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South African Archbishop likens Palestinian life to life under apartheid

By Adrianne Appel | Last updated: Nov 16, 2007 - 2:46:00 PM

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu
'I am not playing politics when it involves children who suffer. A human rights violation is a human rights violation is a human rights violation, wherever it occurs.'
BOSTON (IPS/GIN) - Conditions in the Palestinian territories today are similar to those that existed in South Africa under apartheid, South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said Oct. 27 at Old South Church in Boston.

“We hope the occupation of the Palestinian territory by Israel will end,” Archbishop Tutu said. “There is a cry of anguish from the depth of my heart, to my spiritual relatives. Please, please hear the call, the noble call of our scripture,” Archbishop Tutu said, appealing to Israeli leaders.

“Don’t be found fighting against this God, your God, our God, who hears the cry of the oppressed,” Archbishop Tutu added.

Archbishop Tutu spoke with political activist and lecturer Noam Chomsky and others to a largely religious audience about “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel,” during a conference sponsored by Friends of Sabeel North America, a Christian Palestinian group.

Israel’s policy toward Palestinians is an inflammatory topic in the U.S. and is not commonly discussed in large, public forums.

In Boston, complaints were lodged with Old South Church in the weeks prior to the event, in an effort to halt the conference. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting complained that Sabeel is “an anti-Zionist organization that traffics in anti-Judaic themes,” according to press reports.

Outside the church, Christians and Jews United for Israel demonstrated against Archbishop Tutu and the conference.

“Sabeel is an organization that seeks to demonize Israel. Tutu several years ago made anti-Semitic comments,” said May Long, the president of the group. Ms. Long did not hear Archbishop Tutu’s speech, she said.

Archbishop Tutu was an inspirational leader in the South African fight against apartheid, which officially ended 13 years ago. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and today continues to speak around the globe for peace and justice.

The 76-year-old archbishop also appears to have won a battle against prostate cancer, which he was last treated for in 2000.

“Because of what I experienced in South Africa, I harbor hope for Israel and the Palestinian territories,” said Archbishop Tutu, who invoked passages from the Christian Bible throughout his talk.

He drew parallels between the apartheid of South Africa and occupied Palestine of today, describing the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli government and the inability of Palestinians to travel freely within and out of Palestine.

“I experienced a dèjá vu when I encountered a security checkpoint that Palestinians must negotiate every day and be demeaned, all their lives,” Archbishop Tutu said.

He also said Palestinian homes are being bulldozed, and new, illegal homes for Israelis are being built in their place.

“When I hear, ‘That used to be my home,’ it is painfully similar to the treatment in South Africa when coloreds had no rights,” Archbishop Tutu said.

Archbishop Tutu is a pacifist and he said only nonviolent means should be used to confront the oppression at play in Palestine.

“Palestinians ought to try themselves to restrain those who fire the rockets into Israeli territory,” he said.

The archbishop said that while fighting apartheid in South Africa, he drew inspiration from the Jewish struggle as the Bible describes it.

“Spiritually I am of Hebrew descent. When apartheid oppression was at its most vicious and all but knocked the stuffing out of those of us who opposed it, we turned to the Hebrew tradition of resistance,” and the belief that good will triumph over evil, and that a day of freedom from oppression will come, he said.

“The well-to-do and powerful complain that we are mixing religion with politics. I’ve never heard the poor complain that ‘Tutu, you are being too political,’” he said.

“I am not playing politics when it involves children who suffer,” Archbishop Tutu said. “A human rights violation is a human rights violation is a human rights violation, wherever it occurs.”

Archbishop Tutu recently experienced the effects of U.S. discomfort with discourse about Palestine, when a Minnesota university president yanked an invitation to Archbishop Tutu that had been extended by a youth group.

Rev. Dennis Dease, the president of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, said he did not want Archbishop Tutu to speak because the Nobel Laureate’s position on Palestine was viewed by some as anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic.

Rev. Dease also fired Cris Toffolo, the head of the university’s peace and justice program who had supported the invitation to Archbishop Tutu.

Rev. Dease recently apologized to Archbishop Tutu three weeks ago.

Archbishop Tutu said Oct. 27 that he accepted Rev. Dease’s “handsome apology,” but that he will not consider speaking at the school until Ms. Toffolo is reinstated and her record cleared.

At the conference, Mr. Chomsky said the U.S. provides heavy financial support to Israel and has a profound influence on Israeli policies, including those toward Palestine and foreign trade.

“If the U.S. doesn’t like what Israel is doing, it just kicks Israel in the face,” Mr. Chomsky said, adding that in 2005, Israel wanted to sell improved missiles to China. The Bush administration halted the sale.

“It blocked them and refused to allow Israeli officials to come to the U.S. The U.S. demanded an apology from Israel. It dragged Israel through the mud,” Mr. Chomsky said.

The U.S. began its close relationship with Israel after the Israeli victory in the 1967 “Six Day War” against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, he also mentioned.

Related news:

  • Black, Palestinian solidarity in the struggle for justice (FCN, 10-25-2007)
  • Apartheid In The Holy Land (Desmond Tutu, 12-24-2006)
  • Israel: an apartheid state? (Le Monde, 11-2003)
  • Foundation for Middle East Peace