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Mandela and Lessons for Israel-Palestine: from Armed Struggle to Political Transformation

Though parallels and echoes between South Africa and Israel-Palestine seem obvious, over the years I hadn’t given much thought to the lessons to be learned from Nelson Mandela’s approach to apartheid.  In light of his death today, his moral example and legacy seem even more relevant than they were yesterday, while he still lived.  Here was a man who turned from a liberation fighter to a renowned statesman.  A leader who once espoused violence and who came to lead his nation to a peaceful resolution.  A man who became beloved around the world.

In the 1960s, before he was tried, convicted and imprisoned for life (he was confined for 27 years), Mandela made a momentous decision to embrace armed struggle.  But rather than articulating the decision as a volitional act, he maintained that the choice to take up arms was dictated by the oppressor himself, rather than the oppressed.  If the powerful uses force to maintain its power, then the powerless must adapt to this challenge.  But when the ruler renounces arms and turns to negotiation and compromise, then the ruled must respond in kind.

nelson mandela palestineThis poses a powerful lesson for the Israel-Palestine conflict as well.  Though the Israelis don’t precisely mirror apartheid-era South Africa and the Palestinians don’t precisely mirror South African Blacks, the parallels more than outweigh the differences.  Since 1948, Israel has adopted the view that it must defend itself by brute force.  Negotiation and diplomacy have always been seen as secondary to military might.  As a result, over 20,000 Palestinians have died in the course of this conflict.  This does not include the Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians and Egyptians killed in separate conflicts with Israel.  While Israelis have died as well, the numbers are significantly lower (a one to six ratio).

Using Mandela’s example, Palestinians had a right to resort to armed struggle in pursuit of their national aspirations.  To be clear, I’m not personally endorsing violence as a path I would choose.  But Palestinians, according to the example offered by Mandela, were within their rights to take up arms.  Of course, there comes a time when every revolutionary struggle must make a fateful decision to lay them down again.  The Palestinians are currently struggling with that question.

Of course, the Israelis have never offered what F.W. deKlerk finally offered Mandela: the unbanning of the African National Congress, an end to the pass system and apartheid itself, offering of full citizenship to all Blacks (including those within bantustans) within a democratic South Africa.  The Israelis have never offered Palestinians either within Israel or in the Occupied Territories full, equal rights, or the rights to their own state.  They never offered to end the equivalent of apartheid–the Occupation.  Israel, unlike white South African leaders, never fully renounced state violence.  It continues to be a primary tool for enforcing Israeli dominance.

So until Israel does fully recognize its similarities to white South Africa and adopt some of the compromises it made, there can be little hope for change.  There is no Israeli de Klerk.  Some may argue that there is no Palestinian Mandela, but Israel has hardly allowed one to develop since, like Mandela, it has imprisoned the leading Palestinian national leader, Marwan Barghouti.

I do not believe Israel can afford to wait 22 more years (the amount of time it took to free Mandela) to release Barghouti from prison.  That is why the BDS movement, along with the sanctions movement against apartheid South Africa before it, has a role to play.  I’m also afraid that unlike in South Africa, where there were two leaders ready to make peace, that there is no such internal dynamic possible between Israelis and Palestinians.  That is why I fear outside intervention like the protectorate that was declared for Kosovo, may be necessary.  I don’t see any stomach for this sort of pressure internationally, which is why a real solution to the conflict may be a long way off.

Islamic Jihad rally on Al Quds University campus, November 4th

I got to thinking about the role of violence in the Palestinian resistance movement after hearing from Rima Najjar, an English professor at Al Quds University.  I first discovered her via her Facebook posting of the Semitic Swag advertisement which I blogged about.  She then mentioned that she’d been involved in the Islamic Jihad protest on campus, which I’d also written about.  I told her I would publish her personal statement, which covers some of the territory I mentioned above.  Though she would clearly prefer me to endorse her views myself, I publish them here as hers and those of the Palestinian resistance:

Islamic Bloc Rally on Campus Honors Palestinian Martyrs

November 4


Those of you following the story re: Brandeis University suspending its partnership with Al-Quds University might like to take another look at the campus rally that instigated the ruckus. The rally was meant to honor the martyrs of Islamic Jihad and specifically the father of martyr Mohammad Rabah ‘Asi. Regarding the salute at the Islamic Bloc rally that was likened to a nazi salute, it is done by extending the arm and pointing the index finger to indicate the basic “there is no Allah but Allah” Muslim religious” creed. Was there military zeal and a subtext of violence in the imagery used and the slogans chanted against the Jewish Zionist state as symbolized by the star of David that students were stepping on? Yes, of course, there was. It’s the right of the oppressed to use violence against the oppressor and no amount of “terrorist” labeling or Islamophobic ranting is going to change that.

