A great man has died.
Nelson Mandela towered over his contemporaries, not just in South Africa but across a continent filled with brutal dictators, power-hungry rebels and religious fanatics. Mandela was the very rare successful revolutionary leader who was able to make the transition to peaceful democratic politics and lead his nation rather than dominate it. He participated in the peaceful dismantling of the worst racist structure of the second half of the twentieth century, urging reconciliation rather than revenge, astonishing for a man who had been imprisoned by the previous regime for 27 years. That Mandela was something less than a saint at times in his career does not detract from his accomplishments, and the failures of the current government of South Africa serve to increase his stature.
The celebration of his life and struggle against apartheid may also serve as a reminder that apartheid is still with us, though perhaps not on the grand scale of the Afrikaners, who relegated the entire native population of southern Africa to a second class status institutionalized by the state. This apartheid of the twenty-first century is not yet formally institutionalized nor so blatantly racist, but it is just as real and oppressive for those living under it. The new Afrikaners in fact cooperated in the 1970s with a virtually completely isolated South Africa in the development of nuclear weapons.
The new apartheid is being established of course by Israel in the West Bank, that is, occupied Palestine. Growing discrimination in the state of Israel against the 20% of the citizen body that is Palestinian is easily documented, but the discriminatory laws, the unofficial segregation and the sporadic violence are not part of any organized government instituted system. Instead, the developing official system of exclusion and imposed economic and social inferiority is found in what is internationally recognized as Palestinian land, making the Israelis more like the Nazis than the Afrikaners, surely an ironic turn. That this is all done in the name of military necessity makes it no less apartheid, especially considering that virtually none of the measures have anything at all to do with real security demands.
With seemingly randomly chosen exclusionary zones, Jewish only roads and residential enclaves and the total absence of any civic rights on the part of the Palestinians the Israeli occupation certainly looks like pre-liberation South Africa. The only real difference is that the land suffering under this system is not actually part of the state of Israel. It appears, however, that this is changing, inasmuch as there are now a half million Israeli colonists settled in Palestine, and there is not the slightest sign that they will ever leave. Rather, more and more Israelis are pouring in, despite the blatant violation of basic and well established international law and the opposition of almost all the international community. Israel is rapidly becoming the international pariah that South Africa once was.
Unfortunately, the Palestinians have no Nelson Mandela. Their iconic leader, Yasser Arafat, was a more typical revolutionary, excessively violent and utterly inept as a head of state. Not that it would make any difference. South Africa faced worldwide condemnation and sanctions, which played a major role in bringing down the apartheid regime. Israel has the virtually unqualified support of the United States, despite its constant violation of international covenants this country has pledged to uphold. There will be no international sanctions.
The colonization and the oppression must go on because there is no obvious way out. What Israeli government would attempt to evacuate five hundred thousand settlers when many of them would need to be forced, as was the case with the handful removed from Gaza. Will the Israeli army fight Israelis? Would these people ever agree to become a Jewish minority in a Palestinian state? And if Israel decides to annex “Judea and Samaria,” as many extremists desire, would it grant citizenship to the Palestinians, thus making Jews a minority in the Jewish state? The only answer is continuing apartheid.
The only hope is that the situation will become so unpleasant and injurious to American interests that it must act. One would think that even the American Congress could not stomach the forcible annexation of a conquered country. On the other hand, America no longer seems to care at all what the rest of the world thinks or how hypocritical it appears. The Palestinians can hope for nothing from the one time light of liberty to the world.