Below is a transcript of Awad Abdelfattah’s address to the ANC’s annual meeting (caucus) in the South African parliament on September 10, 2015.
Awad Abdelfattah is the General Secretary of The National Democratic Assembly (NDA) Party, which is a component of the Common List in the Israeli Knesset. Free Haifa brings his comprehensive lecture here in full as a contribution to the discussion of Palestinian perspective today. Our readers are invited to comment or to send their positions to carry on this essential discussion.
(You can read this article also in Arabic)
Good morning friends and comrades
Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa
Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete
Chairperson of the National Council of the Provinces Tandi Modise
Chief Whip Stone Sizani
All protocols observed
I’m deeply moved and excited to be here, in this parliament, among you who have always served as an inspiring example to many people around the world including my people, who have been struggling over the last one hundred years to free themselves from their own Apartheid colonial regime. This opportunity to address you directly about the latest developments in the Palestinian struggle fills me with delight and hope – not least hope that we can consolidate mutual cooperation to achieve justice and equality for our people.
When I come to South Africa, I feel I have arrived in my second home. I and other Palestinians, as well as fighters for freedom around the world, feel a sense of comradeship with the people of South Africa.
I feel spiritually connected to the great people of South Africa, and their long and difficult journey to liberation. The names associated with that struggle have long become an integral part of our individual and collective memories: Nelson Mandela, Sisulo, Ahmad Kathrada, Steven Biko and many others. They suffered long years in prison, or were killed or assassinated, or they bravely continue on the march to social justice and independent development. From all those great leaders, and the South African people’s heroic struggle, we draw hope, courage and optimism in our own struggle to liberate Palestine, and build a democratic society where all – Palestinian Arabs and Israelis – can live in full equality.
None of us in the Palestinian national movement forget the honest promise of your late leader, comrade Nelson Mandela, that South Africa’s freedom would be incomplete until Palestine was free.
The downfall of the Apartheid regime in 1994, thanks to the heroic struggle of South Africans, to a resilient and wise leadership, and to international solidarity, was a historic moment in the struggle for freedom. It was a great moment of joy for me personally and for every Palestinian, as well as for every peace-loving person within our global community.
We Palestinians viewed this victory as a major stride towards the removal of other injustices around the world, including the last colonial regime of our times, in Palestine. Our people’s struggles for liberation and freedom from the Zionist regime were more intertwined at that time. In fact, some of us like Edward Said, a well-known American Palestinian thinker, had wondered even then whether we had a leadership as capable as those who led South Africa’s people to freedom.
We recall that the South African Apartheid regime had once offered the ANC leadership a similar deal to the one offered to the Palestinians in the Oslo Accords in 1993. The ANC wisely rejected it. The Oslo agreement, on the other hand, was accepted by the Palestinian leadership, which at the time saw it as a step towards independent statehood. Instead, it institutionalized apartheid, colonialism, dispossession, and the willful killing of our people.
The Palestinian leadership believed that Oslo was the only way out of the impasse that the Palestinian national movement had reached, following its forced exodus from Beirut after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The accords were signed on the White House lawn and celebrated in Hollywood style. The leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, was warmly received in Gaza on his return. Many hoped it would prove to be a real breakthrough.
As the years went by, the Israeli colonial regime’s real intention became more apparent: the colonization of the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip continued at an accelerated pace. A final-status solution looked further away than ever.
The sense of having been betrayed by Israel was immense among the PLO mainstream leadership. The outrage and frustration reached unprecedented levels. The failure of the 2000 Camp David summit, sponsored by a dishonest broker, the United States, to reach an agreement on the final-status issues only added fuel to the ever-growing resentment. It needed only a spark to ignite the whole region – and it was provided by Ariel Sharon’s provocative entry into the Al-Aqsa mosque on September 28 of that year.
This dramatic event heralded the outbreak of the second intifada, which took on the misleading appearance of two militaries in confrontation. This massive outburst soon spread to the Palestinians in Israel, in an uprising that was unprecedented in its inclusivity, length, and intensity. It lasted for four bloody days, as it was crushed brutally by Israeli police, resulting in the deaths of 13 Palestinian citizens and the injury of hundreds more. The Israeli apartheid regime related to its own Palestinian citizen as enemies.
It took much time for the world to understand what was really going on. Much of the international community had assumed the Palestinian problem was on its way to a solution. Some international parties had accused the Palestinian leaders of violating the Oslo peace accords. As a result, the Israeli onslaught against the Palestinians was quite misunderstood by the international community.
Also, much of civil society, which had been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, had halted its activities against Israeli policies.
After the mysterious death of Arafat, in 2004, in which Israel continues to be the chief suspect, the intifada came to an end. The peace process was resumed with a new leadership perceived by the Americans as more moderate than the previous one under Arafat, represented by the current president, Mahmoud Abbas.
