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One of the questions I am often asked in lectures or interviews is where is the Palestinian and Israeli De Klerk and Mandela when it comes to ending the nearly 70 year conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Where is the Middle Eastern equivalent of brave leaders willing to make uncomfortable sacrifices, to the detriment of support from their constituencies in order to forge peace?
More often than not, this opens up debate about what could be done and what kinds of concessions need to be made in order to achieve peace. While the South African experience is not a “one size fits all” solution, it is clear that in order to achieve peace, both sides will have to commit to negotiations and make painful sacrifices.
South Africa seems to hold a special place of both fascination and significance when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from both a positive and negative perspective and very often the South African narrative is used by Israel’s detractors to suit their more nefarious agendas. The theft of the South African narratives and many of its symbols and icons is a ploy used by the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement to treat Israel like a pariah and call into question her legitimacy as a sovereign state. The latest is the hijacking of the status of iconic human rights activist and anti- Apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela by arch-terrorist and Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti.
Nelson Mandela once famously declared that “if you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work. Then your enemy becomes your partner”.
Marwan Barghouti is hoping to position himself as the “Palestinian Mandela” and a possible successor to President Mahmoud Abbas.
Who exactly is Marwan Barghouti?
Marwan Barghouti is a former leader of Tanzim, the armed wing of Fatah, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, both terror organisations responsible for the murder of many Israeli civilians. Barghouti is serving time for the planning and directing of the murders of 5 Israelis.
Some have opined that in the early days of the struggle, Mandela advocated terrorism but the fundamental difference was that the ANC adopted a policy of sabotage, while Barghouti is on record as saying, “the time when only we sacrifice victims is past. We must take revenge. We must kill Israelis. Yes. We have bullets. We have rifles, and they will be aimed at the occupation.”
Mandela, who is a symbol of reconciliation, would never have countenanced such appalling actions.
Barghouti, who is entitled to a salary and could earn up to 12,000 NIS a month (about R45,000) because murder is not above his pay grade, has initiated a hunger strike.
Now many would wonder, why would Palestinian prisoners participate in such a strike because they do receive regular visits from family as well as the Red Cross, access to medical care, education, religious rights and meetingswith attorneys as well as a multitude of other comforts. They can even watch TV although I am sure they would not be supporting Israel at the great superbowl of singing contests, Eurovision.
One would think that there is some great inalienable right that they are striking for. A strike that is garnering similar solidarity initiatives, such as the one supported by a whole bunch of South African politicians, celebrities and ne’er do gooders. No ladies and gentlemen, the prisoners are striking for…..“Access to satellite channels tailored to the needs of prisoners.”*
No wonder Barghouti was so stressed he felt compelled to sneak into the lavatory of his cell for a chocolate and tortilla break on two occasions!
With all the controversy and hullaballoo surrounding the strikes one would think that the voices of the truly downtrodden in our region would be heard.
If Barghouti was a fraction of the man he seeks to position himself as he would strike. He would starve for the rights of women in the Middle East, and bring attention to the scourge of honour killings, genital mutilation and second class citizen status of our sisters. He would strike for attention to be brought to the persecution of Christians and Gays, the lack of freedom of expression and the right of a free press. He would draw attention to the treatment of political opposition. If Barghouti gave a damn he would follow in the footsteps of Madiba who was a passionate advocate for education and use his voice to end the flagrant child abuse that passes for schooling in the territories.
He would be a wise leader, not a jailhouse fool.
In the quest for the Palestinian Mandela, one thing is for sure, it sure ain’t Marwan Barghouti!
*Reference NGO Monitor