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The straight line between Soweto and Gaza

Stopped by Apartheid


Translated by  Kristoffer Larsson. Edited by Ron Ridenour.

Israel in May of 2009. 

Just over a week ago, I visited Israel and Palestine. I was a part of a delegation of authors consisting of representatives from different continents. We were supposed to participate in the Palestine Festival of Literature. The inauguration was supposed to take place at the Palestinian National Theatre in Jerusalem. Just as we had gathered, heavily armed Israeli military and police officers arrived and said that they were going to stop us. Asked why, the answer read:

“You’re a security risk.” 

Of course, it’s sheer nonsense to claim that we constituted a security threat to Israel at that moment. But at the same time they were right. We do constitute a threat when we come to Israel and say what we think of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian population. It’s not more odd than when I, and thousands of others, once constituted a threat to the apartheid system in South Africa. Words are dangerous! 

This is also what I said when the organizers had succeeded in relocating the whole inauguration at the French Culture Centre, which had agreed to house us: 

“What we are now experiencing is that the despicable apartheid system, which once treated Africans and coloured people as second class citizens in their own land, is repeating itself. However, we shan’t forget that this apartheid system no longer exists. It was overthrown by human force to the dust heap of history, in the early 1990s. There is a straight line between Soweto, Sharpeville and what recently happened in Gaza.” 

During the three days that followed, we visited Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin and Ramallah. One day, we walked through the mountains with Palestinian author Raja Shehadeh, who showed us how Israeli settlements are spreading out, confiscating Palestinian land, destroying roads, building new ones for settlers only. Harassment presented itself immediately at the checkpoints. Needless to say, my wife Eva and I had a much easier time getting through. But people in the delegation, who held Syrian passports or were of Palestinian origin, were more vulnerable. Take your bag out of the bus, put it back in again, take it out again… 

But there are degrees, also in hell. Hebron was worst. In the middle of a town of 40,000 Palestinians live 400 Jewish settlers who have confiscated a part of downtown Hebron. They are brutal. They don’t hesitate to attack their Palestinian neighbours at any time. Why not pee on their heads from highly-located windows? We saw a documentation that, among other things, showed settler women and their children kicking and hitting Palestinian women – without the military intervening. This is why there are people in Hebron who, in the name of solidarity, volunteer to walk Palestinian children to and home from school. These 400 settlers are protected 24-7 by 1,500 Israeli soldiers. Each and every settler is constantly guarded by 4-5 people. On top of that, the settlers are allowed to carry weapons. When we visited one of the worst crossings in Hebron, there was an extremely aggressive settler who filmed us. If he saw any sign of something Palestinian – a bracelet, a pin – he ran off to report to the soldiers. 

Of course, nothing of what we experienced could ever be compared to the Palestinians’ situation. We met them in taxicabs and in the street, at evening-readings, at universities and theatres. We were able to listen to what they’re being subjected to. 

Is it strange that some of them, when they see no other way out of it, decide, in desperation, to become suicide-bombers? Hardly. Strange, perhaps, is that more of them do not opt for it. 

The wall that is now dividing the country will prevent future attacks, on short-term. But the wall is all too clearly an indication of the desperation of the Israeli military power. In the end, it will suffer the same fate as the wall that divided Berlin. 

What I witnessed during this trip was all too clear: in its current shape, the State of Israel has no future. Moreover, those who champion a two-state solution are wrong. 

In 1948, the year of my birth, the State of Israel proclaimed its independence on occupied land. There are no good reasons at all for saying that this was a legitimate move under international law. Israel simply occupied Palestinian land. And its land holdings are constantly growing – through the war, in 1967, and today through the constantly growing settlements. Every now and then, some settlement is dismantled for appearance’s sake. But soon enough another one pops up somewhere else. A two-state solution doesn’t mean that the historical occupation comes to an end. 

Carlos Latuff

Israel will end up the same way as apartheid South Africa . The only question is if the Israelis can be made to listen to reason and to voluntarily agree to the dismantlement of the apartheid state, or if it needs to come about by coercion. 

Nor can anyone tell when it will happen. The final rebellion will, of course, be initiated from inside. But sudden political changes in Syria or Egypt will be contributory. 

As important, certainly, is that the USA soon won’t afford to pay for this gruesome military power, which denies stone-throwing kids a normal life in freedom. 

When these changes are a fact, it is up to the individual Israeli whether he or she is prepared to relinquish his/hers privileges, in order to live in a Palestinian state. I didn’t encounter any anti-Semitism during the trip, only a completely normal hatred of the occupiers. It’s vital to keep the two apart. 

We had intended to end the last night the same way we had started in Jerusalem. However, the theatre had been closed down by the military again. It had to happen elsewhere. 

The State of Israel has only defeat to await, like all occupying powers. 

The Israelis crush life. But they crush no dreams. The fall of this hideous apartheid system is the only conceivable, because it’s a necessity. 

The question, then, is not if but when it happens, and, accordingly, in what way.

Carlos Latuff

Henning Mankell's remarks at 5:37

Source: AFTONBLADET Kultur - Stoppad av apartheid

Original article published on 2 June 2009.

About the author

Kristoffer Larsson and Ron Ridenour are members of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and reviser are cited.

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THE LAND OF CANAAN : 26/06/2009