The new leadership has spoken against popular uprisings and strongly advocated negotiations as the only way to peace. Under the umbrella of the peace process, the Palestinian security apparatuses were trained by an American general, Keith Dayton, with the goal of maintaining calm in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and repressing any forms of resistance. Security collaboration with Israel has been an integral part of this doctrine. Donations from Europe and the US have been channeled into the Palestinian Authority’s treasury to maintain and sustain the peace process as an end in itself. The Palestinian Authority complied with American dictates, thinking naively that it would qualify for independent statehood. These humiliating concessions did not result in Israeli policy changes, but only strengthened Israel’s greed for more land.
In exploiting the peace process, the Israeli government has deepened its colonization of the West Bank and Jerusalem and tightened its siege of the Gaza Strip. It has built the racist separation wall, which has swallowed much land and divided Palestinian communities, creating isolated enclaves. Under the so-called peace process, the suffering of the Palestinians has increased immensely. The three Israeli onslaughts launched against the imprisoned Palestinians in Gaza resulted in the death and injury of thousands of Palestinians.
All the war crimes, land robbery and settler violence have gone unpunished. The so-called international communities, especially the US and European governments, have continued shamelessly to support Israel, militarily, economically and politically. They are morally and practically responsible for Israeli crimes against humanity. Regrettably, they are behaving against the will of their own citizens and civil society, which have on many occasions demonstrated revulsion at Israel’s brutal behavior against the Palestinian people.
The effects of Oslo
After 20 years of the peace industry, the Palestinians have awoken to an even harsher reality. They have not liberated their land or achieved a state, nor have they preserved the vehicle for liberation, the PLO, which has become subservient to the Palestinian Authority.
Not only that. A settler colonial conflict has been reduced to a territorial dispute in the eyes of the world. The problem is portrayed as a dispute between two equal partners, but which is in fact a dispute between a brutal colonial regime and a colonized people. The reality is the existence of a colonial Jewish state and a Palestinian state that is only virtual.
Under international pressure and internal miscalculations, the Palestinian leadership has been led or dragged into a trap called Oslo: they now face an almost completely colonized homeland, fragmented geographically and demographically. They have been left with almost no tools for liberation. Additionally, the values of the national liberation movement have been eroded. Much of the Palestinian society has been individualized, atomized and neoliberalized, and left with no ideal to mobilize over; no credible leadership, and no common vision. What has worsened the Palestinian situation is the deepening divide between the main factions: Fatah and Hamas. The failed reconciliation attempts have only further intensified the feelings of frustration and hopelessness.
Israeli governments of the ultra-right, which always had a strategy to fragment the Palestinian people as a means of colonial control, have systematically worked to sustain the catastrophic rift within the two major factions.
Israel, which has been steadily shifting to the extreme right, to unconcealed racism and to the option of maximum expulsions and ultimately ethnic cleansing, is now openly against the long-talked-of, two-state solution.
Observers argue that Israel’s occupation of the 1967 Palestinian territories is the cheapest recorded in the history of colonialism. The Israeli leadership is taking further advantage of four factors:
- The absence of mass popular struggle. The Palestinian Authority has effectively been serving as a sub-contractor for the Israeli occupation. The decision to stop the security collaboration that was taken by the PLO Central Council last year has not been honored.
- The lack of a meaningful response from the international community, which is effectively providing cover for Israel’s crimes and the unceasing colonization of Palestinian land.
- The lack of national unity, a unified resistance strategy, and a common goal that can unify all segments of the Palestinian people.
- The chaos that has swept the Arab world due to the failure of the first round of the Arab revolts, which has turned into a nightmare, especially following the intervention of imperialist and reactionary Arab regimes. Those dictatorial regimes are now struggling for their survival and consequently they have pushed the Palestinian issue to the back of their agenda.
Within this grim reality, we have witnessed the revival of the international solidarity movement with the Palestinian people since the launch of the Palestinian-led BDS campaign in 2004. It has gained a momentum especially among civil society and academia in the US and Europe. Until recently, Israel had downplayed the impact of BDS, and had hoped to ignore it. But as it has reached wider audiences and its impact has grown, the Israeli government has been compelled to invest human and financial resources to counter it.
A second cause for optimism: the revival of popular struggle.
Although still limited in geography, and in size, last year’s mini-intifada in Jerusalem and its suburbs were among the most striking recent examples of the revival of popular struggle.
That uprising lasted for several days after a Palestinian boy was kidnapped and burned alive. Different areas of the West Bank have experienced frequent waves of non-violent protests, and sporadic and individual armed attacks on Israeli targets. Had the PA’s security forces not repressed those protests, they would have spread to other areas and might have evolved into a full-scale intifada.
A third point: the re-emergence of the debate about a one state solution.
