South Africa found peace, why not Middle East?


December 21, 2007: At the height of the struggle, when apartheid’s repression was at its most vicious and it seemed as if the apartheid rulers were firmly ensconced in power, we turned to the inspiration of our Hebrew tradition and antecedents.

I could have spent a great deal of time rehearsing how I experienced a deja-vu when I saw a security checkpoint at which Palestinians had to negotiate most of their lives, that I was reminded so painfully of the same checkpoints in apartheid South Africa. I have not gone that route.

No, I have chosen a different approach. A recent report by a clinical psychologist who was himself a soldier in the Israeli Defence Force, Nufan Yishai Katrim, speaks of how Israeli soldiers carried out acts of brutality on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. One of the soldiers, he said, told of how a new commander went out with them on patrol.

Because of the curfew, there were no Palestinians in sight except a four-year-old boy who was playing with the sand. The commander went and broke the arm of the four-year-old.  

When you uphold an unjust dispensation, it corrodes your humanity. In South Africa, a former cabinet minister in the apartheid dispensation showed this. When he was told of the death of Steve Biko, Jimmy Kruger said it left him cold. We believe in a two-state solution of two sovereign, viable states, each with contiguous borders, guaranteed as secure by the international community.

We condemn all acts of terrorism by whoever they are committed. The suicide bomber has to be condemned for targeting innocent civilians. But equally, the Israelis are to be condemned for their acts of indiscriminate reprisal that, too, target innocent civilians. We say: please, please, learn at least one positive lesson from apartheid South Africa.

Under Mr F.W. de Klerk, who must be commended for his outstanding courage, the apartheid rulers decided to negotiate, not with those they liked, but with their sworn enemy. And they found the security that had eluded them for so long and that had cost so much suffering and blood.

It came not from the barrel of a gun. No, it came when the legitimate aspirations and human rights of all were recognised and respected. That was 13 years ago, and the peace is still holding.

Many had predicted that South Africa would be overwhelmed by a catastrophic racial bloodbath. It did not happen  because they negotiated in good faith with their enemies. Somebody has said if something has happened once, then clearly it is something possible. It happened in South Africa; why not in the Middle East?




Tutu is a former archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel laureate.

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