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Ronnie Kasrils and Victoria Brittain | The Guardian | 25 May 2005
The racist and colonial policies echo apartheid, and call for a similar response
Last October, 13-year-old Iman al-Hams was shot and wounded by an Israeli army unit in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, despite being identified as a little girl, and wearing a school uniform. Iman was machine-gunned by the unit's commander. She had 17 bullets in her body, and three in her head, a Palestinian doctor told the Guardian. Iman is one of 654 Palestinian children to have been killed in the occupied territories since September 2000. Several were killed as they sat at their desks in class. Three and a half thousand children have been wounded. Over 300 are in Israeli prisons.
In South Africa's state of emergency of the mid-1980s, declared in response to a nationwide campaign of protest, 312 children were killed, over 1,000 wounded, 2,000 children under 16 were detained without trial, thousands more arrested, hundreds fled into exile, and a generation was marked for life. The Rev Desmond Tutu wrote about one child, Johnny, whom he saw after some time in police custody: "I wanted to cry, I was filled with a blazing anger against a system that could do this to a child ... Johnny's case alone ought to be enough to fill any decent person ... with revulsion and indignation."
Iman's is such a case, 20 years on. Archbishop Tutu has described the situation of the Palestinians under occupation as worse than South Africa under apartheid. In July 2004, the international court of justice ruled that Israel's 280 mile wall, the latest burden on Palestinians, was illegal. But Israel, like the old South Africa faced with international disapproval, simply ignored it.
Twenty years ago, 496 British academics responded to an appeal from the African National Congress leaders in exile after two academics were served with banning orders. They signed a letter calling for an academic boycott of South Africa. Today, some in the new generation of British academics feel they cannot accept Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, the policies that brought the wall, and a new generation of children suffering like those South African children whose wounds of mind and body never healed.
Iman and Johnny will never go to college. But some of the Israeli soldiers implicated in crimes like the one that killed the little girl are university lecturers who serve in the occupation army reserve forces every year, and who otherwise go about their academic "business as usual" for the rest of the year. No Israeli academic institution has ever severed its organic ties with the military-security establishment in protest. None has issued a public statement condemning the grave violations of Palestinian human rights. This is part of the reason why Palestinians have called upon the world to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
The volcanic political response to the decision by the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in Britain to impose an academic boycott on Israeli universities has dismissed the crucial comparison between Israel and South Africa, which was the main motive behind the Palestinians' call for boycott. Israeli universities are not being targeted for boycott because of their ethnic or religious identity, but solely because of their complicity in the Israeli system of apartheid, which many see as sufficiently analogous to its defunct predecessor in South Africa to warrant sanctions.
In the occupied territories, Israel maintains a strict racial and colonial segregation between Israeli Jewish settlers and the native Palestinians (Muslims and Christians). The former group enjoys economic benefits, special roads, heavily subsidised and more heavily protected housing, and full political rights. Even under apartheid there were never whites-only roads. There was never a comparable prolonged siege, or curfews, that cut off black people from each other. Palestinians, on the other hand, are under a military occupation that kills and destroys, but also continuously dispossesses them of their lands for the benefit of Jewish settlers.
The desire for an ethnic-religious majority of Israeli Jews has seeped across from the occupied territories to permeate the Israeli "national" agenda, which increasingly views Palestinian citizens of Israel as a "demographic threat", as former prime minster Binyamin Netanyahu phrased it. The Palestinian minority in Israel has for decades been denied basic equality in health, education, housing and land possession, solely because it is not Jewish. The fact that this minority is allowed to vote hardly redresses the rampant injustice in all other basic human rights. They are excluded from the very definition of the "Jewish state", and have virtually no influence on the laws, or political, social and economic policies. Hence their similarity to the black South Africans.
In addition, and related to the demographic question, Israel continues to deny Palestinian refugees, who were ethnically cleansed during the 1948 war, their right to return to their lands and properties. Israel bases its position, which is contrary to fundamental human rights provisions and international law, on its right to preserve its Jewish ethnic-religious supremacy. No other country in the world today dares to claim any similar right.
In response to all this, how many Israeli academic institutions have criticised the racist and colonial policies of the state? How many Israeli academics have conscientiously objected to military service in the occupied territories? How many university lecturers have publicly opposed the occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land? Professors Ilan Pappe and Tanya Reinhart stand out, leading a few Israeli academics in calling for support for the Palestinian academics' call for selective academic boycott.
The boycotts and sanctions ultimately helped liberate both blacks and whites in South Africa. Palestinians and Israelis will similarly benefit from this non-violent campaign that Palestinians are calling for.
· Ronnie Kasrils is minister for intelligence in the South African government and a former commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe, military wing of the African National Congress. He is writing in his personal capacity. Victoria brittain is a journalist.