As it happened, we had (by coincidence) three professors from Brandeis visiting us while all this was happening – in fact, they met with members of the English department to discuss course design and development, and they do not share the view of their administration that suspending the partnership between the two universities was the right action to take.

Before anyone denounces views that endorse violence as a form of resistance to oppression and Occupation, remember the example of Mandela.  This is a man who was denounced by the apartheid regime as a terrorist and imprisoned for life.  He endorsed the creation of the ANC’s military wing and its transformation from non-violent resistance to a hybrid form that included armed struggle:

“I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto we Sizwe, and that I played a prominent role in its affairs until I was arrested in August 1962. 50 years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights.

Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.

As violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the Government met our peaceful demands with force.”

Mandela and the ANC only came off the U.S. government terror watch list in 2008! Therefore, we must see Palestinian national resistance including leaders like Barghouti in the same context.  Peter Beinart’s article honoring Mandela’s radical legacy conveniently ignores that there is precisely such a Palestinian legacy that he must honor.  He refuses to do so because his liberal Zionism blinds him to the same radical impulse necessary to destroy South African apartheid is necessary to destroy Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

I am convinced that within a decade or so of an agreement ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israelis themselves will understand that Palestinian militants were little different from leaders of the Israeli Jewish resistance, who themselves took up arms and were labelled terrorists by the British Mandate.  Some of these figures themselves became prime ministers and generals after the founding of the State.  In the same way, Palestinian resistance leaders have and will take their place leading a Palestinian state once it comes into existence.

For those who are still unconvinced, remember Ehud Barak’s famous comment that if he were Palestinian he would take up armed resistance against Israel.  Thus, the Palestinian choice to take up arms is a rational one, though it may seem anything but to Israeli victims.

That’s why Brandeis Pres. Fred Lawrence’s decision to bow to right-wing pro-Israel pressure and sever his school’s ties to Al Quds University because it allowed a protest by Islamic Jihad on campus is so ridiculous.  Can you imagine a foreign university severing ties with the Hebrew University because it held a ceremony to commemorate those Jewish liberation fighters who lost their lives in what Israelis call the War of Independence?  Can you imagine a foreign university severing ties with George Washington University because it is named for the military leader of American armed resistance to British tyranny?

Finally, I close with a story very close to home.  After picking my youngest son (age 9) up from school today, we listened to the radio coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela.  It aired past speeches of Mandela and appraisals of his historic significance.  One of the themes both the hosts and interviewees who knew Mandela emphasized was his refusal to bear a grudge.  His willingness to forgive and move on.

Adin asked me who Mandela was.  I explained that he was the leader of South Africa.  But that before that there was a war between Blacks and whites because the latter wanted the country under their control, despite the fact that the Blacks were a majority.  I told my son that Mandela had spent many years in jail until he met a white leader of the country who was willing to allow Blacks to have an equal say in running the country.

My son has Asperger’s Syndrome, which among other things, gives him a rigid sense of right and wrong, and a certain inflexibility in dealing with social relationships.  When he finds his routine disturbed in school, or when he becomes bored in class, he can become unruly and lose control.  This happened the other day, when one of the instructional aides tried to persuade Adin to leave the classroom so he wouldn’t disturb the learning of the other children.  Naturally, he nursed a grudge against this individual, even though he was only doing his job as best he could.

So in the midst of discussing Nelson Mandela’s amazing ability to see the humanity in his enemies and forgive them for whatever trespasses they committed against him or his movement, a light bulb went off in my head (when you’re an Asperger’s parent you need lots of these light bulb moments to deal with the various behaviors children manifest) and I asked Adin if perhaps he could emulate Mandela and forgive Dirk for what happened.

He sighed and said: “Don’t hold your breath!”  After I stopped laughing (which took quite a while), I asked him why.  He said that if he had been Mandela he would’ve wanted to kill those who had hurt or killed Blacks.  I pointed out that if Mandela had done that, there would’ve been a war between the races and that thousands would’ve died.  As leader of his people, he didn’t want such bloodshed.  He wanted his country to pull together and be healed, so he couldn’t nurse a grudge.  That’s the tough part of this moral lesson.  My son may not have gotten it.  Israelis certainly haven’t gotten it.  But Nelson Mandela got it.

If we look back at other resistance movements in history, we see a similar pattern of violent resistance yielding to a negotiated solution and transformation into a political process.  Think of the American Revolution.  If the King had captured any of our Founding Fathers he would’ve hung them from the nearest tree.  But in the context of a few centuries of historical development, these men look infinitely wise.  They were revolutionaries who supported violent resistance and put their names to a document that surely would’ve ensured their death had their cause lost.  But they also laid the groundwork for one of the most successful democracies in the history of the world.

