Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

In Mandela’s life is a lesson for Palestinians

The late South African leader, Nelson Mandela, supported peace in the Middle East. Will his legacy help the Palestinian cause?

As South Africa and the world mourn the death of Nelson Mandela, his passing will perhaps be even more acutely felt in Palestine for the possibilities he pointed to. Just a week before his death, former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad described the great man as a “compass” for the Palestinian cause. In an op-ed for the New York Times, he wrote: [Mandela’s] persistent defiance exemplified the immense power of non-violence in resisting the entrapment of victimhood and overcoming the burdens of injustice.” As a critic of Israeli policies and a man who considered the Palestinian cause his own, Palestinians can honour him by remaining faithful to his legacy of resistance.

Mandela’s long fight against South Africa’s apartheid regime is reflected as much in the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. The global divestment movement he and his supporters encouraged against apartheid South Africa inspires the many Palestinians today who have embraced non-violent tactics such as boycotts and sanctions against Israel. Mandela spent 27 years in prison for defying state-based discrimination; hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have spent time in Israeli jails for the same reason.

Today, the pro-Palestinian non-violent movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is gaining traction across the globe. It has proven effective in putting pressure on Israel by rallying influential companies and figures to stop dealing with Israel as long as it continues to violate international laws and norms. As in the South Africa during Mandela’s long term in jail, the BDS movement seeks to ensure equality for Palestinians now living under occupation. It also hopes to end the plight of Palestinian refugees abroad.

Both Palestinians and Israelis have much to learn from the great leader. The most important lesson for Palestinians is to maintain the momentum of their global campaign – and to remember that Mandela emerged from jail as a peacemaker, not a soldier. Israelis, on the other hand, should heed these words from Mandela: “Talk of peace will remain hollow if Israel continues to occupy Arab territories ... If there is going to be peace, there must be complete withdrawal from all of these areas.”

Palestinian officials paid tribute to Mandela on Friday, expressing appreciation for his inspiration and support. “This is a great loss for all the peoples of the world, and for Palestine,” the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said, hailing Mandela as a “symbol of freedom from colonialism and occupation” who would never be forgotten by the Palestinian people.

There is never going to be another Nelson Mandela. We can all only hope that we can properly learn the lessons from his life. And perhaps for Palestine, in Mandela’s past is its future.

Updated: December 7, 2013 04:00 AM

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