By Haidar Eid
Dear Ms. Lalela Mswane,
We don’t know each other. I only know that you are Miss South Africa and just heard of your name two days ago when the media reported that you will represent South Africa at the Miss Universe pageant on the ruins of the ethnically cleansed village of Um Al-Rashrash in apartheid Israel. I assume you don’t know enough about the suffering of the Palestinian people as a result of Israel’s occupation colonization and apartheid in Palestine. I myself spent six years in South Africa where I got my Ph.D. degree and even citizenship.
Even before the end of the apartheid system in 1994, we, Palestinians, wholeheartedly supported the struggle in South Africa and played a role in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that formed one of the major pillars of the struggle to bring apartheid down. Nelson Mandela made it absolutely clear on more than one occasion that without the support of the Palestine liberation organization, among other national liberation movements, the end of the racist regime would have been delayed.
I live in the Gaza concentration camp which has been under a medieval siege imposed by apartheid Israel since 2007. But even before that, Israel had occupied it since 1967. As a result of Israel’s racist policies, our children suffer from malnutrition; the 2 million people living in the strip do not have access to electricity, clean water, medicine, and hundreds of other items that Israel does not allow. Over the last decade, the country you are visiting has launched four massive wars on Gaza killing more than 4000 civilians, including hundreds of women and children, and destroying hundreds of buildings, factories, roads, and schools.
A UN fact-finding mission, headed by none other than your own Richard Goldstone, has labeled these massacres “war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.” And anti-apartheid activists, including the likes of Desmond Tutu and Ronnie Kasrils, have told us that what we are going through in Palestine is “far far worse than apartheid.” Moreover, two mainstream human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch and Israel’s most respected human rights organization, Btselem, issued two damning reports last year calling Israel an apartheid state that discriminates not only against the residents of Gaza and the West Bank but also against its own third-class Palestinian citizens.
Ms. Mswane, allow me to ask you this question. How would you have felt if a Palestinian woman decided to join a similar contest in South Africa in the 70s and ’80s of the last century? How would you have responded if a similar contest was held in Sofia town, for example? And how would the South African people have reacted to the participation of Palestinians in concerts and sports games in apartheid South Africa?
You must have heard of the tens of beautiful women incarcerated in Israeli dungeons without charge or trial, simply for the mere reason of speaking out against occupation and apartheid. Our women, like South African women before them, are at the receiving end of a multi-tiered system of oppression and expect solidarity from their Black sisters.
I am an associate professor of literature; I teach hundreds of female students who come from refugee camps and whose parents and grandparents are also refugees. My students have one message when I told them that a South African woman is coming to apartheid Israel; they asked me to write this message and appeal to you to refrain from violating our BDS guidelines and stand on the right side of history. I am certain you will not disappoint them.
Nelson Mandela’s much-quoted sentiment that “(South African) freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” is decorating the walls of refugee camps in the Gaza Strip where millions of refugees are waiting for the day of their return to the towns and villages which were ethnically cleansed in 1948 by racist gangs ruling the country you are visiting. We are only asking you to make the right decision that thousands of artists, writers and cultural figures–including Miss Malaysia and Miss Indonesia– have made – to stand against apartheid Israel.