I don’t know if anything similar can happen in Palestine.  But even if it cannot, even if the future leadership of a Palestinian state turn out to be as venal and flawed as the current and past leaders of Israel, at least they will be taking their own national destiny in their hands, and not be under the boot heel of an oppressor.  Just as the fate of post-apartheid South Africa has been deeply flawed by violence, crime and corruption, so will Palestine probably disappoint many in terms of realizing its promise and destiny.  But Israel has had sixty years to perfect itself since it was founded, and its citizens and leaders haven’t done such a splendid job either.


{ 28 comments… add one }

  • bluto December 6, 2013, 5:24 AM

    Powerfully written article

    The Israeli (and Israeli Lobby/Neocon) strategy of using people it controls (like Abbas/Fayyad) to split the Palestinians has an antidote in Barghouti as the ‘unity’ candidate and popular favorite. Peres said Israel would release Barghouti if Barghouti were elected while in prison. There certainly is no surprise Abbas doesn’t seem interested in Barghouti’s release with all these current regular prisoner releases – why, that would be actually helping the Palestinian cause and would precipitate his own ouster.

    “Therefore, we must see Palestinian national resistance including leaders like Barghouti in the same context. Peter Beinart’s article honoring Mandela’s radical legacy conveniently ignores that there is precisely such a Palestinian legacy that he must honor. He refuses to do so because his liberal Zionism blinds him to the same radical impulse necessary to destroy South African apartheid is necessary to destroy Israeli oppression of Palestinians.”

    Beinart cannot ‘see this’ because he will lose his whole argument if he does – so he doesn’t. Beinart doesn’t like what he sees his Israel becoming and what it has already become and his efforts are to try to retrench Israel so that something different – something other than One State – can be wrested from the jaws of defeat.

    The problem Beinart cannot overcome is that there are no liberal Zionists because modern Zionism is so radical and belligerent. Zionists are radical, racist, and are going to the ICC next Sept 2014 if the expected miracle the US brings to Israel next month isn’t enthusiastically accepted by Netanyahu or even Abbas

    Barghouti as the first PM of the ‘One State’? – all that stands between this happening is Abbas himself, the PA, Israel, the US, and Peter Beinart.

    Israel is in Alice in Wonderland-land with the collapse of 20-30+ yrs of Israeli grand strategy which the debacle of the Grand Deal with Iran brings to Israel. Reading Haaretz or even Times of Israel these days is amazing – open talk of Apartheid and the disaster of Netanyahu and the above Israeli grand strategy of cover-up/instigation to set the Middle East afire in order to cover up the Occupation for another 10 yrs with the next installment of the bogus Israeli/Neocon Thousand Year War against Islamic Terrorism.

    Israel and the US Israeli Lobby are significantly weakened and if the Palestinians can capitalize on this Israeli/Neocon weakness and the enormous power-vaccum of Israeli plans in tatters – it could really deeply undermine the whole Apartheid edifice at a time when Israel is floundering and off balance. The Apartheid edifice must be hit from numerous angles and and with such speed such that Israel is not able to adjust and successfully take on the problems one by one. Barghouti as Palestinian leader, tightening EU/international sanctions, pressurizing Israel from the US side as the Settler State digs in – bring them all on and all at once

    Netanyahu and Israel continue their meltdown internationally – there is nothing on the horizon for Israel now except international sanctions and the ICC. International pressure/Palestinian pressure to release Barghouti would be huge momentum for the Palestinians

  • bluto December 6, 2013, 9:35 AM

    Eulogy for Mandela by Marwan Bharghouti just up on Mondoweiss

    Marwan Barghouthi on Mandela: ‘Our freedom seems possible because you reached yours’ –

    Hadarim Prison, December 6, 2013


  • scott shepard December 6, 2013, 10:33 AM


    The differences between South Africa and Palestine are interesting.

    When I was a young man the white grip on South Africa seemed unshakable, and the US government in those days certainly did not lift a finger to discourage apartheid. To that extent, S Africa looked like Israel/Palestine. One of the key differences, maybe the key differences, is that whites in South Africa or whites in any African country will always be so obviously outsiders, colonizers, no matter how many businesses they built, farms they develop, or generations they can point backward to. Whites are always a minority, and bring every particle of their culture with them; nothing white emerges indigenously in Africa. This might be true for Euro Americans on this continent too, but too little of ‘native’ American culture persists to make this obvious.

    The Jews however are making a historical loop back to Palestine, after centuries of absence and exile. They do so religiously, historically, and to some extent, culturally. This is not to comment upon the right of descendants to re-claim properties that ancestors may have walked upon in the time of Christ. My observation is less ethical and legal than it is emotional and visceral. And I don’t mean visceral to Jews, which it is; but then, to white Africans, the connection to African lands can be visceral too. I mean that the Jewish connection to the Holy Land resonates internationally, especially among Christians, and particularly among American Christians. That does not mean that the rest of the world is willing to give Jews a pass on Palestine, but it means that tolerance for the Jewish perspective on Palestine will always be vastly greater than any argument that whites can make in African countries.

