South Africa anti-Apartheid leader forges ties with Palestinians

April 22nd, 2009 | Posted in Palestine, Politics
    Bethlehem, Ma’an. By Deema Dabis

    Photo: number four prison | constitution hill | Johannesburg, South Africa

A South African anti-Apartheid leader and union official is in the West Bank this week to share ideas and create stronger links for solidarity work with Palestinians.

“In South Africa we are familiar with the struggle of the people of Palestine for freedom and self determination,” said Zeko Tamela, the Head of External Relations of the South African Transport and Communications Workers Union. “As a previously oppressed people ourselves we forged alliances with freedom fighters around the world.”

Tamela was speaking in a meeting with Palestinian union leaders, civil society activists and Palestinian Authority officials at the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Tuesday afternoon.

Tamela’s visit comes a little more than three months after South African dockworkers refused to offload an Israeli cargo ship in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip following the Israeli military offensive in December and January.

Tamela has spent the past two of days in the West Bank where he met with Omar Al-Barghout, the head of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), activists in the village of Bil’in, the Stop the Wall campaign, and visited refugee camps and community centers in the area.

At the Bethlehem meeting on Tuesday, there were about 20 individuals in attendance including Issa Qararqa, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and former head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, journalists, members of BADIL and the Palestinian Prisoners Society in addition to representatives from the Palestinian Transport Union and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).

Tamela shared with the group aspects of the South African experience in the struggle against apartheid. Some in attendance relayed an outline of the oppression faced by Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian Territories as well as inside Israel. Others outlined initiatives currently under way in relation to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign against what is seen as Israeli apartheid.

Throughout the meeting Tamela urged Palestinians inside the occupied territories to continue to coordinate and mobilize the international community. Without this initiative, he said, people who live far away from these injustices may step back their solidarity work because there will be an impression, promoted by Israel, that things are improving.

He expressed the importance of international support and coordination especially following the recent Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip and the importance of Palestinians to continue with “struggle on all fronts.”

Tamela urged the Palestinians in the room, addressing them as “comrades,” not to compromise on their vision of full justice and equality. He said that the South African anti-Apartheid movement was pressured to reduce its struggle for a demand for civil rights, a claim that can only be made by citizens, as opposed to the struggle “of an oppressed people for liberation.”

“Because of our work the UN declared Apartheid a crime against humanity. Palestinians must do the same, must insist that Zionism is a crime against humanity,” he said.

“We knew that only a united, non-racial democratic South Africa could satisfy us; nothing in between,” he added.

Asked by a journalist what can be done to convince Jewish Israelis that they are participating in an unjust system, he said, “There is no other solution than struggle on all fronts; once they see the struggle is stronger and international solidarity is stronger they will see their cause is going to die.”

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