Do I Divest?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
October 17, 2002
The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments
of the past century, but we would not have succeeded without the
help of international pressure -- in particular the divestment movement
of the 1980s. Over the past six months, a similar movement has taken
shape, this time aiming at an end to the Israeli occupation.
Divestment from apartheid South Africa was fought by ordinary people
at the grassroots. Faith-based leaders informed their followers,
union members pressured their companies' stockholders and consumers
questioned their store owners. Students played an especially important
role by compelling universities to change their portfolios. Eventually,
institutions pulled the financial plug, and the South African government
thought twice about its policies.
Similar moral and financial pressures on Israel are being mustered
one person at a time. Students on more than forty campuses in the
U.S. are demanding a review of university investments in Israeli
companies as well as in firms doing major business in Israel. From
Berkeley to Ann Arbor, city councils have debated municipal divestment
These tactics are not the only parallels to the struggle against
apartheid. Yesterday's South African township dwellers can tell
you about today's life in the Occupied Territories. To travel only
blocks in his own homeland, a grandfather waits on the whim of a
teenage soldier. More than an emergency is needed to get to a hospital;
less than a crime earns a trip to jail. The lucky ones have a permit
to leave their squalor to work in Israel's cities, but their luck
runs out when security closes all checkpoints, paralyzing an entire
people. The indignities, dependence and anger are all too familiar.
Many South Africans are beginning to recognize the parallels to
what we went through. Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinsky, two Jewish
heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle, recently published a letter
in My Name" . Signed by several hundred other
prominent Jewish South Africans, the letter drew an explicit analogy
between apartheid and current Israeli policies. Mark Mathabane and
Nelson Mandela have also pointed out the relevance of the South
To criticize the occupation is not to overlook Israel's unique
strengths, just as protesting the Vietnam War did not imply ignoring
the distinct freedoms and humanitarian accomplishments of the United
States. In a region where repressive governments and unjust policies
are the norm, Israel is certainly more democratic than its neighbours.
This does not make dismantling the settlements any less a priority.
Divestment from apartheid South Africa was certainly no less justified
because there was repression elsewhere on the African continent.
Aggression is no more palatable in the hands of a democratic power.
Territorial ambition is equally illegal whether it occurs in slow
motion, as with the Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories,
or in blitzkrieg fashion, as with the Iraqi tanks in Kuwait.
The United States has a distinct responsibility to intervene in
atrocities committed by its client states, and since Israel is the
single largest recipient of U.S. arms and foreign aid, an end to
the occupation should be a top concern.
Almost instinctively, the Jewish people have always been on the
side of the voiceless. In their history, there is painful memory
of massive roundups, house demolitions and collective punishment.
In their scripture, there is acute empathy for the disfranchised.
The occupation represents a dangerous and selective amnesia of the
persecution from which these traditions were born.
Not everyone has forgotten, including some within the military.
The growing Israeli refusenik movement evokes the small anti-conscription
drive that helped turn the tide in apartheid South Africa. Several
hundred decorated Israeli officers have refused to perform military
service in the Occupied Territories. Those not already in prison
have taken their message on the road to U.S. synagogues and campuses,
rightly arguing that Israel needs security but that it will never
have it as an occupying power.
More than thirty-five new settlements have been constructed in
the past year. Each one is a step away from the safety deserved
by the Israelis, and two steps away from the justice owed to the
If apartheid ended, so can this occupation, but the moral force
and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The
current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the
only, necessary move in that direction.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984
for his work against apartheid. This piece was written in collaboration
with Ian Urbina of the Middle East Research and Information Project
in Washington D.C.
Against the Israeli Occupation: It's Time
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