    Some of this is sheer mythology and religious story telling. From at least the 19th century in the US, the Jewish romantic claim to Palestine has endured in the imaginations of certain Christians who believe in the cycle of Christ’s return and so on. Is it outrageous? Certainly. But it works.

    If American politicians mostly stood back and watched as whites in South Africa tried to retain their authority in that country, when it came to Palestine, from the moment when Jefferson was commissioning a navy to fight Arabs off the Barbary coast, the idea was rooted in the American conscience that Arabs were the bad guys. Muslims were the bad guys. That went back to the Crusades. All that was required in the 21st century was for the western image of Jews to be invigorated, so that Jews could be seen sympathetically, and it was inevitable that western governments, especially the US, would throw in with Jews over Arabs.

    The more that western states needed to conduct affairs in the Arabian world, the more they needed to recover from their anti Jewish anti semitism, because they needed the Jews in that world. Theodor Herzl wanted the west to get that message: we are more like you than the Arabs are. Little that has happened since the time of Balfour to convince Americans that siding with the Jews was a bad call.

    There is no Jewish de Klerk because there does not need to be. I believe that destiny is not on Israel’s side, because that state can’t be permanently built on the foundation of a myth of Jewish right. That can sustain for a while, but not permanently. But in the short term, Israeli statesmen see that as long as they can associate themselves with this historical and religious right (I don’t mean right wing, I mean ‘right-ness’), American sympathies, and American muscle, are strongly on their side. The attitude of ordinary Americans, and ordinary Frenchmen for that matter, is far more nuanced; that is one development over the last 25 years or so. Palestinians have more sympathy from common folk than before. But ordinary people don’t make foreign policy; rich and powerful people do. And it is with them that the Israel myth of rightness persists, and may even be more firmly rooted today than, say, in Jimmy Carter’s time.

    So don’t look for the Palestinian’s problems to be resolved because of some charismatic and wise Palestinian elder wearing down Jewish resolve. Palestine isn’t South Africa.

    • Richard Silverstein December 6, 2013, 2:19 PM

      You took a complex, fraught subject & handled it with great deftness. My hat’s off to you.

  • Oui December 6, 2013, 10:55 AM

    Israeli cooperation with the white-supremacist regime of South Africa is a stain on all leaders from Labor to Likud. Working together as two-apartheid regimes on the nuclear bomb and most horrific biological and chemical weapons. One apartheid state still exists, I hope it encourages Obama and other world leaders to push forward on a two-state option and an independent Palestinian state recognized for Arab citizens only. Just as Netanyahu wants recognition for a Jewish state of Israel.

    Mandela and Israel

    (JPost) – Asked why he had finally decided to visit Israel, he replied, “To the many people who have questioned why I came, I say: Israel worked very closely with the apartheid regime. I say: I’ve made peace with many men who slaughtered our people like animals. Israel cooperated with the apartheid regime, but it did not participate in any atrocities.”

    Mandela voiced his vehement opposition to continued Israeli control of the territories it had “occupied” in the Six Day War, and he urged Israel to concede land to the Palestinians and Syrians, just as it had done with the Egyptians, for the sake of peace.

    “My view is that talk of peace remains hollow if Israel continues to occupy Arab lands,” he said. “I understand completely well why Israel occupies these lands. There was a war. But if there is going to be peace, there must be complete withdrawal from all of these areas.”

    Nelson Mandela was united with all oppressed people around the globe. In Latin America, that would be the Marxist ideology (Che Guevara) and the Liberation theology. In South-West Africa (Angola and Namibia) the struggle would involve Cuban revolutionaries, Soviet arms versus CIA, US power and South Africa.

    Link to my diary – Mandela and Apartheid.

  • ben December 6, 2013, 11:29 AM

    I was wondering how long it would take for you to mention Marwan Barghouti… I think a more fair comparison for Barghouti would be Menachem Begin. Perhaps if John Kerry is successful with the security arrangements that are being pushed by Jordan and Saudi Arabia then there will be a full prisoner release and then Barghouti if he wishes can become PM of the new Palestine state. I would be fascinated if after there was peace if a “truth and reconciliation commission” could be setup. I think just like in South Africa to in Israel/Palestine would help heal some of the deepest wounds. A better comparison for Mandela IMO would be with Abbas. Both were once advocates of armed resistance and both ended up rejecting that form or resistance in favour of peaceful struggle.
    Though even after the establishment of Palestine it will take decades IMO for armed resistance to subside. What happens when Palestine is declared and groups like Hamas say they are now fighting the PA due to them being the new oppressors for even allowing Israel to live in security. Moreover about “rights” many people have rights to do things that are morally wrong but legal though this does not make it right. I think it will take a paradigm shift in the mindset of the Palestinian to come to the conclusion that even though it is my right to violent resistance it does not necessarily mean I have to action on it.

