Ending Apartheid

A great piece by best-selling crime writer and Palfest participant Henning Mankell, originally published in the Swedish paper Aftonbladet. Mankell was tremendously moved by what he saw in Palestine, and we hope he is able to transmit this passion to his millions of readers. Mankell is informed enough to realise that the two-state solution is no solution. He concludes, “The fall of this disgraceful Apartheid system is the only thing conceivable, because it must be.”

Henning Mankell (right) responds to Banksy's wall art
Henning Mankell (right) responds to Banksy's wall art

About a week ago, I visited Israel and Palestine. I was part of a delegation of authors with representatives from different parts of the world.

We came to participate in the Palestinian Literary Festival. The opening ceremony was supposed to take place at the Palestinian National Theatre in Jerusalem.

We had just gathered when heavily armed Israeli military and policemen walked in and announced that they were going to stop the ceremony.

When we asked why, they answered: You are a security risk.

To claim that we at that moment posed a viable terroristic threat to Israel is absolute nonsense. But at the same time, they were right. We pose a threat when we come to Israel and speak our minds about the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian population. It can be compared to the threat that I and thousands of others once were to the Apartheid system in South Africa. Words are dangerous.

That was also what I said when those who organized the conference had managed to move the whole opening ceremony to the French Cultural Centre: – What we are now experiencing is a repetition of the despicable Apartheid system that once treated Africans and coloured as second-class citizens in their own country. But let us not forget: that very apartheid system no longer exists. That system was overthrown by human force in the beginning of the 1990s. There is a straight line between Soweto, Sharpeville and what recently happened in Gaza.

During the days that followed we visited Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin and Ramallah. One day we were walking in the mountains along with the Palestinian author Raja Shehadeh, who showed us how Israeli settlements are spreading, confiscating Palestinian land, destroying roads and building new ones which only settlers are allowed to use. At the different checkpoints, harassments were commonplace. For my wife Eva and I, it was of course easier to get through. Those in the delegation with Syrian passports or of Palestinian origin were all the more exposed. Take out the bag from the bus, unpack it, put it back in again, take it out once more …

On the West Bank, aggravation is a matter of degree. Worst of all was Hebron. In the middle of a town with a population of 40,000 Palestinians, 400 Jewish settlers have confiscated parts of the town centre. The settlers are brutal and they do not hesitate to attack their Palestinian neighbours. Why not urinate on them from highly situated windows? We saw documentation where settler women, along with their children, were kicking and beating up Palestinian women. The Israeli soldiers witnessing what happened did nothing to stop what was going on. That is the reason why there are people in Hebron who, in the name of solidarity, volunteer to follow Palestinian children on their way to school and back home. 1500 Israeli soldiers are guarding these 400 settlers, day and night! Each settler is being constantly watched over by a team of bodyguards of four to five people.

In addition, the settlers have the right to carry weapons. When we were visiting one of the most awful checkpoints inside Hebron this one settler, extremely aggressive, was filming us. At the sight of anything Palestinian, it could be the smallest thing; a bracelet, a pin, he ran straight to the soldiers and gave a report.

Naturally, nothing of what we experienced can ever be compared to the situation of the Palestinian people. We met them in cabs and on the street, at readings, at universities and theatres. We talked to them and listened to their stories.

Is it strange that some of them in pure desperation, when they cannot see any other way out, decide to become suicide bombers? Not really? Maybe it is strange that there are not more of them. The wall that is currently dividing the country will prevent future attacks, in short term. But the wall is an obvious demonstration of the desperation of the Israeli military power. In the end, it will face the same destiny as the wall that once divided Berlin did.

What I saw during my trip was obvious: the state of Israel in its current form has no future. Moreover, those who advocate a two-state solution have not got it right.

In 1948, the year of my birth, the state of Israel proclaimed its independence on occupied land. There are no reasons whatsoever to call that a legitimate intervention according to international law. What happened was that Israel simply occupied Palestinian land. And the amount of land under possession is constantly growing, with in the war in 1967, and with the increasing number of settlements today. Once in a while, a settlement is torn down. But it is just for show. Soon enough, it pops up somewhere else. A two-state solution will not be the end of the historical occupation.

The same thing will happen in Israel that happened in South Africa during the Apartheid regime. The question is whether it will be possible to talk sense into the Israelis in order for them to willingly accept the end of their own Apartheid state. Or if it this has to take place against their own will. Nor can anyone tell us when this will happen. The final insurrection will of course start from within. But emergent political changes in Syria or Egypt will contribute. Equally important is that, probably sooner than later, the United States no longer will afford to pay up for this horrible military force that prevents stone throwing youths from having a normal life in freedom.

When change is coming, each Israeli has to decide for him- or herself if he or she is prepared to give up their privileges and live in a Palestinian state. During my trip, I met no anti-Semitism. What I did see was  hatred against the occupants that is completely normal and understandable. To keep these two things separate is crucial.

The last night of our trip was supposed to end in the same way that we had tried to start our journey in Jerusalem. But the military and the police had once again closed down the theatre. We had to meet in another place.

The state of Israel can only expect to be defeated, like all occupying powers. The Israelis are destroying lives. But they are not destroying dreams. The fall of this disgraceful Apartheid system is the only thing conceivable, because it must be.

The question, therefore, is not if but when it will happen. And in what way.

Henning Mankell

Translated from Swedish by Robert Johnsson

3 thoughts on “Ending Apartheid”

  1. I visited Palestine for the very first time this February and was outraged at the situation. My visit to Hebron was particularly disturbing but at the same time, I was so touched to see the fixed international presence there and the support being shown to the local Palestinian community. I only wish more of us were in a position to come across and do the same but failing that, we can all educate people from our home countries about the reality behind the Israeli government’s spin. I am particularly thrilled to see that Henning Menkell is throwing his weight behind the people of Hebron and Palestine. Greetings to the beautiful children of Hebron!

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