We then read that they told the world.  We joke that God must
have been wise to select the Shepherds in this area because had he selected another area, the message would not have spread since we talk a lot and words spread quickly.

I speak today to tell you that we Palestinian Christians challenge notions of chosennes whether in South Africa or Palestine. God is not a real estate agent parceling out lands or privileges; we are told that God so loved the world (not that God so loved men, whites, even humans, he loved the whole world) God so loved the world that he sent his only son  .....

 We were also told to act on information. We are told a lamp is not placed under furniture but a stand and we are told to be the salt of this earth. Jesus acted by challenging systems of oppression.  Two
thousand years ago he turned the tables of the profiteers at the temple, he challenged oppressors, and he became a Palestinian martyr. Yes Palestinian because he lived in a country known then as Palestine
and he spoke Aramaic which my Canaanitic  ancestors spoke (Arabic is a derivative of Aramaic).  Since he was crucified, we have lost untold number of people who spoke the truth to power. I lost several friends in non violent resistance.  For example in 2009 we lost our friend Bassem Aburahma who was shot with a tear gas canister that crushed his chest as he was talking to the Israeli soldiers.  I paid condolences to his family and met his kind young sister Jawaher who was killed a year later when she was overcome by Israeli tear gas. Many others were lost or suffered.  I myself was arrested several times for nonviolent resistance.

But the family which we visited recently still offers us coffee with a smile. It is joy born of faith while suffering.  It is the definition of Love. Mother Teresa said in helping with a smile that "this is where love comes in - when it is demanding, and yet we can give it with joy".  As the Buddhists say "Have joyful participation in the sorrows of this world."

In 1985 there was a Kairos South Africa document that asked churches around the world to take up direct action to bring about an end to apartheid. Kairos is a moment of truth.  We in Palestine then looked to your leadership including that of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Archbishop Tutu spoke at the launch of the Kairos Palestine document in December 2009 where he spoke of the joint struggle and why it matters.  It is the Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about what is happening in Palestine. It is written at this time when we wanted to see the
Glory of the grace of God in this land and in the sufferings of its people. In this spirit the document requests the international community to stand by the Palestinian people who have faced oppression, displacement, suffering and clear apartheid for more than six decades. The suffering continues while the international community silently looks on at the occupying State, Israel. Our word is a cry of hope, with love, prayer and faith in God. We address it first of all to ourselves and then to all the churches and Christians in the world, asking them to stand against injustice and apartheid, urging them to work for a just peace in our region, calling on them to revisit theologies that justify crimes perpetrated against our people and the dispossession of the land.

We Palestinian Christians following in the footsteps of Jesus say this is a moment of truth, a Kairos moment.  The truth is that the Birth place of Jesus, Bethlehem has 180,000 native Christians and Muslims squeezed into only 13% of the land of the district of Bethlehem.  87% of the land of Bethlehem is now off-limits to our development and open for expansion of 23 colonial settlements built on our land. And this canton of Bethlehem is increasingly surrounded by a wall and I as a Palestinian Christian am not allowed into Jerusalem, my Church of the Sepulcher.  Even with my American Passport I am not allowed into Jerusalem as are 99% of our people. The truth is that Jerusalemites are being driven from their land to be replaced by Jews including converts to Judaism brought from around the world.  Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims.  Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city
of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace .

The truth is that Zionists have worked hard to methodically transform our country from a multiethnic, multireligious, multicultural society to a Jewish state.  By necessity this entailed ethnic cleansing so
that 530 villages and towns were destroyed and today 7 million of our people are refugees and displaced people. Refugees are still living in camps under very difficult circumstances waiting for implementation of their internationally recognized right of return, generation after generation. What will be their fate? And the prisoners? The thousands of prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons are part of our reality. The Israelis move heaven and earth to gain the release of one prisoner, and those thousands of Palestinian prisoners, when will they have their freedom?

So we call on you and all our brothers and sisters in humanity to come and see for yourself.  We would love to host you and show you around. But we also ask you to act on your conscience and help those in need in Palestine and elsewhere.   I end with the words of the Bible: "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in. Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And
the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
Our young friend Basil Mansour (head of the village council of Bilin) was arrested in a nonviolent demonstration at the apartheid wall that was in the form of a symbolic wedding to protest the apartheid policies that keep families apart. Video
Along the same line, Israel is deporting our friend activist Adam Shapiro preventing him from being at the birth of his first child
Note: My wife and I applied for Family reunification over 5 years ago and the Israeli authorities still did not answer to this day. 
Action: Write to media and your politicians about Israel's racist policies of denying family reunification. 