    • ben December 6, 2013, 11:32 AM

      oh and just to add about your son… i am sure he is a wonderful boy and brings joy to your heart. congrats on being an example of what it means to be a role model.

    • Deïr Yassin December 7, 2013, 5:02 AM

      @ Ben
      How can you compare Marwan Barghouti to Menahem Begin and Mandela to Abbas ? Is this a joke ?
      Marwan Barghouti is a native of the land just as Mandela. As far as I know Begin is born in Eastern Europe. I know hasbara tries to make the Zionist struggle in Palestine look like a national liberation struggle against the Brits. The problem is that the land they ‘liberated’ was not theirs !
      And Abbas didn’t spent years in the oppressors’ prison as Mandela did, and he certainly doesn’t have the aura and the charisma of Mandela either. If you want to compare Abbas to anyone, he’s closer to Uncle Tom or Quisling.
      YOU want to see Abbas as Mandela because he suits Israel, no Palestinian would ever compare the two.

      On the contrary, Marwan Barghouthi has that same aura. In Sari Nusseibeh’ autobiography “Once Upon a Country. A Palestinian Life” that Richard mentioned a couple of days ago, Nusseibeh speaks warmly about Barghouthi who was his student at Bir Zeit, and already at the time a natural leader.

      A very exhaustive article from Dec 2011 by Joseph Dana on Marwan Barghouti:
      “Page by Page, Marwan Barghouti’s Anti-War Tome Walked Out of Prison”.
      His wife states that she knows why he wasn’t released during the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange but that she’s keeping it to herself. Let me make a guess: the PA didn’t want him released….
      PS. By the way, Marwan Barghouti is a citizen of honor in three French towns, led by Communist Mayors, I’m not aware of Menahem Begin getting that privilege….

      • ben December 7, 2013, 8:53 AM

        @deir yassin… i like your name perhaps i will change mine to gush etzion. both were massacres.

        As for the comparison. even though its obvious to see the similarities of barghouti and mandela since they both served time in Jail. From the way i see it thats where they stop.

        I dont know Barghouti personally and am currently unaware if he has rejected violent resistance or not. If he has then the similarities with Mandela significantly increase. if he has not then i think the Begin would be much more fair.

        I could really care less where one or the other was born. Both Begin and Barghouti have/had blood on their hands.

        Abbas conversely was a supporter of armed resistance and the key financier of the Munich massacre but he still claims he did not know where the money was going and what it was going to be used for. Abbas just like mandela were key persons who helped develop their respective national movements. Without them neither the ANC or the PLO would exist in its current form.

        Also just like begin becoming PM after the establishment of Israel i dont see israel releasing Barghouti until there is an independent Palestine to release him too. So i dont see him coming out of jail and then renouncing violence and somehow unifying the Palestinian factions to accept a peace accord because IMO that peace accord will have already be signed before his release, and moreover Barghouti is more aligned to Arafat and would more then likely start another violent uprising if he felt negotiations were not going in his favour and would cause untold deaths and horrors.

        I could be totally wrong and from my perspective (being a zionist canadian who had family in Lehi) Barghouti is a murderer who deserves to rot in jail. But I would also expect you to think the same for my family members if they were still alive. Though if your assertions are correct and somehow his release could be the galvanizing moment to actually achieve peace then i would accept and encourage his release.

        The readers of this blog seem convinced that Israel is only a blip and it will soon be replaced with some sort of egalitarian regime and renamed Palestine. I don’t see Israel as the Hasmonean dynasty or even the Ancient untied kingdom. I hope that this time we have staying power. But who knows what the future will bring eh?

        • Richard Silverstein December 7, 2013, 10:32 PM

          @ ben: As Deir Yassin said, it’s preposterous to compare Abbas to Mandela. Abbas is the washed up, corrupt, impotent leader of a rump Palestinian entity aka the PA. He has no following, no base of power aside from handing out paychecks and jobs, no legitimacy. Mandela was incorruptible, fearless–a true hero. He was an elected head of a democratic state. He willingly handed over power to his democratically elected successor. Abbas is none of those things. Further, Mandela only abandoned armed struggle when he knew that the white government was prepared to reounce apartheid and pave the way for democratic government in which Blacks would take control. He did not renounce armed struggle until well after he was released from prison. Israel has come nowhere near this level of compromise with the Palestinians. Please don’t embarrass yourself & your cause by engaging in such sophistry.

