Lev Grinberg writes: The death of Nelson Mandela, a major hero of the struggle for freedom and equality in the 20th century, has generated a host of strange and curious comparisons and interpretations. Strangest of all is the one crowning Mandela as the leader of the non-violent struggle. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not have been alone in upholding this distorted notion, but in his case, the political intention is unmistakable: to wit, the reason why the Palestinians are unable to achieve their coveted liberty and equality is that they do not have their own Mandela to lead a non-violent struggle. Such interpretation reflects not ignorance, but a deliberate deception. Mandela’s struggle should be reviewed and compared to the Palestinian struggle in order to understand both the similarities and the differences between them. It is thus worthwhile to consider briefly the link between violence and liberation.
Mandela won his senior position when he decided to lead an armed struggle in South Africa, and established the military branch of the African National Congress. Going underground, he then led terror and sabotage operations against the apartheid regime, for which he was sentenced to life in prison. Twenty-seven years later he was released to conduct negotiations with South Africa’s State President Frederik William de Klerk, designed to put an end to the apartheid regime. De Klerk managed to bring the Whites around to concede a regime of White supremacy and privilege, do away with inter-racial segregation, and accept the principle of equal voting rights for Blacks and Whites. Such concessions were the result of not only the armed struggle, but of the apartheid regime’s mounting unpopularity and of the economic and political boycott imposed on South Africa. In other words, it was only when the White elites of South Africa felt the direct impact of these sanctions that de Klerk was able to convince them that they should renounce apartheid and their privileges. It is important to realize that without violent struggle, the Blacks of South Africa would never have won recognition. But armed struggle alone is not enough, because the powers ruling the State are always more powerful, organized and better equipped. International pressure is therefore necessary. The more international pressure, the less violence is required.
Could an analysis of Black struggle in South Africa teach us something about the Palestinian struggle? I believe that it can, despite the differences between the two regimes in terms of the nature of segregation and types of privileges. Palestinian violence did engender international pressure during 1988-1992, which resulted in Israel’s recognition of the PLO in 1993. Following this recognition, Yasser Arafat committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and got Mandela’s blessing for it. Unfortunately, mutual recognition has led matters in the opposite direction – to an upgraded version of Israel’s military and economic control and oppression. The reason for this is that Israelis, along with the rest of the world, imagined that the sheer act of recognition was the end of the process, rather than its beginning. The world stopped putting pressure on Israel, the Arab boycott was lifted, and every country in the world, including Russia, eastern Europe, China, and the Asian and African continents, have opened their gates for commerce with Israel. Israelis, too, have bought into the peace delusion, turning their attention to internal struggles over Israel’s ‘civic’ agenda, choosing to close their eyes to the doubling and later tripling of the Jewish population in the Occupied Territories. And when the Palestinians resorted to violence once again as diplomacy failed in 2000, Israelis were surprised and disappointed, and supported escalating oppressive violence. Simply put, when the world does not put pressure on the oppressive regime, the privileged group has no motivation to make any concessions. A cyclic routine of violence was thus created, erupting from time to time but never achieving anything beyond mutual bloodshed and destruction. [Continue reading…]