Sunday Times - Times Live
Palestine, against the wall
Jan 22, 2011 11:27 PM | By Caiphus Kgosana
On a visit to Palestine, Caiphus Kgosana finds that the armed struggle against Israel is slowly giving way to an international
campaign along the lines of the anti-apartheid movement in an attempt to end the occupation
CHANGING VIEW: The shadows of Palestinian children are cast on a wall bearing an anti-Israel mural in Gaza City, where
a shift towards an isolationist campaign against occupation is under way Picture: REUTERS
Palestine's resistance to Israeli occupation faces many obstacles, including internal division and a lack of unified support
from Arab states.
An ANC delegation is visiting Fatah, the Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine, in Ramallah, the West Bank
city known as the temporary capital of Palestine and the headquarters of the Palestinian National Authority - the de facto
government led by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Fatah is the largest of the political groupings that form the Palestinian Liberation Organisations .
Countries that recognise the Palestinian state have set up missions in Ramallah, which is separated from Jerusalem by a
12m-high concrete wall set about with barbed wire.
Palestinians regard Jerusalem as their legitimate capital and often refer to a time when the remains of their late leader,
Yasser Arafat, will be reburied in the holy city.
The 20-strong ANC delegation includes representatives of trade union federation Cosatu, the SA Communist Party, the ANC's
youth and women's leagues, business and civil society.
They engage in an intense discussion with their Fatah hosts on the genesis of the Palestinian struggle and lessons that
can be drawn from South Africa's successful resistance to apartheid.
Having denounced the armed struggle as a means of achieving an independent Palestine, Fatah has opted to adopt the anti-apartheid
movement model which exerted pressure to internationally isolate apartheid South Africa, to force it to adopt full democracy.
The strategy focuses strongly on pushing for a boycott of all products from Israeli settlements as well as a cultural boycott,
encouraging international companies to disinvest from companies based in Jewish settlements and to convince the world to apply
punitive sanctions against Israel.
The Fatah movement has long accepted that Israel's superior fire power and the geographical composition of the Palestinian
state - including the West Bank and the Gaza strip - make it difficult to wage an armed struggle because it is too easy for
Israel to isolate opposition and conduct ground and air raids.
Among those present at the meeting with the ANC delegation is Dr Nabil Shaath, a charming, authoritative figure. A former
foreign minister of Palestine, Shaath is chairman of the foreign relations committee of Fatah.
"There is no balance of power," says Shaath.
"One side has a historical claim to the land but the other has all the guns and power, so it's difficult to achieve equity,
it's difficult to achieve peace. That doesn't mean we should own weapons, it means our struggle should be shaped by people
of the world who want peace and international law to prevail."
For Palestinians, an acceptable solution would be recognition of their right to self-determination, the immediate halting
of all Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Israel's withdrawal from the area and from the Gaza strip, which were annexed
during the Six-Day War of 1967 when Israel quickly defeated the united armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
Following its 1967 victory, Israel began constructing Jewish settlements which now cover 87% of the West Bank and are surrounded
by a wall that will run for 810km once completed. Hundreds of army checkpoints control access and movement.
About 76000 Jewish housing settlement units have been built since the occupation, with 15000 more under construction.
The Gaza strip, under the control of the radical liberation movement Hamas, has been besieged by the Israeli army and is
subject to random shelling.
Millions of Palestinians living on the West Bank close to Jewish settlements are threatened daily with eviction, despite
the settlements being considered illegal under international law.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, an academic from the University of Bethlehem, describes this as a campaign to rid the West Bank of all
people of Arab descent.
"They want the land but they don't want the people that come with it," he says.
Qumsiyeh says he believes the Palestinian people have every right to protect themselves from Israeli aggression by any
means, including taking up arms, but concedes that it's a difficult and extremely costly route to take.
In contrast, the ANC's struggle against the apartheid regime was multipronged and included the armed struggle - which many
argue was largely ineffective. It also comprised internal resistance and disobedience campaigns as well as international isolation
of the racist state.
The latter strategy, although likely to be successful in the end, can be a time-consuming process that demands patience,
persuasion and coercion.
Applying it to the Palestinian struggle could also prove tricky because of the situation in the movement and the wider
The first disadvantage is the disunity among the Palestinian liberation movements - particularly Fatah and Hamas.
When Hamas won the 2006 elections in the Gaza strip, it agreed to a power-sharing deal but staged a military coup in 2007
which brought down the unity government.
It immediately isolated all its political opponents and created parallel institutions to those created by the Palestinian
Efforts by Egypt to broker a truce between Hamas, Fatah and other smaller liberation organisations failed.
At the same time the Arab world is largely ineffective and fragmented over the Palestinian issue, with neighbouring states
mainly interested in safeguarding their own interests. This means countries that should be key allies, such as Egypt, Jordan
and Saudi Arabia, end up bowing to US pressure to grant concessions to Israel - sometimes at the expense of the Palestinians.
The US - even under the current administration - remains the biggest supporter of the Israeli government and has shielded
it from international accountability.
ANC international relations manager Ribbon Mosholi, who is leading the fact-finding mission to Palestine, agrees that disunity
among the formations fighting for Palestinian liberation is a drawback that makes it difficult to adopt an effective strategy.
This disunity and the lack of concrete support from Arab states will make it difficult to recreate an effective resistance
campaign along the lines of the anti-apartheid movement, she adds.
"We need to be frank with the Palestinians. We knocked on every door and we managed in the long run to make sure that the
whole African continent, bar a few states, was with us. In the end most Western countries were embarrassed to vote against
us during UN deliberations on SA."
Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti of the global Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions coalition says people never believed
in the '60s and '70s that apartheid would crumble, but relentless international pressure eventually led to its dismantling.
He says the same pressure applied globally will eventually force Israel to back down and that South Africa under the ANC
has a critical role to play in this regard.
For now, however, the future looks imperfect for besieged Palestinians who seem to have very few friends willing to openly
cross swords with the US and Israel.
* Kgosana's trip was sponsored by the Foreign Relations Commission of the Fatah Movement and the Palestinian
Embassy in SA.