          Another unwritten rule I have here which, while not mandatory, I strongly urge you to adopt: if you are pro-Israel, don’t even try to advise Palestinians what they should do or how they should act. Don’t try to engage in historical analogies in which you compare Palestinian leaders to anyone. Don’t speak for Palestinians or about Palestine. You simply don’t have a sufficient level of knowledge to speak on the subject. If you do, you will, as I already wrote, embarrass yourself. Palestine doesn’t need your analogies or advice. It really doesn’t. If you choose to ignore this advice, be prepared for your opinions to receive the 100% markdown they deserve.

          I could be totally wrong

          Indeed, you could.

          The readers of this blog seem convinced that Israel is only a blip and it will soon be replaced with some sort of egalitarian regime and renamed Palestine.

          Generalizing on the views of “the readers of this blog” will again make you look the fool. There are many different views on the subject you outlined. Some readers agree with what you claim. Many others view things differently.

          I don’t see Israel as the Hasmonean dynasty

          2,000 years of history have shown that Israelite kingdoms rise & fall. But they invariably fall & give way to something else. We don’t know what will happen to latter day Israel. But you can be sure if it doesn’t change its policies it will go the way of all previous fallen kingdoms.

          • Bob Mann December 8, 2013, 6:10 AM

            You wrote that Abbas “has no following” but this is simply not true.

            In a Palestinian public opinion poll from this year (2013):

            Are you satisfied or not satisfied with the performance of Mahmud Abbas since his election as president of the PA?

            Satisfied/Very Satisfied 53%, Not Satisfied 43%

            If new presidential elections are to take place today, and Mahmud Abbas was nominated by Fateh and Ismail Haniyeh was nominated by Hamas, whom would you vote for?

            Abbas 52%, Haniyeh 41%, Don’t Know 7%

            The percentages are roughly the same in Gaza and the West Bank.


          • Richard Silverstein December 8, 2013, 3:51 PM

            @ Bob Mann: It’s all very well to cite a poll asking “if there were presidential elections,” what respondents would do. But the fact is that Abbas was never elected in a freely contested election to be president. He also attempted to mount a coup against Hamas so he could retain total control over all of Palestine; a plot in which he failed. He has no legitimacy other than in opinion polls which attempt to project it.

          • Deïr Yassin December 8, 2013, 7:56 AM

            @ Bob
            You ‘forgot’ another case of figure from the PCPSR:
            if the presidential elections were between three: Marwan Barghouti, Abbas and Haniyeh, Abbas would be last….
            Do you have any idea of what the Palestinians really think about Abbas a part from a poll by the PCPSR (part of the NED). Have you ever seen/heard any Palestinians expressing their enthusiasm about him ? As when he gave up his right of return on Israeli television….

        • Elisabeth December 8, 2013, 7:44 AM

          Nelson Mandela did not renounce armed struggle. He was one of the founders of Umkhonto we Sizwe (The spear of the nation, the military wing of the ANC) after all. He could have been released earlier if he had renounced the armed struggle while in jail but he refused such unequal demands (the SA government did not renounce violence either). As far as I know Barghouti has always opposed attacks on Israelis in Israel arguing that he wants good relations with “our future neighbors” . I do not think you can ask more. People have the right to resist occupation.

          It seems that a whitewashed image of Mandela is worshipped in Israel, an image that has been cleansed of the many resemblances with Palestinian tactics to resist oppression.

  • jg December 6, 2013, 2:28 PM

    In memory of Nelson Mandela – noble, tireless, committed, freedom fighter, compassionate, firm, courageous, brave, defender of human rights in South Africa and around the world.

    “Know your enemy – and learn about his favorite sport.”

    “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”

    “Keep your friends close – and your enemies even closer.”

    “Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

    “Don’t tell me, who my friends are.”

    “You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.”

    “A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor, who defines the struggle and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a point. one can only fight fire with fire.”

  • Bob Mann December 7, 2013, 5:33 AM

    “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders.”
    - Nelson Mandela, 1999

    • Richard Silverstein December 7, 2013, 9:48 PM

      @ Bob Mann: That seems at best taken way out of context. But I don’t believe it’s even authentic. Can you provide a credible source to prove Mandela said this? His entire life was dedicated to the Palestinian cause. For him to say this seems a contradiction of his basic beliefs.

      At any rate, the Arab League has already offered Israel recognition in return for Israeli withdrawal. So they have already satisfied Mandela’s terms. It is Israel that continues to refuse the Arab League proposal.

      • Oui December 8, 2013, 1:18 AM

        All Jewish publications have taken his statement out of context. One link covering his private visit to the region in October 1999 from The Independent (UK) – Mandela says Israel must give up Arab land – but only for peace.

        In an homage to Mandela from former Israel’s ambassador to South Africa a better enshrined vision of the Palestinian issue – Palestinian Struggle and Nobel Peace Prize.