There are vigorous efforts and initiatives to rebuild the Palestinian national discourse and redefine the conflict from a territorial dispute into settler colonial one. Palestinians are undertaking these initiatives from all segments of Palestinian society, including those living inside the 1948 borders of Israel. Noteworthy is the fact that people who had adhered to the two-state solution are engaging in the debate too. Those initiating the debate are driven by a fear that the Palestinian national project is in real danger, and by a sense of urgency about reviving it before it is too late.
A fourth point: the influence of Palestinian citizens in Israel.
The success of the Palestinian political parties in Israel in uniting and forming a Palestinian Joint List in the last Israeli elections is exceptional in the Palestinian political landscape, and even in the wider Arab world.
The Palestinian Joint List emerged from the elections as the third largest political force in the Knesset. Our unity has surprised many, including our brethren across the Green Line and those in exile. Now, the international community can no longer ignore the plight of this long-neglected and forgotten part of the Palestinian people who make up 20% of the total population in Israel.
It is necessary to mention, that there is growing feeling that the Palestinians remaining inside Palestine are approaching a turning point.
The Palestinians in Israel
The Arab Joint List did not emerge out of a void. It is the latest link in a chain of political and cultural developments undergone by the 1.4 million-strong minority since its first massive one-day uprising in 1976 against land theft and Israeli efforts at denationalization. The Palestinian minority in Israel had been subjected to 18 years of military rule (1948-1966). Also, the second Palestinian intifada that erupted in 2000 spread to the Palestinians in Israel, bringing the minority’s plight to the attention of international and regional players.
Before the second Palestinian intifada, the minority’s status and role in the conflict had been overlooked. Israel had worked tirelessly to have the question of the minority’s rights separated from that of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and those in exile.
Today, the Palestinian minority is left with only 3 percent of its land. The acute land shortage poses a serious social, economic and cultural threat to the future of tens of thousands of young Palestinians. Palestinian villages and towns inside Israel have been turned into ghettoes with no alternative modern sources of livelihood.
However, the Palestinians have turned in massive numbers to education as a substitute for the loss of their land. Although they face serious difficulty entering Israeli academia, or finding work in governmental offices and companies, many of them have made progress in the Arab school system and in the Israeli private sector. Nonetheless, unemployment is high, and half the Palestinian population in Israel lives under the poverty line.
The rise in the level of education among Palestinians in Israel has brought about a rise in their political consciousness and organization. In the last twenty years, political thinking and expression have risen significantly, and the political parties have begun to pose a challenge to the racist ideological foundations on which the state of Israel was built. Notably, the Palestinian minority has understood its distinctive situation – as both Palestinian Arabs and Israeli citizens – and has consequently pursued a non-violent struggle.
Between 2013 and 2014 the Palestinians in Israel forced the Israeli government to abolish a plan to transfer tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins in the south of the country from their villages into townships. This was achieved through a wave of popular mass struggle which developed into confrontations with the Israeli police forces. However, demolition of houses continues, and Israel’s Judaization policy is intensifying.
In recent years, following the second intifada, when the Palestinians in Israel became more assertive of their national identity and more insistent on full equality and citizenship, Israeli governments recharacterized the Palestinians in Israel as a fifth column, a security threat, and a demographic danger. Instead of pursuing more egalitarian and democratic policies, Israel has consistently embraced more antagonistic policies, racist laws, land confiscations and house demolitions. This only increased the outrage of Palestinians in Israel. This trend has escalated under the current rightwing government, which is heading toward total colonization of Palestine.
Over the last decade, government policy has shown that Israel is ideologically opposed to full equality for its Palestinian citizens, to full withdrawal from the 1967 occupied territories, and to the rights of the refugees. Effectively, we have today two Jewish states – one inside the 1948 borders, and one run by the settlers and army in the occupied territories of 1967.
Initiating the challenge
What role can the Palestinians in Israel play in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or more precisely in defeating this apartheid colonial regime? It is now apparent that they are part of the conflict and therefore also part of the solution. Israel’s traditional policy of distinguishing between Palestinians on either side of the Green Line is starting to fade. This fact has motivated many intellectuals, activists and some political leaders to revisit our approach to future relations with the rest of the Palestinian people. The connections are growing stronger culturally, economically and politically. This must be promoted to high levels of conscious organization around a common vision, goals, and strategy, albeit taking into account the particularities of each segment of the Palestinian people.
It was the National Democratic Assembly party (NDA), founded in 1995, that devised a new political formula challenging the Jewish character of the state of Israel, and called instead for a state of all its citizens. The NDA party is the latest to emerge with a new and appealing political formula drawing on the achievements of other political parties, from the experience of the Palestinian national movement, and from the global human experience in the field of universal values, democracy, equality and social justice.
