Draft: Palestine’s Mandela

Here is a draft of a short page I am going to do on Marwan Barghouti and Nelson Mandela. I want to say some more about Kathrada and how important he is please send me your thoughts.

The tenth international Israeli Apartheid Week was significant for several reasons. The first and perhaps most significant aspect of the 2014 campaign was that it was first year Israel hosted its own Apartheid Week events. Secondly South Africa’s ANC party officially supported their nations Israeli Apartheid Week. Lastly, it was the first Israeli Apartheid week following the death of Mandela. Activists instrumentalized  Mandela and the ANC’s history of solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement to promote the international boycott, divestment and sanctions, and advocate for the end of Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians. (apartheidweek.org) Activist around the world used social media to cast the struggle of the Palestinian people as a struggle against an apartheid state. This brief essay reviews Mandela’s position with regard to Palestinian liberation and explores the ways the Madiba’s legacy was utilized by activists online.

Robin D. G. Kelly and Erica Lorraine Williams’ article “Madiba in Palestine” in the online journal Counterpunch discusses Mandela’s longstanding solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement. The authors also described the principled stance Mandela took towards Palestine in during his presidency:

Under Mandela’s presidency, the South African government tried to be an ally, maintaining full diplomatic relations with the “State of Palestine” and providing technical assistance in a variety of areas—from Disaster Management to “women’s empowerment.” But it was an exceedingly difficult position for Madiba since recognition of the occupied territories as a “state” without real sovereignty veered closely to a policy he staunchly rejected: recognition of the Bantustans or “black homelands” created to separate African “tribes” under apartheid regime. Through a combination of force and legislation, the South African government created these separate states with their own semi-governmental apparatus designating citizenship, not only for Bantustan residents but for those with “tribal” affiliations living in South Africa. The Bantustans had no power, no military, no sovereignty, no real economy, no control over its borders, and remained subordinate to South African authority. It is not uncommon for Palestinians to refer to the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem—the territories that will allegedly make up the Palestinian “state”—as a “Bantustan.”


For their part the ANC has ardently encouraged the comparison between Israeli and South African Apartheid. As questions loom about the direction the party of Mandela and vociferous critiques of President Jacob Zuma on social media spread across twitter, IAW offered the party a chance to take a principle stance that reflected its history. The party issued an official declaration of support and key members of the party participated in IAW events at the University of Witwatersrand.

Palestinian perceptions of their struggle for liberation in similar term South Africa’s antiapartheid movement are apparent in xx above photograph of a Palestinian man presenting an image of Mandela to an Israeli soldier. The symbolic allegories continued with Qassam Barghouti’s visit to South Africa during Israeli Aparthied Week. Qassam is the 28 year old son of Marwan Barghouti the man referred to as the ‘Palestinian Mandela’. A 2009 article by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post argued that the characterization of Marwan Barghouti as Palestine’s Mandela was exclusively a Western phenomenon. Yet it appears that this juxtaposition is gaining ground following Madiba’s death.

The foundation of senior ANC member Ahmad Kathrada who shared a cell on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela brought Qassam Barghouti to South Africa to participate in IAW events. Barghouti visited Mandela’s Robben Island cell with Kathrada. The visit also included the signing of the Robben Island Declaration for the Freedom of Marwan Bargouti & All Palestinian Political Prisoners. The declarations states:

People around the globe and throughout history have risen to defend their freedom and dignity against colonial rule, oppression, apartheid and segregation. Generations of men and women have made great sacrifices to forge universal values, uphold fundamental freedoms and advance international law and human rights. There is no greater risk to our civilization than to relinquish these principles and to allow for their breach and denial without accountability.

The symbolic signing in Mandela’s Robben island cell coupled with the reference to “people throughout history” and “generations of men and women who have made sacrifices” drew clear parallels to both South Africa’s liberation struggle and the international movement to end Apartheid. Similar sentiments were expressed by Shaka Sisulu during a speech at the University Witwatersrand attended by Qassem Barghouti.

Sisulu reminded the audience that Mandela was a terrorist arrested and sentenced for terrorism. Sisulu told the crowd that he remembered in his youth the South African struggle for liberation was linked to the Palestinian struggle. According to Sisulu this historical linkage was forgotten by many South Africans. Sisulu claimed that the Israeli fear that criticism of the Israeli state threatens the existence of the Israeli people sounded like Afrikaner fears that liberated blacks would “drive them into the sea.” His comparison to South Africa’s Afrikaner population suggested that Israeli’s should also be liberated from fear and tyranny. At the end of the speech he addressed Qassem Barghuti directly stating, “All the years that Madiba spend in jail, like your father, he was an inspiration to many generations. We know similarly Marwan is going to be an inspiration to many generations here and across the world.”

Even if Palestinians are not making lateral comparisons between Nelson Mandela and Qassem Barghouti South Africans are. More importantly critical ANC leaders like Kathrada and Sisulu have drawn blatantly drawn the connection which is now percolating through twitter and facebook. The allusion will likely be renewed every year as South Africans continue to back the Palestinian struggle and promote the international boycott and divestment campaign.


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