First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Silence is not golden: Supporting Palestine is about re...



Silence is not golden: Supporting Palestine is about recognising our humanity

In 1974, at the 29th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, made his seminal 'olive branch' speech, for which he received a standing ovation. C:fakepathfrance arafat death

To my mind, Israel’s aggression is the result of the world’s silence during times of injustice. It has created a sense of impunity and tacit consent to the aggressor’s advances.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

What does the plight of the Palestinian people mean for human rights and for South Africans, whose recent history mirrors what is happening in Palestine?

The Palestinian and Israeli war is one that has held the imagination of the world for decades and yet even now the bitter battle rages for the soul of Palestine. The recent flare-up of Israeli aggression against Palestine resulted in 254 Palestinians killed; 66 of those killed were children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Let that sink in.

Israel has launched a settler attack on Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and is forcefully driving Palestinians out of their homes to further Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. Simply put, Israel is colonising Palestine.

Looking at the footage of the rubble from the Israeli bombings, the tragic loss of lives, particularly children’s lives, not just recently but over the decades, is enough to stop anyone in their tracks. What is happening? Children are a country’s future and when their lives are wantonly and brutally taken, is that not genocide?

“We call on Israel to immediately call off all forced evictions,” UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville said on 7 May. The UN said the continuation of these “forced evictions” amounted to war crimes. It also said Israel should respect the right of expression and assembly of the Palestinian people.

To my mind, Israel’s aggression is the result of the world’s silence during enduring times of injustice. It has created a sense of impunity and tacit consent to the aggressor’s advances.

There is no single person or group of people who have more human rights than any other. No one holds a monopoly on human rights – they are conferred on us by virtue of being. Yet when one has to be reminded of this it means something terrible has gone wrong in our humanity and sense of personhood.

As one who was born to freedom fighter parents, who were exiled from South Africa for daring to demand the right to self-determination and who held, intrinsically, that human rights belong to us all and are indivisible, there is no way that I am unmoved by what is happening in Palestine.

I grew up knowing that the Palestinian fight for sovereignty and dignity was tied to ours and that our struggles were similar. I had an early induction into what loss as the result of settler colonialism and apartheid looked and felt like. To exist in foreign countries as well as your own country and still feel like a stranger, an infringer, less than, and – worst of all – physically threatened every day, is something no one should have to endure.

Black people living under apartheid in South Africa were forced into Bantustan homelands and townships and deprived of resources and basic human rights as white people took over the majority of country. This only changed after a struggle for liberation that eventually turned into a militant armed struggle against the apartheid government, supported by the international community, including countries like Palestine.

In 1974, at the 29th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, made his seminal “olive branch” speech, for which he received a standing ovation.

“Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand,” he implored.

Even today I get goosebumps listening to that speech; the beseeching yet steely determination to attain the freedom of his countrymen in Arafat’s demeanour that day was visceral. There stood a man in the middle of the UN floor, who for the longest time was considered a terrorist, surrounded by the decision-makers of the most powerful states in the world.

He was pleading for the recognition of Palestine’s right to self-determination and demanding that the world see him and his people. His assertion in that speech, however, was that although he sought peace for his country he was also willing to die fighting for it.

In 1977, the United Nations passed the resolution inaugurating the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It was asserting the recognition that injustice and gross human rights violations were being perpetrated in Palestine.

Yet here we are in 2021. Nelson Mandela made a similar speech 10 years before, in 1964, at the Rivonia Treason Trial, where he and the other trialists were charged with the highest crime in the country: treason. They were accused of trying to subvert the apartheid state.

“I have dedicated my life, to this struggle, of the African people. I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But my lord, if it needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die,” said Mandela.

When speaking about the struggle for liberation of the Palestinian people, soon after his release from prison, Mandela said: “But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without that of the Palestinians…”

Mandela never forgot how the Palestinian people stood in solidarity with South Africans as we fought to wrestle ourselves from the inhumane apartheid system. This is why the ANC government established diplomatic relations with Palestine in 1995.

Have South Africans forgotten how the Palestinian people stood with us in our darkest hour? Do we no longer recognise what colonialism and apartheid look and feel like because we are now a democracy?

