At a time when South Africa is mourning the passing of the country’s beloved icon of the freedom struggle Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the world is reeling from yet more evidence of Israel’s brutality.
In the full glare of the world’s cameras, Israel’s “Defence Forces” have mown down Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip. With men, women and children being shot and killed in cold blood, we are reminded of the crude massacres perpetrated in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid.
Whether it was Sharpeville or Boipatong, the gruesome murders were as merciless under South African apartheid as the ongoing horrors faced by Palestinians yearning for the freedom epitomised in the struggles of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. In reflecting upon the life of Mama Winnie, parallels with young Palestinians such as Ahed Tamimi, who face a torturous future under the jackboot of Israeli apartheid, cannot and must not be avoided.
In his tribute to the Mother of South Africa’s struggle for freedom, Chris Barron wrote, “In their darkest hour, when the apartheid juggernaut seemed unchallengeable and their leaders were doing life or in exile, she was the symbol of defiance.” She was truly a giant who has inspired liberation movements across Africa, Asia, Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Ahed Tamimi and the brave Palestinians who dare to defy Israel are cut from the same resistance cloth.
As gory images of protesters being hunted down like wild animals confront the collective conscience of humanity, attention is drawn yet again to the Zionist regime’s bloody history. It is an era marked by deliberate ethnic cleansing of Palestine of its indigenous population and the forceful imposition of a “national home for the Jewish people” called Israel.
Academic and activist Mazen Qumsiyeh recalls that dozens of massacres were committed during the run up to and after Israel’s creation: “534 villages and towns were depopulated in a bizarre 20th century attempt to transform a multicultural/multi-religious Palestine into ‘the Jewish state of Israel’.” One of these villages was Deir Yassin. The horror experienced by its inhabitants during April 1948 was gruesome and terrifying: “A young fellow tied to a tree and set on fire. A woman and an old man shot in the back. Girls lined up against a wall and shot with a submachine gun. The testimonies collected by filmmaker Neta Shoshani about the massacre in Deir Yassin are difficult to process even 70 years after the fact,” wrote Ofer Aderet in Haaretz.
Seventy years later and Palestinians are still being massacred. An apparently unending process is targeting the children of the soil. It’s a process characterised by the slaughter of innocents whose only crime is that they are Palestinian.
Gaza’s protest action dubbed the Great Return March has its genesis in Zionism’s original sin, the depopulation of Palestine and the dispossession of its people. It tells the story of the people who once enjoyed all of their land but are today confined in open air prisons, sealed off from the outside world, under siege and facing brutal death for desiring to live as free human beings.
Gaza is even cut off from the rest of Palestine, with a merciless siege imposed by apartheid Israel for the past 11 years; the Palestinians in the territory are facing slow genocide. Furthermore, although the international community, especially their Arab neighbours Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have conspired with Israel to punish the Palestinians for refusing to disavow their rights to live as free people enjoying honour and dignity; finally, though, Gaza has said that enough is enough.
Thousands of protesters have adopted a peaceful campaign of defiance anchored in their legitimate right of return. The Israeli army’s killers have resorted to their preferred choice of action: massacre. To-date Israeli snipers have murdered dozens of Palestinians and wounded hundreds more — let’s remind ourselves — peaceful protesters. Despite this brutal response by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, wave upon wave of Palestinians remain ready to make the supreme sacrifice in order to attain their freedom. Between the gruesome legacy of Deir Yassin and the current massacres, Palestinian resistance stands at an all-time high.