‘MAY THE WALLS OF APARTHEID COME TUMBLING DOWN’. (Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate) (l5.ll.2011).
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, On 5-7th November, 20ll. The International Jury, consists of Lawyers, writers, human rights activists, etc., The Tribunal will be opened by Archbishop Tutu. During the two day hearings, the Jury will receive many presentations, including: ‘The Law and Practice of Apartheid in South Africa and Palestine’ and ‘The Palestinian Right to Self-determination’. It is particularly important that this, the third Session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (previous sessions were held in London and Barcelona) be held in South Africa. South Africa, a country which suffered racism and apartheid until the People, under the Leadership of President Mandela, Archbishop Tutu, with many others, organized mass movements and civil disobedience, demanding an end to the Apartheid system. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Campaign, organized in South Africa, and supported by many around the world, helped bring down the Apartheid System. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine have, in its previous Sessions, and in response to the call from the Palestinian people, supported the BDS campaign and their visit to South Africa will be to show solidarity with the South African people and particularly support Palestinian people in their campaign to end their occupation, and persecution under the Israeli Government, and support the Palestinians desire for freedom and peace. The first step to peace is believing it is possible, having the political will to choose peace, and taking genuine steps to create it. The Israeli Government, (supported by US Government) to date, has not shown a genuine commitment to peace, as it continues to choose land, building Israeli settlements, demolishing Palestinian home, and ignoring International Law. It is important therefore that International pressure be brought to bear and the ‘Russell Tribunal on Palestine’ will help to do this. As we learned in Northern Ireland, outside Pressure can help bring about political change. In Northern Ireland in August l976 after 7 years of horrific violence, we found ourselves on the brink of Civil War. The cycle of violence kept turning and there seemed no way to break it. However, in August, the death toll rose to such an extent (Following the deaths of four young people) that people were fearful and fed up. Some stood up and cried ‘enough enough’ violence is getting up nowhere, lets try another way. It seems that in violent conflict there comes a breaking point when enough people rise up, join in solidarity, and decide they will have peace, because violence is wrong, and the price too high. This was a turning point for N.Ireland. When the massive Peoples’ movement (mostly women) choose nonviolence and rejected the bomb and the bullet, things began to change. It took sometime before the Paramilitaries and Politicians acknowledged also that in violent ethnic conflicts (and war!) militarism and paramilitarism don’t solve problems; indeed they are part of the problem. It is only through all inclusive dialogue (especially talking to ones enemy and getting to ceasefires) that the underlying problems can be identified and addressed, and peace processes be entered into. Through dialogue, and in time, trust can be built up, and peace can begin to blossom. In Northern Ireland we can come a long way, but we are not foolish enough to believe we have arrived at a perfect peace. Indeed we recognize that building a nonkilling, nonviolent truly democratic Northern Irish Society will take the rest of our lives, but we have learned many lessons. We have learned that the fear of ethnic annihilation can lead to the unleashing of destructive forces and blind us to our common humanity. We have also learned that when one lets go of the fear and anger, and choose to ‘talk to our enemies’, and build trust and community, we can reach inner freedom and communal peace. Only then can the personal and social ‘body pain’ begin to be healed and we humans recognize we truly need each other in this challenging, joyful, journey into true humanity. Although there are many differences between Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine, we have a great deal in common. Like Northern Ireland, Israel knows all about a heavy body pain, (carrying as it does its memories of the holocaust). Israel knows all about fear of ethnic annihilation hence its pre-occupation with National (in)security and its security blankets of nuclear weapons and militarism. But the truth is, as it is for Northern Ireland, these things will not bring real human security, to Israeli society only humans can do that for each other. Like the people of Northern Ireland, the People of Israel, will have to reach out to the Palestinian people, their longest and nearest neighbours, and work out how they are going to live together for the rest of their short lives. Only the Israeli and Palestinian people together can do that now, and it must be done for the sake of their children and their children’s’ children. The International Community can help, as they did for Northern Ireland, insisting that Human Rights and International Laws be upheld, but in the final analysis, Israel can choose peace and do the right thing by its own and the Palestinian people. In the last 10 years I have often visited Israel/Palestine and have made many good Friends in the process. (Unfortunately I am currently under Deportation orders having tried to get into Gaza on the ‘Rachel Corrie’ boat but taken by force to Israel and deported). I have been very inspired by the work of the Palestinian and Israeli Peace activists – particularly the Nonviolent Movements in Palestinian villages, such as Bilin and Nilin, in the West Bank of Occupied Palestine, and in besieged Gaza, where in spite of such tremendous suffering and persecution by Israel military, people continue to have hope for the future. My journeys have led me to I believe that it is from the beautiful souls of the Palestinian people that their freedom will blossom. At the moment, for some of them, it might sometimes feel like the power of military might of Israel (and the USA who pay for the Israeli military occupation) will go on forever, and the World will remain silent in the face of ‘war crimes’ being committed by Israel against the Palestinian people, but in the end I pray they will keep hope alive knowing that truth will win through. Believing peace and freedom is possible and working to bring it about is the duty, and joy, of every Palestinian and Israeli person no matter where they live. Solidarity, and nonviolent action, with all those Palestinians, who suffer the painful memories of their Nakba, and ongoing daily humiliation of poverty, occupation, imprisonment, displacement, deportation, etc., is part of all our responsibility as human beings. It is for this reason that the work of the ‘Russell Tribunal on Palestine’ is important as it by its presence in South Africa and from there reaching out in solidarity to Palestinians, they are choosing to break the complicity of silence, and raise the worlds chorus of shouts for ‘Palestinian freedom’so that the walls of ‘Apartheid’ will come tumbling down.