This column is an edited version of on an address the author delivered at the St George’s Cathedral on 5 May 2018
Our irrepressible Archbishop-Emeritus Desmond Tutu loves to tell how we marched in Cape Town on 13 September 1989 from St George’s Cathedral to the City Hall, and that the Berlin Wall fell down two months later. For visitors and newcomers to the Cathedral, there is a piece of that Berlin wall across the street in St George’s Mall – a gift to Cape Town from the German people, and there are photographs of the march both in the Link and downstairs in the Crypt.
The Cape Town March for Peace was a pivotal moment not just in South African history, but in world history. Here at the Cathedral we commemorate the triumph over apartheid in Gabriel de Loire’s Great West Window above the Link depicting Christ stilling the waves and in overcoming evil in its many forms – from poverty to war.
As Palestinians prepare for the Great March of Return on 15 May, we Capetonians have a particular responsibility. President Nelson Mandela famously declared that we in South Africa would not be truly free until Palestine was free. Here in the Cathedral during the 1980s, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and people of no faith gathered in common determination to overcome apartheid. The Cathedral would be packed with people.
Political gatherings were banned under the state of emergency. So the meetings were blessed, and we got on with the objective of a nonracial, nonsexist, united and democratic South Africa.
Two-thirds of Palestinians are refugees. Every year the United Nations reaffirms their right of return under international law to the lands from which their parents and grandparents were forcibly expelled in 1947/1948 by the Israelis. Those expulsions included collusion by the American and British governments, plus South Africa’s Smuts government. Nakba Day on 15 May observes that catastrophe.
The two-million people of Gaza are determined to rid themselves of the Israeli form of apartheid. As Archbishop Tutu and others confirm, it is even more vicious and barbaric than we experienced in South Africa. UN and other international investigations have confirmed that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020, perhaps earlier. Gaza is the world’s largest prison.
Because of deliberate Israeli government policies, 95 percent of the water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption. Because of Israeli electricity cut-offs, sewage runs in the streets and into the sea. Without electricity and medical supplies, the health services have also collapsed. Gaza is facing genocide – now deliberately perpetrated by descendants of people who suffered the Nazi holocaust.
Why are we and our South African government now so silent?
Every Friday, thousands of unarmed residents of Gaza challenge the Israeli army and the fence which separates Gaza from the rest of Israel-Palestine. Their intention is to storm and breach that fence on Nakba Day, Tuesday 15 May in a symbolic return to the land of their fathers.
The Israeli army response to unarmed protesters is live gunfire. Over 40 people have already been killed during the past six weeks, but thousands more have been injured by Israeli army sharpshooters. Israeli soldiers deliberately target the back of the knees so that the protesters will be crippled for life.
We, as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, will be erecting a tent on the 14th and 15th in the grounds of the Cape Town Castle abutting Darling Street. The Castle is symbolic of Dutch and British colonialism. The tent is symbolically and biblically significant not only of dispossession and yearnings of return, but also of worship, love and truth.
The PSC is a secular organisation comprising Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of no faith, our common purpose being solidarity on human rights for Palestinians. The situation in Palestine is a human rights issue.
In terms of international law, the Palestine catastrophe is a matter of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Let us on Nabka Day, 15th send a message of solidarity to Palestinians, but equally to our government and the world that Israel is an apartheid and gangster state.
The South African Council of Churches in September 1985 issued the Kairos Document, meaning the moment of truth, calling on South African Christians to overturn the apartheid government because of its failures to address the needs of the people. As a representative then of this Cathedral, I was a signatory.
A month, later the SACC launched the international banking sanctions campaign at the United Nations in New York as a nonviolent initiative to avert a civil war and racial bloodbath. It is now acknowledged, including by the late President Mandela, that the New York banking sanctions campaign was the tipping point in our struggle.
The Kairos Palestine Document, which is modelled after our Kairos Document, is a plea by Palestinian Christians to the world for support against Israeli apartheid. This is Israel’s Sharpeville, Soweto, and Selma moment of truth.
Unlike during the South African apartheid days, we won’t get arrested, tear gassed or shot on 15 May. DM