“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”

These are one of the most famous words of a leader who is looked up everywhere with the highest of regards- NELSON MANDELA. How his solidarity with the Palestinian struggle is related to his own legacy of struggling against Apartheid is a little tricky to understand unless we go into the background of these two movements.  So, let’s explore the background of these 2 movements one by one to understand this tricky relationship.

Background of Apartheid– It was a policy of racial segregation that existed from 1948-early 1990s in South Africa and Namibia. It discriminated against non-whites politically and economically. This racial stratification or apartness was however present in the society much before the policy formulation and implementation. It started in the 18th century with Dutch based on the principle of white supremacy. In 1950, Population registration Act passed divided the South African society into 4 groups- Black, White, Coloured(mixed race) and Asians. The Group Areas Act of 1950 then divided the residential and business areas on the basis of these 4 groups and members of other groups were prohibited to live or do business outside the assigned areas. Further tightening the pass laws, non-whites were required to carry identity documents. This meant treating the natives as foreigners in their own country. The government often suppressed the rebellions and censures. In 1952, African National Congress and South African Indian Congress were formed as a protest. In 1960, Sharpeville massacre happened wherein 69 people were killed by police. After this the world started taking strict actions against South Africa. South Africa was forced to withdraw from Commonwealth membership as other member nations were not ready to accept its Apartheid policy. In 1963, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment. In 1963 UN passed a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa. As a result of this, in 1964, UK and US severed their arm trade links with South Africa. In 1977, however, this voluntary arms embargo became mandatory for member nations of UN. In 1985, even the Pope condemned apartheid. Then international teams started boycotting South African sports. So boycott extended from trade to sports. In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released and Apartheid also came to an end. In 1994, first democratic elections happened in South Africa resulting in Mandela as President.

palestine land loss

Background of Palestine struggle-Palestine is considered to be the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity. In 1917, Balfour declaration by British supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The 1936-39 Arab revolt rose as against the British, demanding Arab independence and the end of Jewish immigration. After Nazi Holocaust demand for Jewish state strengthened. In 1947 United Nations adopted a partition plan for the British Mandate of Palestine dividing Arab and Jewish states and endowing special status for Jerusalem. In May 1948, state of Israel was created. Subsequently, Arab-Israeli wars followed with West bank falling into the hands of Jordan and Gaza went to Egypt. In 1948, exodus happened known as Nabka wherein about 700,000 Palestinians were made to flee. In 1967, Palestinian liberation organisation was founded. In 1967, Israel captured Gaza, West Bank and Golam heights. Israeli settlements were then created on these occupied territories. In 1987-93, First Intifada happened- Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza. In 1988, Yasser Arafat sought 2 state solution. In 1993, Oslo Accord was signed which gave limited self-governance to a Palestinian authority in West Bank and Gaza strip.  But nothing was negotiated in terms of Jerusalem. Due to discontent with Oslo Accords and failure of David Camp summit, 2nd Intifada happened in 2000-2005. Another reason behind 2nd Intifada was continued occupation by Israelis with plans to create a new neighbourhood in West Bank. In 2005, Israel started withdrawing out of Gaza and started building West bank barrier. In 2006, Hamas won elections in Gaza strip. Egypt and Israel imposed blockade on Gaza strip to curb both weapons and non-weapons (food) trade. In 2012, UN recognised Palestine as a non-member observer.  The proposal of 2 state has now been replaced by demand for 3 states on account of the difficulty in defining borders. The West bank and Gaza strip are separated now on account of Israeli settlements made in between them over the years as well as marginalisation of Gaza. Also, there is the dispute of Jerusalem that is holy to 3 religions.

Comparison- Now after knowing the background of these 2 movements we can relate to the tricky relationship between South Africa and Palestine. Israel had a very strong alliance with the apartheid regime. This alliance was very beneficial to South Africa for intelligence and military needs especially when the entire world was condemning its racial discrimination policies and boycotting South Africa.In the case of Apartheid rights of local African natives, who had lived there for 1000 years, were usurped by Europeans. Similarly, in the case of Palestine, Arabs who were the local natives have been marginalised by Jews who came as immigrants. Though the motives are same in both the cases- to gain controlling interest of a common resource at the expense of other group. However, one important difference between the two movements is that in case of South Africa- exploitation of natives was the goal while in case of Palestine it’s the expulsion of indigenous people.