RESISTING ISRAEL'S ETHNIC CLEANSING CAMPAIGN IN AREA C: From March 17-29, students, artists and activists from across Palestine and abroad will join the people of the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills in their struggle against Israel’s forced expulsion of Palestinian communities in Area C.  This ride, organized by The Freedom Theatre’s Freedom Bus together with several grassroots organisations, will occur in solidarity with Palestinian farmer and Bedouin communities who are struggling against attempts to forcibly expel them from their traditional homelands. The March Freedom Ride will include building and reconstruction work, protective presence activity, guided walks, home-stays, interactive workshops, educational talks and cultural events. Through Playback Theatre, residents of the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills will share personal accounts about the realities of life and resistance under settler colonialism, military occupation and state-sanctioned apartheid.
22 March 2013 | Jordan Valley | Solidarity Walk and Evening Concert: On World Water Day, March 22, The Freedom Theatre, Thirsting for Justice/EWASH and Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign will hold a solidarity walk between Palestinian communities whose water rights are denied by discriminatory Israeli policies and practices.  The walk will include community visits, discussions and interactive theatre events focusing on the life and resistance of Bedouins, farmers and traditional herders in the Jordan Valley. An evening concert will feature political hip-hop from the world renowned DAM, and reggae-fusion from Ministry of Dub-Key. Dabke troupes from Nabi Saleh and the South Hebron Hills will also perform. The Walk for Water Justice is part of the March Freedom Ride.

Mazin Qumsiyeh

Mar 5, 2013

Rethinking South Africa

I did some research with South African scientists on gerbils and had worked briefly in the 1980s against apartheid in South Africa.  I have also been talking and reading about South Africa for the past thirty years as a model for Israel/Palestine.  I should have also listened to my own advice when I speak about Palestine: come and see because no amount of reading and talking to people outside would substitute for visiting the country itself and immersing one’s body, mind, and soul in a country.  So I am rethinking South Africa.  I was shocked and dismayed at some of what I saw but I was inspired by the people.  Witnessing the miseries of slums like Diepsloot (lit. Deep Ditch) and Soweto (South West Township), I realize that apartheid is not ended here but mainly changed shape and this provides us with lots of lessons for Palestinian struggle against Israeli apartheid. 

The conference included 50 representatives from some 20 countries to discuss how to bring the world closer to peace and justice and for this meeting to be in South Africa. Its guiding principles include recognizing the connection between ecology, economics and ecumenical (all based on Greek root oikos meaning house).  Getting our house in order as human beings is important.  In recognizing that an economy based on theological principles entails caring about people and our environment and living a spirituality of resistance and transformation.

But before the formal meeting began, we were given tours of places like the Apartheid Museum, the Voortrekker monument, the Freedom Park, the Diepsoot Township/settlement, and Mandela’s house.  At the Apartheid Museum we were painfully reminded of all the suffering and indignity of the era.  The killings, economic injustice, and human rights violations were then rampant as they are today in Palestine (the apartheid state of Israel).  But we are also reminded of the struggling human spirit that seeks justice and freedom. The compromises that Mandela made with the white leadership and his attempts to be inclusive and forgiving is prominently displayed. But his earlier statements are also visible as at the entrance “For to be free is not merey to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  This is line with Mandela’s statement that freedom in South Africa will not be complete unless Palestine is also free. Ofcourse to fit with the world structure, he had to modify his views that Zionism is racism.  Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is now receiving similar pressures because he told the truth that Zionism is a crime against humanity. 

In January 1985, Mandela was offered release on the condition that he renounces violence.  He refused writing to the people in a letter that “Only Free Men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contract…. I will not sell the birthright of my people to be free.”   He insisted that he be released unconditionally and demanded that apartheid be ended before the ANC negotiated.  Only free men can negotiate. Pressure built-up on the Apartheid regime via a growing local resistance aided by an international BDS movement.  F W DeKlerk explained to fellow Apartheid supporters that the writing is on the wall and that South Africa should avoid the fate of “Rhodesia”.  Mandela did not fall into the trap of negotiations while apartheid persisted but he assured the whites of flexibility after apartheid ended and indeed whites kept their privileged class to this day. That was t many ANC supporters a “sell out”.  But it was a far less compromise than the PLO leadership agreeing to negotiate while we Palestinians remained imprisoned under the colonial apartheid system.  Hence the real meaning of the Oslo process is the 20 years negotiations between prisoners and prison guards (instead of what happened in South Africa where within a span of 3 years negotiations between a freed people and apartheid symbols, the remaining issues were resolved).  These and other lessons can be learned from the (ongoing) struggle in South Africa.