        • Richard Silverstein December 8, 2013, 3:34 PM

          @ Oui: I knew Bob Mann had taken the quotation out of context. Thanks for pointing that out. I urge everyone, not just Bob, to be sure to take quotations in proper context, especially when they appear to contradict the known views of the person quoted. Context can be all in these situations.

          • Bob Mann December 10, 2013, 5:53 PM

            You wrote that you didn’t believe it’s even authentic. It is definitely authentic. I’m not sure what you mean by saying it was taken out of context. The context was a visit to Israel where he talked about his vision for regional peace. I also don’t see how it contradicts any of his known views. Certainly not his known views of the late 1990s, early 2000s. Peace and reconciliation were his most promulgated precepts at that time in his life.

          • Richard Silverstein December 10, 2013, 9:07 PM

            You only quoted one sentence, which means it was out of context. What he actually said was that IF the Arab states recognized Israel & normalized relations then Israel should withdraw from conquered territory. Mandela was often misquoted or his views distorted by pro-Israel, anti-ANC advocates.

            Peace & reconciliation were only 2 of the precepts he promulgated. You left out justice. That’s why he supported the Palestinians and criticized the Israelis, because there was no justice for the Palestinians.

          • Bob Mann December 11, 2013, 3:48 AM

            I quoted the one sentence because it was cited as a single sentence in the article – there weren’t any other sentences around it to quote. He said that Israel should withdraw, but that he couldn’t imagine Israel withdrawing without recognition from neighboring states. It is certainly not a misquote, and I don’t see how it is a distortion. Mandela definitely supported the Palestinians and criticized the Israelis, but he also expressed admiration for Israel as well. At least he did after that particular visit, after he was no longer in office.

          • Oui December 11, 2013, 5:29 AM

            Many Israeli commentators reverse the sequence: reconciliation before a peace settlement with the Palestinians. Outside pressure on the Apartheid regime, economic boycott, political isolation, fall of communism and economic recession were all part of the moment SA president De Klerk released Nelson Mandela. The majority ruled New South Africa became a rainbow nation.

            Dignity and Freedom – The Struggle for It within Prison

  • Deïr Yassin December 8, 2013, 6:15 AM

    Another link between Mandela and the Israeli-Palestinian topic.
    In his autobiography “A Long Walk to Freedom”, Mandela pays tribute to Bram Fischer, one of the persons that he admired most. After all, it’s ‘normal’ that Mandela as an indigenous African fought against the oppression of his people (or the various indigenous peoples of South Africa), but Bram Fischer who came from a prominent Afrikaaner family was ostacized by his own community when he joined the ANC, fighting not only against oppression but also against his own privileges. This tribute to Bram Fischer was what touched me most in this beautiful book that I read a long time ago. I think I’m going to read it again now.

    Also: in 1961, Mandela joined a camp of the ALN (the Algerian army of liberation) in Morocco where he went through military training, in 1962 when Algeria became independent, president Ben Bella invited him to Algeria and proposed to finance part of the ANC activities and set up a ANC military training camp there. Throughout the next decades, hundreds of South African freedom fighters were trained in Algeria, many had Algerian diplomatic passports (Miriam Makeba among others), Algeria was the country that was behind the exclusion of Apartheid South Africa at the UN General Assembly, and when Mandela was liberated from prison, his first visit abroad was to Algeria. All this to say that Mandela was an anti-colonialist, and not a peacenik, and he perfectly well knew who stood by his people during their struggle and who didn’t.
    So seeing people like Shimon Peres paying tribute to him is just nauseating.

  • Oui December 8, 2013, 6:34 AM


    rel="nofollow">The unspoken alliance: Israel’s secret
    relationship with apartheid South Africa
    Rabin’s Labor
    Party government, which ruled the country from 1974 to 1977, did
    not share the ethnic nationalist ideology of South Africa’s rulers,
    but Israel’s war-battered industries desperately needed export
    markets and the possibility of lucrative trade with South Africa
    was hard for rel="nofollow">Defense Minister Shimon Peres to
    resist. As Rabin, Peres, and a new generation of leaders inherited
    the party from David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, the conviction that
    compromising certain values was necessary for survival gained sway
    and socialist idealism gave way to realpolitik. During the Rabin
    years, South African arms purchases breathed life into the Israeli
    economy and Israeli weapons helped to reinforce the beleaguered and
    isolated apartheid regime in Pretoria.

