The skipper of SY Nolwandle believes that the Palestinian people, like all nations, have the right to a sovereign state. The following is a speech that I made to a gathering organised by Idasa in Cape Town on 27th July 2006. Leila Khaled and Dumisa Ntsebeza also spoke at this event. The speech was also published in the Cape Times of 27 July 2006.

Leila Khaled
The massive over-reaction and attacks on civilians by the Israeli government in Gaza and Lebanon in the last few weeks, show yet again that the conflict between the Israeli’s and Palestinians has the capacity to erupt into an large scale regional war, with widespread consequences for the whole world.

Understanding the root causes and thus the possible solutions to the conflict, is a matter of ongoing debate and argument between the opposing forces. Yet it must be clear that the conflict has only existed since Zionists began colonising Palestine in the 1890’s and intensified with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Before then Jews had seen the Muslim Ottoman Empire as a refuge from the oppression they experienced under the medieval church.

At the First Zionist Conference in 1897, the aim of Zionism was outlined as “the promotion on suitable lines, of the colonization of Palestine by Jewish agricultural and industrial workers.” There have been many justifications for this colonization – initially Herzl and the other founders of Zionism stressed it was not for any religious reasons: “I do not consider the Jewish question as a social one or a religious one … it is a national question, and to solve it we have to make it into a global question…” In fact Herzl was prepared to consider various options for a “Jewish National Home”, including those such as Uganda which had no religious meaning for Jews.

After the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews and others, the United Nations authorised the establishment of the state of Israel, alongside a Palestinian state. The Zionists and the emerging Israeli state refused to accept this and were guided by the one state ideology that Israel must be “from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.” In defiance of the UN resolution, Israel refused to define its borders and continued its policy of colonial theft of more and more Palestinian land. In 1967, with the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, they achieved their aim of conquering the whole of historic Palestine. The period since then has seen ongoing attempts, accelerated during the Oslo negotiating process, to settle the West Bank and Gaza and create what Ariel Sharon liked to call “facts on the ground”.

Colonization is never a peaceful and humanitarian process, no matter what the declarations of the colonisers are. The events of 1948 are widely documented, including in the state archives of Israel. Even Zionist historians such as Benny Morris, Tom Segev and Alon Kadish have written about the campaign of terror and expulsions of Palestinian from their homes by the Israeli army and various armed Zionist groups. Benny Morris has even documented how in an Israeli cabinet meeting in 1948, minister Aharon Cohen said Israeli troops in Lydda (a town being cleared of Palestinians) had been ordered to “take from the expelled Arabs every watch, piece of jewelry or money … so that, arriving completely destitute, they would become a burden on the Arab legion”.

Today Palestinian citizens of Israel remain the victims of various forms of discrimination. The West Bank and Gaza have been under military occupation and rule for 39 years. Despite the Israeli government signing various agreements with, and recognising the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (which has also formally recognised and accepted the existence of Israel) Israel continues with policies aimed at avoiding the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state. These policies include all the blood and guts of the occupation – check points, closed military areas, detention without trial, torture, assassination, destruction of infrastructure, expulsion to exile, arbitrary confiscation of land, etc.

Most of these tactics of occupation are illegal in international law. The International Court of Justice has found the building of the apartheid “Separation” Wall illegal. The settlement of civilian population of the occupier in occupied territories is illegal under the Geneva Convention.

It is these actions that have created the Palestinian resistance movement. In every situation of oppression and colonization in world history there has been resistance. In most cases the intransigence of the colonisers has transformed this resistance into armed struggle. Today we hold in high esteem and consider heroic the various resistances (including Jews) in Nazi occupied Europe, the struggle of the Vietnamese against the French and US, the Algerians against the French, the American colonies against the British, the Boers against the British and South Africans against apartheid. In all these cases the colonisers accused the resistance of terrorism, of attacks on civilians, of being unreasonable. In all these cases, to use Fidel Castro’s words, the hindsight of history has absolved the oppressed.

In the South African struggle against apartheid, the ANC turned to armed struggle and formed MK after other avenues of resistance were made impossible. The ANC insisted that it rejected terrorist attacks on civilians. But in a war there are times when civilians get caught in crossfire. People who are not trained as soldiers also, in the heat of struggle often take violence into their own hands. Often these popular forms of violence do not accord to the Geneva Convention. In the Second World War many collaborators with the Nazis were found hanging from trees. In South Africa there were necklace killings. In Palestine there are suicide bombs. Where these occur spontaneously from the masses it is understandable. Where they occur from organised political forces they are morally wrong and often do great damage to the cause of the people. Yet the fact that these forms of terrorism occur, does not make other forms of resistance wrong or illegal. All people have the right to resist, including through armed struggle, when their basic human rights are denied.

The solution to the conflict is to recognise the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state. As in South Africa this will create a situation where terrorism disappears.

As Langston Hughes wrote in 1959:

Don’t know why I now

Must turn into

A Mau Mau

And lift my hand

Against my fellow man

To live on my own land.