Bishop Desmond Tutu courageously proclaims Hope

Immoral Israeli Occupation will “Bite the Dust”

19 April 2002

By Robert C. Assaly
Editor, CFOS Mideast Electronic News
(May be freely reproduced or redistributed without permission)

   Ottawa (Special) -- A crowd of nearly 1000 peacemakers set the bar of expectation at the highest notch with a standing ovation given to retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu as he was being introduced by retired Presiding Episcopal Bishop of the USA, Edmund Browning. Jews, Christians, Muslims and others from around North America gathered in Boston with anticipation to hear the Nobel laureate at a day-long conference entitled “Ending the Occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The participants’ response as he left indicated the diminutive Bishop cleared the bar with plenty of room to spare.

    A coincidental demonstration by hundreds in Copley Square, led by Jewish Women Against the Occupation, marched over to the steps of the Old South Church to be greeted by the retired Archbishop. He was speaking to the need for a just and peaceful end to Israel’s illegal military occupation of foreign territories, at the invitation of the conference organizers, Friends of Sabeel, the Jerusalem based ecumenical centre for Liberation Theology.  Most who lined up at the microphone to ask questions declared themselves as Jews, all from various organizations opposed to Israel’s provocative violence. One woman tearfully pleaded with Church leaders for support for those Jews who, for their candour and courage, are “marginalized” by their community. “The way to be allies with us is don’t let us <Jews> do this”, referring to the violence of Israeli occupation.

    Tutu, who stared down the apartheid regime and then crowned South Africa’s future in hope by chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was flanked by Sabeel’s executive director Canon Naim Ateek arriving from the Occupied Territories. In his address, Ateek pointed out, in an echo of the South African experience, unless the world wants to declare ethnic cleansing acceptable, “peace must begin with an acknowledgement of the wrongs done” to the Palestinians in 1948.  He then proclaimed “the road to healing and reconciliation passes through repentance.” The Boston Globe reported strong criticism by American Jewish leaders, labeling Tutu’s remarks as “an ugly slur”, while countering with the off-the-shelf stock rationalization of Israeli violence, “Israel is in a simple fight for survival.”

  Tutu began by affirming the fundamental tenets of Judaism in the Torah, and the beauty of each person, regardless of colour, ethnicity, culture or ideology, in the sight of  “our marvelous, omnipotent and impotent God”. Proclaiming that God’s potency on earth is only through human cooperation, he encouraged the audience, stating “He waits for you” to act. The distinguished churchman then wondered how those Jews who support the occupation could forget the Nazis, “Why is memory so short? Have my Jewish brothers and sisters forgotten the humiliation of wearing the star of David, of collective punishments...?”. He was unambiguous in declaring the root of the problem, racist in character, as “the occupation that says that Palestinians are nothing.” Furthermore, “the pain it causes is the fertile soil for suicide bombers.”

    The other two principal speakers, both American Jewish women, debunked pro-occupation propaganda. Dr. Sara Roy eloquently exposed how the “peace process” inevitably entrenched the occupation, describing how Oslo institutionalized “pre-existing structures of dependency and de-development” established out of a quarter century of Israeli military occupation. Institute for Policy Studies’ Fellow, Dr. Phyllis Bennis, a foreign policy expert on the UN and US, stated that new American players in the region such as Tenet, Zinni and Powell cannot have any useful role while American policy and funding supports  the occupation. When, in the West Bank, one ducks from American-made gifts to Israel of Apache helicopters only to trip over spent cartridges stamped “made in Pennsylvania”, the US “brokering role” is irredeemably partial and prolongs the conflict.

    Encouraging the crowd in speaking truth to power, the Nobel laureate declared God’s power over those wielding money and influence as he asserted with a wry smile, “The Jewish lobby is powerful. Very powerful. So what? This is God’s world”. As the cheering subsided, he continued to confront the power of silencing, suggesting when criticism of the state of Israel “is dubbed anti-Semitic,...when they accuse you, just say ‘tough luck’!” Naming fear as the power that silences many church and world leaders, Tutu’s fearless message was again interrupted by applause. “People are scared in this country to say ‘wrong is wrong’, because they are scared of the Jewish lobby”.
    Archbishop Tutu’s insights as one who courageously stood for justice in the darkest days of apartheid “when it looked like they were trying to make hell freeze over”, received a standing ovation for his encouragement of the crowd striving for a just peace in the Middle East. “If you flout the laws of God’s universe, you will bite the dust. An unjust Israeli government one day, no matter how powerful, will ultimately fall.” The Nobel Peace Prize recipient asserted that he is not pro any one people, but “pro-justice”, believing that a just peace is only possible when Israel “withdraws from all the Occupied Territories”, which ultimately is in Israel’s best interests.

     In recollection of the darkest days of slavery, colonialism and apartheid, conference participants, despite the bleak news out of the West Bank, were buoyed by Tutu and Ateek offering a strong sense of hope that justice will prevail, that history will bring to an end the illegal occupation, refugees “ethnically cleansed” in 1948 will return to their homes and reconciliation will take hold in the Holy Land.