We learned by talking to people of all backgrounds that he struggle here in South Africa is not complete. Voting apartheid ended in law but economic, cultural, social and truth apartheids still stand. We visited the Voortrecker Monument dedicated to a battle that happened 16 December 1838 where white colonial settlers killed the native people.  But that is not what the white tour guide described it.  To her, “pioneers” signed treaties with Zulu ciefs, were betrayed by Zulus who “murdered” white pioneers!  Whites on their march to the interior of the continent (the voortrekers) circled their wagons when danger came ! Actually the monument has carving of 64 circled wagons around it.   To this day white and ony white South Africans gather in the monument every December 16 to honor that pledge made by their ancestors nearly 100 years ago to thank the lord for allowing them to vanguish their enemies in the promised land as they advanced the "light of civilization in the dark continent".  Theology of  The carved reliefs and the guide show a white democratically elected educated civilized “leader” Retief facing the evil superstitious Zulu king Dingane. That is when a few of us “colored”/black vistors decided we had enough of this tour.  

The rich still get richer and the poor get poorer; 0.1% of the world population hold  81% of the wealth and the ratio of poverty to wealthy statistic went from 3:1 in 1820 to 35:1 in 1950 to nearly 80:1 today.   Sometimes liberation movements fall into the trap of power.  Many of those we met commented on how some members of ANC who came into government jobs at the end of Apartheid got spoiled by the material goods (houses, cars, bank account) that they forgot about the struggling people in the townships and the slums near the glittering skyscrapers. The tallest building in Johannesburg is the Reserve Bank!  My tears rolled as we passed by townships that are teaming with poor people because they reminded me of refugee camps in Lebanon, in Jordan, and in Palestine. The most heart-wrenching was Diepsloot where 250,000 human beings live in shacks with sheat metal roofing.  Here we visited “Vuselela Ulwazi Lwakho Drop-in Center” (, founded by one woman nurse) where hundreds come weekly for counseling and treatment for AIDS (now a horrific pandemic in Africa).  I peaked into a hall and noticed nearly 100 children crammed together – they are the AIDS orphans who lost their parents to the disease (and a few other orhans).  I contrast these images of man-made poverty and disease with the posh gated communities of upwardly mobile mostly white South Africans.  It is like contrasting the posh life of the colonial Jewish setters in Palestine with the life in refugee camps. But the hope of the workers and users of this and other facilities show us how the goodness among humans can spread.

Ronnie Kasrils, South African minister once said about Palestine: “This is much worse than apartheid..Israeli measures, the brutality, make apartheid look like a picnic.  We never had Jets attacking our townships; we never had sieges that lasted months after months.  We never had tanks destroying houses.”  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prie winner who headed the Truth and Reconciliation Committee said Israel has established an apartheid system and thus has engaged in crimes against humanity.  Both support the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Our conference of activists learned lessons from each other and we rededicated ourselves to a joint global struggle.  This is something we have been calling for as a global intifada against oppression, colonialism, and the neoliberal capitalist world order that makes the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  In visiting the freedom park we saw workers putting names on the wall of those who lost their lives for freedom.  Already 4300 names are on that wall (out of lists that could go up to 80,000).  One day, we will build a wall like that in Palestine to remember the 60,000 Palestinian martyrs. These are not numbers but real people.
Arafat Jaradat died being tortured by the Israeli Apartheid  regime last week and he was 30 years old.  Steve Biko died while being tortured by the Souh African Apartheid  regime in 1977 and he was 31 years old. The two struggles are intertwined. The perceptive words of Steve Biko ring true today in Palestine, in South Africa, and around the world: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”  We the oppressed must free our minds from mental colonization before we liberate our body.  We are then really free to work for peace, justice, and freedom. This cannot be achieved without sacrifices/without revolution.

The wisdom of the Zulu is striking as is their spirit of defiance.  We listened to the music played by young people and as we chatted with elders who all gave us hope for the future.  We learned to sing Hayo Matata (no worries) and to say Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person because of others). The latter reminded me of Vittorio Arrigoni’s constant admonition to us to “stay human”.  To be human is to care about others, struggle for freedom and justice in a world of injustice.  Come to think of it to be human is then to be revolutionary!

Zionism explained by a settler
Action: Join activists from all backgrounds to challenge AIPAC influence in Washington  DC. Visit

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “ Amen!