  • Scott Shepard December 8, 2013, 8:44 AM

    Richard, It is always worthwhile to be mindful of
    differences and similarities between the South African situation
    and the Palestinian situation in trying to judge and also to
    strategize. South Africa is a very different place than Palestine.
    South Africa had and has a large population, bad economics, double
    standard as far as the educational system goes. On the other hand,
    South Africa has trade relations and so on with its neighbors. It
    stopped being a pariah state when it ended apartheid. Palestine,
    which has been Israel since 1947, persists as an apartheid state,
    but without the same kind of stigma that South Africa endured in
    the 1970s and 1980s. Imagine if South Africa were only five million
    (whites), and it were subsidized overtly by the US to the tune of
    2- 5 billion per year since the 1960s, and covertly by other
    powerful states with whom it had various trade agreements. While
    this over simplifies, it does advance part of the point; even if
    the Jews of Israel were not well educated, and without a history of
    being the victims of colonial apartheid subjugation, the steady
    money has really made a difference. You turn off the money, and
    withdraw the military protection since the early days of the state,
    and you have a different ‘Israel.’ Whatever else Israel would have
    been, it would probably been more of the socialist farming entity
    that some of its backers imagined. S Africa was 35 million people
    when Mandela was released from prison. 85% black at the time.
    Israel had 2.7 million Jews in 1990. Approximately half of the
    total population of the Holy Land and territories. Everybody wanted
    to shake Mandela’s hand, and have a picture taken with him.
    (compare that with a long line of Israeli PMs) But South Africa was
    not going to get the fantastic kinds of investments that Israel got
    then and gets now. Arafat, Abbas, Haniyeh — it is hard to compare
    these men against each other and against Mandela. When Mandela was
    released from prison it was to live among a free, if once
    colonized, people. When Arafat and Abbas were ‘allowed’ to return
    to Palestine, it was called Israel, and every movement these men,
    and any of their supporters, constituents, or associates made was
    rigidly controlled, to an ever increasing extent. What if all of
    Mandela’s people were in the prison cell? And the people of the
    world did not give a damn? At least, not enough to stand up to the
    US about it? If Arafat/Abbas/Haniyeh/etc have not done enough to
    demonstrate to the world that they are heirs to Mandela, they have
    also labored in under constraints comparable to no situation I can
    imagine. If Mandela’s rebels had had to function under the
    conditions which govern the Palestinians, it is hard to think that
    he/they could have had any greater success than have Palestinian
    leaders. 1960 – 1990 was a period during which Palestinians
    observed that South African apartheid evolved into an international
    embarrassment, a relic of the Victorian era; while curiously,
    Palestinian apartheid only solidified in every respect, during the
    same time period, down to this very day. Mandela was put into the
    position of being allowed to forgive his oppressors, in order to
    keep those people from being slaughtered, and allowing his majority
    black country from sinking into chaos. The whites needed him. I
    have no doubts that behind doors Abbas conducts himself as a
    gentleman with his Israeli interlocutors. While there is no
    evidence that Abbas is a great or shrewd negotiator, I don’t know
    why I must believe that Mandela was a brilliant negotiator either;
    Mandela had the stronger hand of cards in hand, and he knew it. The
    Israelis, conversely, don’t need to turn over the keys to Abbas.
    They treat him with indifference because they can. They don’t
    operate from any fear of what will happen. Someday, maybe a decade
    or two from now, the tide will turn, and some Palestinian who
    evaded imprisonment will be in the right position at the right
    time, and he will be the one that some nervous Israeli leader will
    have to talk to with some fairness. Because things will have
    changed and the demographics will have gotten worse for Jews and so
    on. And that Palestinian might be called a great man, which
    sometimes just means being the one who positioned at a key moment
    of history. Mandela was in that moment, and played his part well.
    Abbas could actually be Mandela, Gandhi and Einstein rolled in one,
    and it might not matter. Power is not handed away because the
    opponent is charming and brilliant, although the American press
    wants to believe so. Abbas is not a free leader of a free people.
    Abbas can’t even get into a car and drive from one village in
    Palestine to another, unless his Israeli wardens allow it; Abbas is
    the current ranking officer of the prisoners, like Alec Guinness in
    the grubby camp in the Bridge on the River Kwai. He might be
    dignified and appreciated by many of the other prisoners, but he is
    still a prisoner, like the rest of his people.

  • Oui December 9, 2013, 11:43 AM

    Apartheid: Mock Memo to Thomas Friedman – 2001

    How it started?
    On March 27, 2001, Thomas Friedman wrote a column in the style of a ‘mock memo’ entitled Bush’s First Memo. In this ‘mock memo’ Thomas Friedman writes in the name of U.S. President George W. Bush A Memo to Palestinian President Yasir Arafat. Arjan El Fassed wrote in the the ‘mock memo’ style that Friedman himself liked to use and offered Nelson Mandela responding to Friedman’s [Bush] Memo to Yasser Arafat.

    Mandela’s first memo to Thomas Friedman (30 March 2001)

    Since Thomas Friedman tells his readers that Palestinians should forget about 1948 and forget about returning to their homes, I wanted to show that current policies against Palestinians resemble an apartheid-like situation …

    h/t to Mondoweiss – Israel apologists attempted to discredit Mandela with false Israel apartheid quote.

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