He associated the struggle of the majority people of South Africa against the apartheid regime with the plight of the Palestinians who were struggling with their own form of apartheid. In the same way, Desmond Tutu has been to the West Bank and has been very outspoken in echoing what Mandela said. Tutu is on the record as saying that he regards the structures of apartheid in Israel/Palestine as in some respects even worse than those in South Africa.
I suppose Mandela considered Palestine the greatest moral issue because it was about a people wronged. The Palestinians were not the Germans, they didn't do terrible things to the Jewish people. In fact, they had lived peacefully with the Jewish people for a very long time. They were the majority people in their country. Jews, Muslims, Christians lived together in peace, generally speaking, until the state of Israel was imposed on them.
As Mustafa Barghouti put it, "The Zionists wanted a state at the expense of the Palestinians." That's what Mandela meant. Palestine is a classic colonial injustice. [Israel] is the fourth largest military power in the world backed by the largest military power, the European Union and other Western countries, taking away the freedom and imposing oppression on the people of Palestine.
DB: And the idea of a free Palestinian people is one that is very troubling to the Arab world that is aligned with the United States. It seems nobody wants to think about the liberation of Palestine because then they have to think about their own corrupt and vicious dictatorships. Palestine really is the issue of war and peace. Whether there will ever be peace depends on whether these people will ever have a place to call their home again.
JP: Certainly, until the Palestinians have justice -- in a way that they recognize it -- there will be no peace in the region. In a sense, all roads of conflict in this troubled region lead back to Palestine. If the Palestine issue were resolved, that would mean that Israel would be a normal country. Not armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons and intimidating and oppressing the indigenous people, but a normal country living with equality within its own sphere. If that happened, if that were resolved, I'm not saying that peace would suddenly break out all over the Middle East, but it would be the beginning.
DB: Do you see the boycott/divestment movement as a hopeful light? Clearly, people who have supported it in the US, students and teachers, have suffered great repression. But do you see this as a viable movement? In some ways it is modeled on the South African anti-apartheid movement.
JP: All you have to do is look at the reaction in Israel. They are terrified of it. They have brought all kinds of pressure to bear on governments, particularly the British government, to stop the BDS movement having an influence. Just the other day, a court judgment found that local councils in Britain could indeed boycott, disinvest and sanction whoever they please. The British government had told them they couldn't. Well, they can.
The BDS movement really worries the Israeli regime because it's popular. In Norway, the biggest trade union has endorsed it. Student bodies in the United States are going along with it. People have had their say and they have voted for it. It represents a kind of local democracy. It's much more widespread in the United States than people realize and it certainly is across Europe.
BDS on its own is not going to bring about freedom for the Palestinians. In South Africa, the sanctions did undoubtedly have an effect. But White South Africa managed to get around the sanctions. It was when it lost a powerful friend, when the Reagan administration decided that South Africa was causing more trouble than it was worth and finally withdrew its support, that the system fell.
I'm afraid that that is the way power works. But there is no doubt that power is always influenced by popular movements such as BDS. Ultimately, I believe that the solution is in the United States. Without US backing in all its forms, Israel would have no choice but to become a normal country.
DB: It is interesting to see how strong the reaction has been to the boycott/divestment movement. Professors have lost their jobs, kids have been beaten up. Below the corporate media surface, it has really been reverberating out there in the grassroots.