A Letter from Nelson Mandela to Thomas
by Arjan El Fassed (Media Monitors
March 30, 2001
To: Thomas L. Friedman (columnist New York Times)
From: Nelson Mandela (former President South Africa)
I know that you and I long for peace in the Middle East, but before
you continue to talk about necessary conditions from an Israeli
perspective, you need to know what's on my mind. Where to begin? How
about 1964. Let me quote my own words during my trial. They are true
today as they were then:
"I have fought against white domination and I have fought
against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic
and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and
with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for
and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am
prepared to die."
Today the world, black and white, recognise that apartheid has no
future. In South Africa it has been ended by our own decisive mass
action in order to build peace and security. That mass campaign of
defiance and other actions could only culminate in the establishment
Perhaps it is strange for you to observe the situation in Palestine
or more specifically, the structure of political and cultural
relationships between Palestinians and Israelis, as an apartheid
system. This is because you incorrectly think that the problem of
Palestine began in 1967. This was demonstrated in your recent column
"Bush's First Memo" in the New York Times on March 27,
You seem to be surprised to hear that there are still problems of
1948 to be solved, the most important component of which is the
right to return of Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not just an issue of military
occupation and Israel is not a country that was established
"normally" and happened to occupy another country in 1967.
Palestinians are not struggling for a "state" but for
freedom, liberation and equality, just like we were struggling for
freedom in South Africa.
In the last few years, and especially during the reign of the Labour
Party, Israel showed that it was not even willing to return what it
occupied in 1967; that settlements remain, Jerusalem would be under
exclusive Israeli sovereignty, and Palestinians would not have an
independent state, but would be under Israeli economic domination
with Israeli control of borders, land, air, water and sea.
Israel was not thinking of a "state" but of
"separation". The value of separation is measured in terms
of the ability of Israel to keep the Jewish state Jewish, and not to
have a Palestinian minority that could have the opportunity to
become a majority at some time in the future. If this takes place,
it would force Israel to either become a secular democratic or
bi-national state, or to turn into a state of apartheid not only de
facto, but also de jure.
Thomas, if you follow the polls in Israel for the last 30 or 40
years, you clearly find a vulgar racism that includes a third of the
population who openly declare themselves to be racist. This racism
is of the nature of "I hate Arabs" and "I wish Arabs
would be dead". If you also follow the judicial system in
Israel you will see there is discrimination against
Palestinians, and if you further consider the 1967 occupied
territories you will find there are already two judicial systems in
operation that represent two different approaches to human life: one
for Palestinian life and the other for Jewish life. Additionally
there are two different approaches to property and to land.
Palestinian property is not recognised as private property because
it can be confiscated.
As to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, there is an
additional factor. The so-called "Palestinian autonomous
areas" are bantustans. These are restricted entities within the
power structure of the Israeli apartheid system.
The Palestinian state cannot be the by-product of the Jewish state,
just in order to keep the Jewish purity of Israel. Israel's racial
discrimination is daily life of most Palestinians. Since Israel is a
Jewish state, Israeli Jews are able to accrue special rights which
non-Jews cannot do. Palestinian Arabs have no place in a
Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions
of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a
system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has
systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians,
contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular,
waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children.
The responses made by South Africa to human rights abuses emanating
from the removal policies and apartheid policies respectively, shed
light on what Israeli society must necessarily go through before one
can speak of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and an end
to its apartheid policies.
Thomas, I'm not abandoning Mideast diplomacy. But I'm not going to
indulge you the way your supporters do. If you want peace and
democracy, I will support you. If you want formal apartheid, we will
not support you. If you want to support racial discrimination and
ethnic cleansing, we will oppose you. When you figure out what
you're about, give me a call.