18 May 2018

Namibia: Why We Must Refuse to Do Business With Apartheid


WITH GREAT SORROW we learned this week that Israeli forces had killed 59 peaceful Palestinian protestors on Monday. Since the beginning of March Israel has killed more than 90 unarmed protestors and wounded around 10 000. Surely the world cannot watch in silence and allow such atrocities to continue.

Yet last week we heard from Erongo governor Cleophas Mutjavikua in his state of the region address that the authorities here are in negotiation with Israeli investors to build a desalination plant near Swakopmund. He said the project is being coordinated by the President's office.

While we can all agree that addressing Namibia's water needs is a priority, this particular proposal deserves close scrutiny, given that Namibia has repeatedly pledged its support for the rights of the Palestinian people, both in its stated foreign policy and at the UN General Assembly.

For 70 years the atrocity of ethnic cleansing, known as the Nakba, has been unfolding in Palestine. On 26 April Namibia's ambassador to the UN, Neville Gertze, spoke admirably in defence of the right of return of the expelled Palestinians and criticised the ongoing construction of illegal Israeli settlements and the destruction of Palestinian homes, which he said is an impediment to peace.

Gertze noted that electricity supplies to Gaza are cut for up to 20 hours per day and said Namibia rejects the "excessive and disproportionate use of force" by Israel against peaceful protestors and supports the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

Readers with access to the internet will be aware of the scale of human rights violations perpetrated against the Palestinian children and the countless atrocities committed against Palestinians by Israel in the occupied territories of the West Bank and in Gaza - which has been under blockade and siege by Israeli for a decade.

Since 30 March, thousands of protestors have been injured and hundreds maimed for life. Given the harsh discriminatory laws used by Israel against native Palestinians, we can surely agree with emeritus archbishop Desmond Tutu that Israel is an apartheid state.

Due to the ongoing blockade, in many parts of the Gaza Strip, the population of close to 2 million suffers immense hardships due to lack of regular access to water and are denied free movement, even for medical purposes. Hundreds of Palestinian children languish in Israeli jails in military detention and are denied basic rights, even to a fair trial.

The Namibian people know what it is like to live under apartheid, to be at the mercy of a brutal military occupation, but the situation in Palestine is indeed worse than anything we ever faced here or in South Africa.

Readers will be aware of Israel's regular military operations against Gaza, the bombing of densely populated areas and of civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and UN-protected refugee centres, as well as the use of banned munitions during military assaults on the Gaza Strip, such as phosphorous bombs.

Palestinians are subject to arbitrary arrest, to their homes being demolished, their crops uprooted, their neighbourhoods flooded with sewage, their schools bombed and their homes being set on fire by settlers - with the occupants still inside. Women and children are dragged from their homes and arrested by soldiers every single night. Many children suffer severe trauma as a result. More than 7 million Palestinians have been forced from their homes since 1948.

There are no less than 60 UN resolutions condemning Israel's military occupation, the illegal settlements and the seizure of Palestinian lands. The forced removals and illegal settlements are matters with which the UN has been seized for many decades, but about which it has done very little.

It is imperative that Namibia sends the right signals to the wider world: that we do not tolerate such abuse; that we do not support colonial chauvinism; that we do not condone ethnic cleansing - and above all, that we support the rights of the Palestinian people to live in peace and dignity in their homeland. For too long we turned a blind eye, but we can no longer do so without becoming accomplices to the ongoing crime of genocide.

To give effect to our foreign policy and to advance the cause of world peace, Namibia must take a clear stand on this issue. In taking a principled stance, we do not aim to undermine the dignity of either Jewish or Palestinian people, but we must reject without ambiguity the temptation to do business with apartheid.

Therefore, we should not allow the said Israeli investors to set up business here or to cash in on the water crisis in this country. We cannot make ourselves dependent on technologies controlled by belligerent countries, nor can we allow our hard-earned dollars to enrich those who do not respect the rights of our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

Let the Israeli investors first build a desalination plant in Gaza to improve the lives of their Palestinian neighbours, who live in the most deplorable conditions without regular access to safe drinking water.

There are many countries that have the capacity to build desalination plants that we can invite to submit proposals for such a project, but let us not be led into a situation that makes us accomplices to the crime of apartheid by funding Israeli corporations that benefit from land theft, racist laws and the brutality meted out against our Palestinian friends.

It is well-known that even when the whole world placed sanctions on South Africa in the 1980s for its abhorrent racist policies, Israel continued to do business with and to arm the apartheid government, in defiance of world opinion.

Just as the Namibian cause was strengthened by countries that refused to do business with South Africa until that government changed its racist policies, so too it is imperative that we put word to deed and give effect to Namibia's foreign policy and the will of its people by supporting the worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israeli firms.

Sound moral judgement and basic human decency require that we refuse to do business with the beneficiaries of Israeli apartheid and settler colonialism, or else we'd betray everything our people have fought for. We cannot turn a blind eye, nor close our ears to the desperate cries and suffering of millions of displaced and brutalised people.

It is never too late to do the right thing. And the right thing to do is to defend the downtrodden Palestinians, to stand up for justice and equality, to reject colonialism and racial discrimination, to reject military occupation, and to uphold the dignity of the Palestinians and their right to live peacefully in the land of their birth.

Alas, our policymakers should have no doubt that doing business with apartheid Israel will bring them into direct conflict with the Namibian people. Already there is talk in the townships of calling for the resignation of governor Mutjavikua if he should proceed any further in doing business with the beneficiaries of Israeli apartheid.

And should he persist, we will surely not hesitate to mobilise the masses to the demand that he immediately withdraw this plan or else stand down from that high office.

- Jade Lennon is an independent researcher and community activist who was instrumental in launching several international campaigns to help break the siege of Gaza. Find links to his work on Twitter at @Jade_Lennon


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