The death of Nelson Mandela has reminded the world of the power of a boycott in ending apartheid in South Africa and the existence of another form of apartheid in Palestine.
Mandela said in a speech in 1997 that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”. The parallels between South Africa’s struggle against apartheid and the Palestinians struggle have not only been drawn by Palestinians. Alon Liel, who was Israeli ambassador to South Africa in 1992-4, has said: “The situation that has developed in the West Bank over four and a half decades is a kind of apartheid. If you compare the suffering of black people in South Africa under 40 years of apartheid, and the suffering of the Palestinians under 46 years of occupation, I don’t know who suffered more.”
Liel has drawn parallels also between Mandela and Marwan Barghouti, who has spent nearly 12 years in an Israeli prison but is still one of the most popular politicians in Palestine. Liel is possibly the only man who has known both Mandela and Barghouti well.
From his Cell n°28 in Hadarim prison in Israel, Barghouti wrote an appreciation of Mandela in which he said: “From within my prison cell, I tell you that our freedom seems possible because you reached yours”.
Last year his wife Fadwa Barghouti sat in Mandela’s old cell in the B section of Robben Island prison and signed an international declaration calling for the release of Marwan Barghouti and all the other political prisoners in Israeli jails. She was accompanied by Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela’s close friend who had launched a similar international campaign for his release many years earlier, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Tutu, the architect of South Africa’s own truth and reconciliation process, is among those who believe that if the Israeli government really wanted peace, they would release Marwan Barghouti.
They had a chance when they agreed to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in an exchange deal for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011. They were asked by both Fatah and Hamas to release him as part of the deal. They did release 1,027 prisoners, including many who had been convicted of multiple murders and were serving life sentences, but not Barghouti.
They had the opportunity again when they released 104 long-term prisoners as part of the deal negotiated by US State Secretary John Kerry for peace negotiations last nine months between August 2013 and May 2014. But, again, they have not released him.
The Israeli politicians who have supported his release include the Israeli President Shimon Peres who declared in January 2007 that he would sign a presidential pardon for Marwan Barghouti if elected to the Israeli presidency. He was elected, but he has not signed the pardon.