Tactics That Ended Apartheid in S. Africa Can End It in Israel

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict often inspires a sense of powerlessness. What can average Americans do to bring an end to this decades-old conflict when our leaders have failed so miserably?

And what good is speaking out about Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land as the primary obstacle to peace when even former President Jimmy Carter and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu are condemned for their criticism of Israeli policies?

This month in San Jose, average Americans will have the opportunity to take a stand for peace and justice in the Middle East. The Presbyterian Church U.S.A.’s General Assembly began Saturday and runs through Sunday at the San Jose Convention Center. At the meeting, which takes place once every two years, delegates will make policy decisions for the 2.3 million-member denomination.

They will consider corporate engagement, up to divestment, with companies that profit from the obstacles to a just peace in Israel and Palestine. The church is considering approaches to Caterpillar, ITT Industries, Motorola and United Technologies.

The TransAfrica Forum, an organization which I was honored to head, played a leading role in the movement to end apartheid in South Africa. Corporate engagement was one of the most powerful tools in our non-violent arsenal. It was the right moral decision then and it is the right moral decision now. Just as it worked in South Africa, it can work in Palestine and Israel.

Yet Presbyterian delegates are being pressured to vote against similar measures. Some say the tactic unfairly singles out Israel for condemnation. But it is not the country we condemn; it’s a system of segregation and inequality.

The Israeli government has established in the Occupied Palestinian Territories a regime of systematic discrimination. It maintains two systems of laws, and a person’s rights are based on national origin. Palestinian land is confiscated to build Israeli-only settlements and roads. Palestinians wait hours in line at more than 500 Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank, while Jewish settlers speed by on modern, well-lit highways.

As Carter, and many Israelis have said, as long as this dual system exists, any peace agreement between Israel and Palestine will be impossible. Palestinians compare Israeli policies to those of apartheid in South Africa. Former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair wrote in 2002, “In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That regime exists to this day.”

South Africans who led the fight against apartheid, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former United Nations envoy John Dugard, make similar comparisons.

To the detriment of both Israelis and Palestinians, we provide financial and diplomatic support to maintain these separate and unequal policies. Israel is the No. 1 recipient of U.S. foreign aid: roughly $2.5 billion last year alone. Our government has cast more than 40 vetoes in the United Nations Security Council to shield Israel from international condemnation.

Divestment from companies that benefit from the occupation is an opportunity for American citizens to do what our government leaders have refused to do: say that our money will not fund human rights abuses any longer.

With humbleness, with love, with compassion for Palestinians and Israelis, I believe in the possibility that both can live as neighbors with security, dignity and respect. As it did in South Africa, corporate engagement, including divestment, can help make that possibility a reality.

Bill Fletcher Jr. is executive editor of the Black Commentator and former president of the TransAfrica Forum, which led the U.S. movement to overthrow apartheid in South Africa during the 1980s. Read other articles by Bill, or visit Bill's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 27th, 2008 at 5:30am #

    But to what nearby country does Cuba send troops to?

  2. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 27th, 2008 at 5:31am #

    *delete the “to” of your choice.

  3. bozhidar balkas said on June 27th, 2008 at 7:52am #

    it is heartening to me to learn that some christians r speaking out against zionist crimes.
    the key to it all is time and US. once arabs acquire nuclear and other WMD, israel will find self in mortal danger and will for the first time sing another aria.
    US, on the other hand (by US, i don’t mean people, but US ruling class) can bring peace in expalestine in 1 hr and one-state or two-state sol’n in just yrs or even months.
    probably one-state sol’n might be btter than one. thank u.

  4. dan e said on June 27th, 2008 at 3:52pm #

    Divestment/boycott did bring big changes in So Africa, so was not completely in vain. However massive injustices in that country still continue. For the average John Q Miner-in-the-Vein & family, not much has changed.
    And IMHO it’s a dangerous illusion to think Liberal Christian boycotts/divestment campaigns alone will produce justice in Palestine/Canaan. Now if they lead to public confrontation between these established Liberal outfits and the entity called “The Jewish Community” by the bigshots who control it, aka the ZPC, things will get interesting indeed.

    A lot depends on how “The Occupation” is defined, and whether the Divest/Boycott movement condemns Zionist Theocratic Apartheid en toto, or confines itself to post-1967 manifestations of it. At some pt, somebody has to tell the US Public “Hey we’ve been had: “Israel” has been a racist criminal conspiracy from the jump!”

  5. hp said on June 27th, 2008 at 6:54pm #

    As long as the mines produce there will be order. Order to a degree which allows absolutely nothing what so ever to interfere with those mines.
    Chromium, vanadium, zandium, iridium, rhodium, indium, palladium, etc.
    Along with the famous gold and diamond mines.
    S.A. is one of the most unique places on earth.
    Witness the smooth transition of governments.
    The quiet disposal(?) of S. A. half dozen or so nukes they possessed.
    Very quietly ‘taken care of.’
    “The spice must flow.”

  6. AaronG said on June 29th, 2008 at 7:05pm #

    Accepting that the author is more experienced to comment on both the Israeli-Palestinian “conflict” and South African apartheid that I am, I need to point out a fundamental difference between the two issues – religion. According to my research on SA, which is limited, I didn’t see religion have as much influence in apartheid (apart from Dutch Reformed Church) as it does in the Middle East. And according to the John Pilger DVD “Apartheid Did Not End”, the divide in SA is no longer black vs white, but rich vs poor. When ethnic apartheid gives way to economic apartheid, what has really been accomplished?

    Talking about empty achievements, I caught some of the Nelson Mandela concert on tv the other night (nearly fell off my chair when they said he’s 90 – he’s lookin good). Gave me a warm feeling inside. I think it was a sold out concert.

    Not the first thing that Nelson has sold out…………..