Occupied Territories, and we don’t regard that as acceptable.” He said in that “all of us need to do more in supporting the struggle of the people of Palestine for self-determination.”
State visits are usually an occasion for diplomatic pleasantries, but two years later, on a trip to Israel, he said: “My view is that talk of peace remains hollow if Israel continues to occupy Arab lands. If there is going to be peace, there must be complete withdrawal from all of these areas.”
Contrast this with his statement during that same visit, in the Occupied Territories: “The histories of our two peoples, Palestinian and South African, correspond in such painful and poignant ways, that I intensely feel myself being at home amongst compatriots.”
Mandela said that when he was released from prison, he received invitations to visit “from almost every country in the world except Israel,” which was a staunch ally of the apartheid regime. While Israel vehemently rejects
Opposite: Nelson Mandela with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The former ANC leader’s appeal was universal, he belonged to us all accusations that it practices apartheid in the Occupied Territories, black South Africans are among those who make such accusations. Who would know better than those who endured it themselves? The Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel, recalled that Mandela was “furious” about Israel’s cooperation with his people’s oppressors, and quoted him as saying: “We will never forget it.” However, Liel said Mandela oﬀered to “open a new page with Israel” if it changed its “attitude towards the Palestinians.” As has been proven painfully obvious, that oﬀer fell on deaf ears. Mandela “was a fighter for human rights who le an indelible mark on the struggle against racism and discrimination,” said Shimon Peres, president of a country that ardently supported those abuses in South Africa, and is determined to erase that mark when it comes to the Palestinians, Mandela’s “compatriots.”
As defence minister in the s, Peres himself signed military pacts with Pretoria that helped develop weapons used against black South Africans. Never underestimate the allure and convenience of a selective memory. Iraq Mandela was a scathing critic of the invasion of Iraq, condemning George Bush and Tony Blair for “undermining the United Nations” by seeking military action without Security Council approval. He described Bush as a “small man” with “no foresight, who cannot think properly,” and who wanted “to plunge the world into a holocaust.” Blair was “the foreign minister of the United States... no longer the prime minister of Britain,” said Mandela.
“Why is the United States behaving so arrogantly?” he asked. “It is a tragedy what is happening, what Bush is doing. All that he wants is Iraqi oil.” The South African urged world leaders to oppose Bush, and called on Americans to take to the streets and vote out their president, who was “trying to bring about carnage.”
Neither Bush nor Blair provided any evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, said Mandela. “But what we know is that Israel has weapons of mass destruction,” he added. “Nobody talks about that. Why should there be one standard for one country... and another one for another country, Israel?”
Given that Bush and Blair ignored Mandela, with tragic consequences for Iraq and the wider region, their tributes to him are as nauseating as they are hypocritical. Mandela was “one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time,” said Bush. “Our world is better oﬀ because of his example.” It is a crying shame that neither the former US president nor his British foreign minister followed it. Hypocrisy “Listening to the leaders of the free world compete to extol South Africa’s first democratically elected president, there is a striking absence of acknowledgement not only of how little their countries did to get him out of prison but how much they supported the regime that kept him locked up for years,” wrote The Guardian’s Washington correspondent Chris McGreal, who was previously posted in Johannesburg and Jerusalem.
However, leaders around the world, from East and West, are guilty of hypocrisy, singing Mandela’s praises while making a mockery of the principles he stood by. For example, it is truly perverse for Bashar Assad to describe Mandela as “an inspiration to all the vulnerable peoples of the world,” and a “symbol of liberation,” when just days prior the UN human rights chief said there was “massive evidence” implicating the Syrian dictator and his regime in war crimes and crimes against humanity against his own people.
Assad is certainly not alone in cynically trying to gain political capital from Mandela’s legacy. It is a brazen dishonour to such an honourable figure, but such is his stature that the most odious of people are clamouring to fabricate an image of personal and ideological camaraderie with him. Mandela has only just been buried, but he may already be turning in his grave at the crocodile tears shed by those behaving in ways he would have disavowed. n
January The Middle East 19