The establishment of a party re-emphasizing the national identity of the Palestinians in Israel was driven chiefly by the signing of Oslo Accords. That agreement effectively related to the Palestinian minority as an internal Israeli issue, thus leaving the minority to the mercies of Israel’s apartheid regime, legitimizing their isolation from the rest of the Palestinian people and marginalizing them inside Israel itself.
Incitement against the Palestinians in Israel and their parties and leaders (the Democratic Front For peace and Equality, two Islamic movements, and Abnaa al-Balad) has reached fever pitch. The NDA party is targeted most intensively. Its call for abolishing the Jewish-Zionist character of the state, which privileges Jews, as a pre-requisite for full equality and national and social justice, is being assaulted as a denial of the right of the Jews to have their own state. Its former leader, Dr Azmi Bishara, the most outspoken and articulate figure among the Palestinians in Israel, was forced into exile in 2006 as he faced a fabricated charge: collaborating with Hezbullah. But many believe the conspiracy against Dr Bishara was driven by an Israeli decision to rid itself of the challenge he posed to Israel’s so-called democracy. Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the Islamic movement, served two years in prison for his political role, and for transferring money to Palestinian orphans in the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Hamas movement.
What is to be done?
There is an urgent need for action given the demise of the two-state solution, for which Israel is responsible. Twenty years of the so-called peace process have had catastrophic consequences in terms of deepening colonization, of damaging the Palestinians’ central representative body, the PLO, and of enforcing a decline in the spirit of resistance.
There is no way out of this impasse unless Palestinian unity is restored, the Palestinian national discourse is restructured, and a common vision is formulated.
All reconciliation initiatives that have been conducted under the auspices of the Arab states have failed. It is time to make South Africa (whose leaders rejected the version of Oslo they were offered) a center of dialogue between Palestinians and others. It has become apparent that the divide between the two major Palestinian factions – Fatah and Hamas – has become entrenched and supported by a network of interests within each movement.
The way forward is to reconcile Palestinian political parties within the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The process of reconciliation will encourage grassroots or bottom-up mobilization – or what has become known in certain circles as the third force, serving as the national repository of a long-awaited third intifada.
This new approach requires the establishment of popular or grassroots committees. Civil society, small factions, women’s organizations, and not least, youth movements must become active players in this initiative. These actors can help pressure the two major factions to comply with the popular call for unity and to engage in rebuilding the Palestinian national discourse.
What is the Palestinian issue
Let us remember where the Palestinian issue began. It is a classic colonial story. In the 19th century, as imperialism was prevailing, a European organization was established called the Zionist movement with the goal of invading Palestine. Although opposed by many Jews, it proceeded with its imperialist designs in Palestine with the support of the British Empire.
Unlike the model of South African Apartheid, which employed non-whites as cheap labor, the Zionist movement deemed the native Palestinians as surplus to their requirements. In 1948, the Zionist movement implemented massive ethnic cleansing both during and after the war. This was achieved by either massacring Palestinians or forcing them out of Palestine, with the majority of Palestinians remaining refugees to this day. The staggering number of refugees is estimated today at 6-7 million, most of them residing in terrible conditions in camps in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In implementing Zionist policy, the Zionist movement successfully separated a native people from their country, denying them the right of return as established by UN Resolution 194.
Within the 1948 borders of Israel, 150,000 Palestinians remained. Zionist archives reveal that the leadership of the new state of Israel hesitated to continue the expulsions, fearing the reaction of the United Nations, which had just recognized Israel. The survival of a small minority of Palestinians within the borders of Israel today was solely the result of those fears about the negative reaction of the international community.
Zionism is a racist and colonial ideology, as is clear from Israeli policies on race and demography across all of historic Palestine. Criticizing Israel for the crimes committed to protect the occupation is insufficient. Those crimes derive from a racist ideology that privileges Jews and subjugates Palestinians on the basis of racist legislation – just as repression was used by South Africa’s Apartheid regime to uphold its system of apartheid.
It is crucial for South Africa not only to condemn the atrocities committed by Israel in the occupied territories but also to condemn the ideology of Zionist apartheid. It is the underlying cause of the occupation, of segregation and systematic discrimination against Palestinians, and of land theft from Israel’s own Palestinian citizens. In South Africa it was not sufficient to fight against the crimes and repressive practices of the apartheid regime; what was also needed was a struggle against the apartheid system itself and the call for its abolition in favor of an inclusive democracy. Similarly, we Palestinians demand the decolonization of Israel, and the dissolution of the system of structural discrimination in favor of an inclusive democratic alternative.
This is our expectation of our friends in South Africa: to raise in all multi-lateral forums the issue of the apartheid system enforced by Zionism.
We also urge the South African government to implement comprehensive economic and cultural sanctions against Israel.
Awad Abdel Fattah