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South Africa launches a global anti-apartheid movement for Palestine

We ended apartheid in our nation, now it is our honour to be asked by Palestinian comrades to invoke that struggle to fight against the apartheid regime imposed on them by Israel, writes STEPHEN FAULKNER

LAST weekend activists from more than 20 countries gathered in Johannesburg for three days to discuss and launch what is hoped will be a new anti-apartheid movement for Palestine.
 
Activists from solidarity organisations from every continent attended the Global Anti-Apartheid Conference for Palestine along with Palestinian comrades from Palestine and the diaspora.
 
Many of the readers of the Morning Star who are old enough to remember the launch and evolution of the anti-apartheid movement against racist South Africa would have experienced a profound sense of deja vu if they had been with us in Johannesburg.
 
For many years, very large numbers of activists in unions and communities in South Africa have been painfully reminded of the many similarities between the oppressive nature of the Israeli regime and what happened under apartheid in South Africa.
 
Palestinian activists on the ground in particular have been at the forefront of acknowledging that Israeli and South African apartheid share many of the same brutal (and illegal) characteristics.
 
There have been deep and lasting links established between activists in Palestine and South Africa over decades, and it was abundantly clear at this weekend’s inaugural conference that many lessons have been shared and continue to inspire.
 
This has not been a simplistic comparison. It is understood that the context is very different and is reflected in conditions on the ground. However, the “instruments” used by the Israeli regime to repress and deny Palestinian rights are very familiar.
 
Extreme population control, the maintenance and actions of a repressive security apparatus, ongoing acts of dehumanisation and blatant racism are but a few of the more obvious elements.
 
Add to this the indiscriminate mass killing of defenceless civilians, the flattening of almost all of Gaza, and the murderous capturing of young people in the West Bank, who along with more than 10,000 Palestinians are held incommunicado in appalling prison conditions through “administrative detention” without trial, charge or representation for years on end.
 
After listening to our Palestinian comrades at the conference, many of those who were brutalised and imprisoned by the South African apartheid regime noted that the plight of Palestinians was in many ways far worse. Hardly surprising then that the call came from within Palestine itself for a new anti-apartheid initiative that would educate, agitate and organise globally as the first anti-apartheid movement did, and provide a platform for solidarity actions.
 
The deliberations of the International Court of Justice which appears to be gaining support on a daily basis from other nations, reinforced this view, as has the increasing effectiveness of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
 
Our Palestinian friends were adamant that South Africa should host this event and we were honoured to do so.
As the conference declaration indicates, there is a lot of work still to be done.
 
A comprehensive plan of action is being finalised but literally thousands of unstoppable protests across the world are taking place regardless.
 
The apartheid regime in South Africa created a state of emergency to limit news and information and to escalate arrests and repression. The Thatcher government in Britain attempted to “silence” opposition in Northern Ireland Britain as a whole, by “denying the republican movement the oxygen of publicity.”
 
Thatcher could get away with calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist for a while, and the likes of Bobby Sands and others “criminals” even as they lay starving to death for their right to be treated as political prisoners. But this will not wash today.
 
Every hour, if we choose to, we can see the extent of Israeli aggression in real time, and witness for ourselves the shocking and lethal genocidal responses of Netanyahu’s war cabinet. We can also see and read who is materially and ideologically supporting the Israeli regime.

The conference heard from voices inside Palestine and the diaspora, but also from those in other countries, on every continent, who have made the connection between their own struggles at home and the struggle for a democratic and peaceful Palestine.
 
An especially warm welcome was given to the national chairperson of Sinn Fein, comrade Declan Kearney, who remembered the helpful relationships that existed between the military and political wings of both movements.
 
Comrade Abdul Minty, one of the first national leaders of the anti-apartheid movement while in exile in Britain, was present, as were senior representatives from a range of embassies and missions, including the Minister of International Affairs of South Africa, who has to her credit consistently raised the illegality and brutality of the Israeli regime.
 
However, it was made absolutely clear by the organisers that the conference was a civil society initiative, independent of government, involving a myriad of campaigns globally, a vast range of community initiatives and growing trade union support. While actions are underway on hundreds of campuses, in workplaces, in schools and in communities a comprehensive action plan is now being urgently prepared.
 
Despite pleas from President Joe Biden and his European counterparts for what is effectively a more humane way to wipe out a population, the Israeli regime is pressing ahead with its genocide.

Many believe that we have now reached a tipping point. Despite craven attempts to characterise criticism of Israel as anti-semitic, or to discredit the resistance as feudal, reactionary or defeated, or to imply, as some on the left have done, that we are being hoodwinked into supporting less-than-revolutionary ends, that pro-Palestinian activity is somehow a battle for religious hegemony, it is now abundantly clear. The battle lines have been drawn.
 
They are between those who want to see a genuine democratic solution with Palestinian self-determination at its core or those who consciously or otherwise align their interests with those responsible for maintaining an ongoing catastrophe.
 
It is hoped that Morning Star readers will continue to support the Palestinian cause and we look forward to their participation in the future anti-apartheid movement for Palestine.

Stephen Faulkner is a trade union officer and activist in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Johannesburg. He writes in a personal capacity.

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