Five days ago, the Palestinian people received a gift from the people of South Africa. Last Tuesday, a massive 6-meter tall bronze statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled in Ramallah. (That’s about 20 feet to us Americans.) The occasion was met with much fanfare, and the ceremony was led by the current president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
Many seek to compare the current situation in Palestine to the history of South Africa. And there are, for sure, many similarities. Israel acts in much the same fashion as the Afrikaner regime of South Africa did. It segregates populations based on race/religion. It offers elevated governmental services and benefits to Jews. It allows Jews from anywhere in the world to gain immediate citizenship while denying the right of native Palestinian refugees to return. It builds separate roads for settlers. Its whole national identity is predicated upon belonging to a certain racial group. Israel is effectively an apartheid state. The analog to pre-1994 South Africa is clear.
We Palestinians, on the other hand, haven’t yet gotten the South African message. Since Oslo, we have been fighting over imaginary borders, land swaps, and false power. In the meantime, the Palestinian Authority (a creation of the corrupt Oslo Accords) has been acting as the security and logistics subcontractor of the Israeli occupation for over twenty years. (We shouldn’t forget that before the PLO of Yasser Arafat, Saeb Erekat, and Mahmoud Abbas accepted the horrific Oslo agreement of 1993, organic Palestinian leaders like Hanan Ashrawi, Faisal Husseini, and Haidar Abdel Shafi rejected the same terms – some say even better – in 1991 in Madrid.)
From a Palestinian point of view, the Oslo agreement was a total surrender. It marked our acceptance of an Israeli state based on racial supremacy and the existence of settlements. It also signaled a willingness to accept potential self-determination (which, of course, has not arrived yet) on less than a quarter of our homeland. In short, by signing Oslo, we Palestinians accepted Zionism. We, or at least the PLO leadership, became Zionists. Unsurprisingly, that was a bad idea. Also, as it turns out, our complete surrender wasn’t enough for Israel, as settlements, aggression, and apartheid have only continued. This should surprise no one, as colonizers generally seek no less than the complete removal and/or extinction of their subjects. It is not part of the colonial recipe to accept “coexistence.”
Nelson Mandela would have never participated in the capitulation displayed by Palestinian leaders dating from 1993 until today. He would have asked for better. He would have urged that we actually speak the language of black South Africans, demanding equal rights in all of our homeland, pushing for one secular democratic state, rejecting all forms of racial supremacy. This is the language the world understands. It is the language of universal civil and political rights. It is the language of freedom. The language of victory. Sadly, our current crop of Palestinian leadership hasn’t learned the first word of it.
As a Palestinian, I am excited to see Mandela arrive in my homeland. I hope his legacy follows. Yes, Israel has been acting like apartheid South Africa for some time. But we Palestinians have not yet started to act like the black South Africans who found justice.
Mr. Mandela, our leadership doesn’t deserve to look at you. I apologize that it was Mahmoud Abbas who welcomed you into our beautiful land. We surely had better choices.