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5 May, 2002

Nobel Laureate Bishop Tutu: “Oppressing another people will get Israel neither security nor safety”

Originally Published: 5 May 2002

Even the most carefully laid plans have a way of backfiring.

What began as a plan to demonise and smear Muslims as terrorists in the wake of Sept 11 has now shifted to the greater truth: A focus on the brutal occupation of Palestine and Israel’s attempts to cover up, both literally and figuratively, the civilian casualties of its military campaign, which is very similar to American attempts to cover up the thousands of civilian deaths its bombing campaign caused in Afghanistan.

Yes, the world must never forget how many died in the Holocaust or in the Twin Towers, but the faster everyone forgets Afghanistan and Jenin, the better.

Since my previous column, some illustrious people have joined the ranks of those ‘Saying the Unsayable’, the headline of an April 13 article by Australian futurist Richard Neville in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good weekend magazine. They include former US President Jimmy Carter in the New York Times and Nobel peace prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu in the Guardian UK.

I am proud to be in good company. The spin doctoring that has historically strived to portray Israelis as pitiful, helpless victims of “terrorists” is fraying at the seams. All the people are not being fooled all the time. The fiction that Muslims should be equated with terrorism is falling afoul of the root-cause fact that Israel is an occupying power supported by America.

On April 21, Mr. Carter’s commentary in the NYT put it bluntly: “Ariel Sharon is a strong and forceful man and has never equivocated in his public declarations nor deviated from his ultimate purpose. His rejection of all peace agreements that included Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands, his invasion of Lebanon, his provocative visit to the Temple Mount, the destruction of villages and homes, the arrests of thousands of Palestinians and his open defiance of President George W. Bush’s demand that he comply with international law have all been orchestrated to accomplish his ultimate goals: to establish Israeli settlements as widely as possible throughout occupied territories and to deny Palestinians a cohesive political existence.”

On April 29, Bishop Tutu was even more forthright. Excerpts from his speech in Boston at a conference based appropriately on the theme “Ending the Occupation” were published by the Guardian UK in an article aptly headlined “Apartheid in the Holy Land.”

He said: “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about. … I have experienced Palestinians pointing to what were their homes, now occupied by Jewish Israelis. I was walking with Canon Naim Ateek (the head of the Sabeel Ecumenical Centre) in Jerusalem. He pointed and said: ‘Our home was over there. We were driven out of our home; it is now occupied by Israeli Jews’.”

On April 13, Richard Neville’s article in Good Weekend was referred to as an expose of “the hypocrisy behind Bush’s war on terror.” The article said: “When the world’s mightiest air force unleashed itself on the world’s poorest nation, the result was never in doubt. Carnage, and lots of it. Among my reasons for opposing the action in Afghanistan was the awkward fact that the Taliban, however insufferable, did not plan or execute the attacks on the US. But why let the truth get in the way of a sitting duck? The Taliban was a vile theocracy which subjugated women, mutilated criminals and disallowed free speech. It deserved to be crushed. Maybe so. In which case, so does our coalition ally Saudi Arabia.”

I interviewed Neville in New Delhi on April 15. He said his emailbox was clogged with messages, running nine out of 10 in support.

In a way, we are all saying the unsayable which is in itself a huge breakthrough. Perhaps the most powerful comment was Bishop Tutu’s call for Americans not to fear speaking out: “People are scared in this country [the US], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful — very powerful. Well, so what? For goodness sake, this is God’s world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust.

“Injustice and oppression will never prevail. Those who are powerful have to remember the litmus test that God gives to the powerful: what is your treatment of the poor, the hungry, the voiceless? And on the basis of that, God passes judgment.”

Bishop Tutu added, “…you know as well as I do that, somehow, the Israeli government is placed on a pedestal [in the US], and to criticise it is to be immediately dubbed anti-semitic, as if the Palestinians were not semitic. I am not even anti-white, despite the madness of that group. And how did it come about that Israel was collaborating with the apartheid government on security measures?”

While the Americans/Israelis constantly carp about the need for Palestinians to “do more” to end the violence, Messrs Tutu and Carter have alternative views.

Mr. Carter notes the legal requirement that American weapons supplied to Israel are to be used only for defensive purposes, “a premise certainly being violated in the recent destruction of Jenin and other villages.”

He notes that “Richard Nixon imposed this requirement to stop Ariel Sharon and Israel’s military advance into Egypt in the 1973 war, and I used the same demand to deter Israeli attacks on Lebanon in 1979. (A full invasion was launched by Ariel Sharon after I left office). The other persuasive factor is approximately $10 million daily in American aid to Israel. President George Bush Sr. threatened this assistance in 1992 to prevent the building of Israeli settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”

Bishop Tutu says, “Israel has three options: revert to the previous stalemated situation; exterminate all Palestinians; or – I hope – to strive for peace based on justice, based on withdrawal from all the occupied territories, and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on those territories side by side with Israel, both with secure borders.”

Mr. Carter supplements that by pointing out that “an ultimate avenue to peace (is) the implementation of United Nations resolutions, including Resolution 242, expressed most recently in the highly publicized proposal of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah. The basic premises of these resolutions are withdrawal of Israelis from Palestinian lands in exchange for full acceptance of Israel and Israel’s right to live in peace.

“This is a reasonable solution for many Israelis, having been accepted in 1978 by Prime Minister Menachem Begin and ratified by the Israeli Knesset. Egypt, offering the greatest threat to Israel, responded by establishing full diplomatic relations and honoring Israeli rights, including unimpeded use of the Suez canal. This set a pattern for what can and must be done by all other Arab nations. Through constructive negotiations, both sides can consider some modifications of the 1967 boundary lines.”

Mr. Carter added, “I understand the extreme political sensitivity in America of using persuasion on the Israelis, but it is important to remember that none of the actions toward peace would involve an encroachment on the sovereign territory of Israel. They all involve lands of the Egyptians, Lebanese and Palestinians, as recognized by international law.”

Finally, there is a warning from Bishop Tutu: “Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice. We condemn the violence of suicide bombers, and we condemn the corruption of young minds taught hatred; but we also condemn the violence of military incursions in the occupied lands, and the inhumanity that won’t let ambulances reach the injured. The military action of recent days, I predict with certainty, will not provide the security and peace Israelis want; it will only intensify the hatred.”

My sentiments, exactly.