Monday, July 14, 2008

SOUTH AFRICAN APARTHEID VETERANS VISIT OCCUPIED PALESTINE, FIND THINGS THEY NEVER HAD TO FACE

Donald Macintyre, Independent, UK Veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle said last night that the restrictions endured by Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories was in some respects worse than that imposed on the black majority under white rule in South Africa.

Members of a 23-strong human-rights team of prominent South Africans cited the impact of the Israeli military's separation barrier, checkpoints, the permit system for Palestinian travel, and the extent to which Palestinians are barred from using roads in the West Bank.

After a five-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories, some delegates expressed shock and dismay at conditions in the Israeli-controlled heart of Hebron. Uniquely among West Bank cities, 800 settlers now live there and segregation has seen the closure of nearly 3,000 Palestinian businesses and housing units. Palestinian cars (and in some sections pedestrians) are prohibited from using the once busy streets.

"Even with the system of permits, even with the limits of movement to South Africa, we never had as much restriction on movement as I see for the people here," said an ANC parliamentarian, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge of the West Bank. "There are areas in which people would live their whole lifetime without visiting because it's impossible."

Mrs Madlala-Routledge, a former deputy health minister in President Thabo Mbeki's government, added: "While I want to be careful not to characterize everything that I see here as apartheid, I just do find comparisons in a number of places. I also find differences."

Comparisons with apartheid have long been anathema to majority Israeli opinion, though they have been somewhat less taboo since the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, last year warned that without an early two-state agreement Israel could face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights.

Fatima Hassan, a leading South African human rights lawyer, said: "The issue of separate roads, [different registration] of cars driven by different nationalities, the indignity of producing a permit any time a soldier asks for it, and of waiting in long queues in the boiling sun at checkpoints just to enter your own city, I think is worse than what we experienced during apartheid." She was speaking after the tour, which included a visit to the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem and a meeting with Israel's Chief Justice, Dorit Beinisch.

One prominent member of the delegation, who declined to be named, said South Africa had been "much poorer" both during and after apartheid than the Palestinian territories. But he added: "The daily indignity to which the Palestinian population is subjected far outstrips the apartheid regime. And the effectiveness with which the bureaucracy implements the repressive measures far exceed that of the apartheid regime.". . .

Andrew Feinstein, a former ANC parliament member, said that the visit to Yad Vashem had been "extremely moving" because his mother had been a Holocaust survivor who lost many members of her family. "As you walk into Yad Vashem you see a quote that says in effect you should know a country not only by what it does but what it tolerates," he said. "So I found it very shocking to then come and here and see footage of teenagers heaping abuse on Palestinian children as they come out of school, and throwing stones at them. And that this should be done in the name of Judaism I find totally reprehensible.

"What the Holocaust teaches us more than anything else is that we must never turn our heads away in the face of injustice."

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