So, as we see that both these movements are very similar in nature. Yet one was able to garner the support of world while the other is still struggling for legitimate recognition. Both involve violation of fundamental rights. So, why has there been a discrepancy in the treatment of two? Why has there been no active coordinated international effort to reach an amicable solution in this matter?

Several reasons can be cited for this. It can be due to the economic power of Jews. But then so was South Africa. South Africa was very important in terms of trade with all of its natural resources. It can also be ascribed to Jerusalem which is a holy place for Jews. But then almost all communities have historically lived in Jerusalem at one point of time or the other. And so it is holy for all communities. May be there is a need to have a strong foothold in middle east for the world which involves ignoring the struggles of Palestinians. May be there is a need for Israel’s support in military and intelligence and hence it is difficult for the various countries to go against Israel. But then all are hypothesis and there is no one right answer to the question- Why the world is silent on this? May be Israel and Palestine will have to wait for another 3 centuries like South Africa before their suffering becomes recognisable and a solution is reached. Is it true that time is the only measure of suffering?

Anannya Chaudhary, who is a 2nd year student at IIM Ahmedabad interested in social movements and international affairs


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  1. Even before South Africa created apartheid and Israel created its combination of ethnic cleansing and apartheid, Canada had already successfully created an apartheid system with its own indigenous people. I have read in a few articles that Canada in part served as a model for the both South Africa and Israel. The main connection being the British empire and its once dominant position around the world.

    Canada used several methods to coerce its indigenous people into submission and placement on restricted territories. Not obviously militaristic in the U.S. wild west sense of the word, nor Israel’s Plan Dalet involving massacres, expulsion and destruction, Canada used starvation, environmental destruction (killing off food sources e.g. the buffalo), disease, the occasional military action, and lots of lies in order to subjugate its indigenous population.

    Canada has its “reservations”, has different levels of status for differently situated indigenous people, and has an Indian Act that essentially prevents the establishment of any independent indigenous governance and controls most aspects of native life. While there are some particular agreements between individual bands and the governments, the one thing they will not get back is their land.

    Recent efforts at ‘reconciliation’ have a feel good effect, but so far have not actually accomplished anything to assist with economic/political independence or freedom.

  2. “May be there is a need to have a strong foothold in middle east for the world which involves ignoring the struggles of Palestinians. May be there is a need for Israel’s support in military and intelligence and hence it is difficult for the various countries to go against Israel. But then all are hypothesis and there is no one right answer to the question- ”

    The best answer to these questions can be found in many histories – they are not hypothesis and yes, there is more than one right answer. Try the following book as a good place to start:

  3. Adegbite Isaac Adesoji says:

    Apartheid south Africa is completely different from the Arab-Isreali conflict.Read the bible.

  4. Red Robbo says:

    ‘May be Israel and Palestine will have to wait for another 3 centuries like South Africa before their suffering becomes recognisable and a solution is reached.’

    How will workers fare in an independent Palestine under a new set of leaders, some drawn from Hamas or the PA (both seems unlikely if a report in The Guardian titled ‘Palestinian security forces routinely torture critics, rights group says’ is to be believed)? Will their lot be any different from those in South Africa? The first three Presidents there supported the dictator Mugabe. Mbeki is responsible for the premature deaths of up to 365,000 AIDS victims. King Zuma has his palace and shares responsibility for the Marikana massacre with Ramaphosa. Anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said of the ANC:: ‘They stopped the gravy train just long enough to get on themselves.’ He went on describe the Zuma administration as ‘worse than the apartheid government’ and that he would ‘pray for the downfall of the ANC.’ South Africa today is the most unequal society in the world – economic apartheid persists for millions. ‘More than two decades after South Africa ousted a racist apartheid system that trapped the vast majority of South Africans in poverty, more than half the country still lives below the national poverty line and most of the nation’s wealth remains in the hands of a small elite’ (NPR, 2 April 2018).