Supporting the Palestinian struggle for liberation is not about religious affiliation; it is about recognising the humanity in each other. DM168

Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist at Maverick Citizen.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 10

  • Oh please…. Load of hogwash really.
    Yes it is indeed sad that children are being killed. And agreed this must come to an end but seriously there are 2 sides to the story. Stop looking at it from only 1.
    People from Palestine have fired how many rockets at Israel?? If it wasn’t for the iron dome, how many children in Israel would have been killed? What would you have said then?
    Forceful evictions, big words when that is exactly what the Zimbabwean government did, where is your article on that?? 10-1 you agree with taking land without compensating for it here aswell.
    Israel has the right like every other country to protect her borders and people just like Palestine.
    Here is a thought, why don’t the Palestinian “fighters” move out of the highly populated areas and launch from there, that way when the Israeli hit them back with their guided missiles, the chances of children getting killed is practically 0.

    • You and the likes of Neil obviously enjoyed the ‘privileges’ that came with the apartheid regime and thus cannot see anything from the ‘other’ side. The only thing the author failed to mention is that Israel and its sponsor the US were amongst the two countries during that period who designated the ANC a ‘terrorist’ organisation (not that there are not certain individuals in their ranks who do possibly fit that description – in my view ‘state capture’ should be designated as such). From Madiba’s emphasis on non-racialism (in the quote) it is staggering to see the slide or descent into ethno-nationalism. Regarding ‘terror’ this is a case of “my terrorism is not as bad as your terrorism ” I think. For decades I bought into the propaganda put out by the Israeli state about being under siege and that its activities were defensive, by its ‘control’ of numerous media and messaging. Any surprise then that in this episode it bombed an entire building housing journalists …. under the pretext of Hamas activists also being in it . Israel certainly does not want to hear or see the atrocities being committed ! At least Barak had the temerity to TELL the Israeli state to ‘stop’ the building of new settlements on occupied land…though he DID nothing to prevent the still ongoing land grabs ! Biden and Blinken haven’t even got there yet ! They are still bleating the ‘defend itself’ lie and enabling it. We have a long way to go in realising the dignity of a people. Salute the author .

  • Hmm… I love your compassion Zukiswa, but it is one-sided I’m afraid. There is no doubt that the Palestinian people are truly a homeless and disempowered people and deserve both. To not have compassion for that seems inhuman. The original negotiations that led to Israel becoming a home for Jews was recognised as essential after the second world war. To not have compassion for that also seems inhuman. That the land that was given already had people living in it was an insane decision. That the Palestinian leadership have used the last 70 years focussed on eliminating Israel instead of developing their people’s potential seems like a great tragedy. That Israel is forced to fence off and bomb some Palestinian areas to prevent attacks on its people is crazy. To not have compassion for the ordinary Palestinians who now suffer this triple blow seems utterly inhuman.
    In a future article, could someone please throw some light to how this can be solved without the destruction of Israel or the Palestinian who just wants to get on with life in peace?

    • I obviously mean that Palestinians deserve, like all peoples, to have a homeland and self-empowerment… I just realised that it could be read to mean the opposite.

  • I have no affiliation to either the Palestinians nor the Israeli’s, but here’s my take on this. I would protect my loved ones, and expect my Government to do the same, if someone was sending missiles my way. If it’s true that the elected Palestinian party Hamas, will only be satisfied with a destroyed Israel, what choice does Israel have? Palestinians need to elect a Government who will spend their efforts uplifting their people and not waging war. Sorry, that’s my (probably simplistic) take on the subject.

  • Nothing could possibly match what the world did to 6 million Jews, so don’t talk to me about “ world silence”

  • Please help me here Daily Maverick, and right up front I do not dispute for an instant your absolute right to stand on whatever side of the fence you choose.
    However that being said, I note there have been a number of opinions/articles, that are highly critical of and or slate Israel, without, it would seem the right of reply other than in the comments.
    I do know that I have asked for that privileged before, however have been met by total silence.
    Your position on this would be appreciated.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted