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Truly Honoring Mandela

US President Barack Obama expressed his hope to meet Nelson Mandela during his 2013 trip to the Republic of South Africa. He spoke of trying to answer the call to action against apartheid issued by Nelson Mandela, after his release from 27 years imprisonment on Robben Island and said that the revolution against apartheid in South Africa inspired his own anti-apartheid activism. President Obama’s desired meeting with Nelson Mandela did not take place due to Mr. Mandela’s critical illness, but he and his family visited Mandela’s cell on Robben Island.

On the day of Nelson Mandela’s death, the US President expressed his admiration for the leadership of Mr. Mandela, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize awardee, “who cherished the ideal of democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity”.

Many see parallels between the S African and Israeli apartheid and genocide against Palestinians in the W Bank and Gaza, but South African anti-apartheid leaders have called the Israeli-imposed apartheid worse than they experienced in South Africa, since white S Africans did not wish to eliminate black S Africans, there was no apartheid wall limiting movement and economic development, and the world has not risen up against the injustice.

It has been recognized by many that Israel could not continue to carry out an occupation of apartheid without US support. It is the US support that allows the Israeli leadership to continue to imprison and torture Palestinian youth, steal Palestinian land, demolish Palestinian homes, ration water and food to Palestinians, and bomb and rain white phosphorus on Palestinians living in Gaza as part of its occupation of Palestine – contrary to rules of international law. Many Israelis do not support these crimes against humanity in which Israel is waging war against an occupied civilian population, including its children.

On 4 December 1997, thirteen years prior to his death, President Mandela addressed the Special Emissary of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, diplomatic corps members and Palestinian and other guests on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people. He added the voice of South Africa to the “universal call for Palestinian self-determination and statehood.” He acknowledged that when the UN 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.” He stated that “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” and that he wished to “add our own voice to the universal call for Palestinian self-determination and statehood.”

Today, 13 years after Nelson Mandela’s address to those gathered in solidarity with the Palestinian People, Palestinians are still being displaced from their lands, adults and children imprisoned and tortured, homes demolished, ancient olive orchards and water sources destroyed as part of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Over 6.5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide are not allowed the right to return to their homes. Just as 60,000 residents of District 6 were forcibly removed by the S African apartheid regime in 1970, Israel is currently commencing forcible removal of up to 70,000 Bedouins under the Prawer-Begin Plan. Movement of Palestinian people is severely restricted, including by the 96 mile long Israeli apartheid wall that is over twice the height of the Berlin Wall and studded with sniper posts, with more walls under construction. So-called checkpoints serve to further curtail movement by Palestinians from one place to the next. Many buses and roads are segregated.

Recent reports by Israeli groups B’Tselem and Yesh Din documented severe physical violence including systematic torture and threats of sexual assault to children and to their female relations, execution if they don’t confess, solitary confinement and barring access to family and legal assistance. It has been reported that many Palestinian children have lost the will to live due to the combination of violence by the Israeli army and seeing their parents imprisoned.

During Palestinian commemorations of the death of Nelson Mandela, the so-called Israel Defense Force soldiers murdered a 14 year old Palestinian child by shooting him in the back as he stood in front of his school at Jalazoun Refugee Camp and arrested an 11 year old boy at gunpoint. They also shot 2 Palestinians in Bethleham’s Aida Refugee Camp. And Israel’s Economy Minister, Naftali Bennett has proposed annexing those parts of the West Bank under Israel’s military control. He referred to US-brokered “peace talks” as a joke as Israel prepared to build 255 new settler units near Ramallah in violation of the Geneva Conventions for occupied land.

The overriding responsibility that we all share is that this cruelty and torture and apartheid is being carried out with US complicity and support. Israel receives over $3 billion a year for military support from the United States. The US paid for Caterpillars that demolish houses and water supplies; airplanes and munitions, including the chemical weapon white phosphorus, used to attack Palestinians in violation of the Geneva Protocol; and Israel Defense Force soldiers and police seeking to arrest those who oppose these actions. Although President Obama treats Israel as a key ally, Israel is now known to have secretly tried to sell nuclear weapons to apartheid S Africa and currently refuses to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or open its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Nelson Mandela spoke out against American imperialism in committing atrocities, including the Iraq War. He considered poverty and inequality to be social evils on a par with slavery and apartheid. He spoke out against the US war on Terror as undermining the rule of law. He said that he “cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity” and “if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

President Obama could truly honor and emulate Nelson Mandela’s great courage and leadership as well as contribute to ending these atrocities by discontinuing the $3 billion per year support by the United States to Israel that allows it to continue these crimes against humanity. He could also cease US crimes against humanity committed in the guise of a war on terror in such places as Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He would then ensure that his legacy, like that of Nelson Mandela, would involve moral and ethical courage and would truly enable peace and justice.

Carol Murry lived and worked in rural Thailand and Swaziland; started a community health worker program on Micronesian outer islands; did leprosy research in Bhutan; directed NGOs; was University of Hawai’i faculty; and researched HIV among Pacific Island youth for UNICEF. She can be reached at: murry@hawaii.edu.

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