South African Anti-Apartheid Activist and Israel Critic Desmond Tutu Dies at 90

South African Anti-Apartheid Activist and Israel Critic Desmond Tutu Dies at 90

Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu who compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the racist apartheid regime in South Africa has died at the age of 90.

Desmond Tutu, the South African archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is famed for fighting against apartheid during a turbulent time in the country during the 1980s.

An uncompromising foe of apartheid — South Africa’s brutal regime of oppression against the Black majority — Tutu worked tirelessly, though nonviolently, for its downfall.

The buoyant, blunt-spoken clergyman used his pulpit as the first Black bishop of Johannesburg and later archbishop of Cape Town as well as frequent public demonstrations to galvanize public opinion against racial inequity both at home and globally.

Tutu was an outspoken critic of Israel for its human rights abuses against the Palestinians and what he called their “humiliation” by Israeli security forces, likening the situation to the apartheid he experienced in South Africa.

In a 2002 address that was published in The Guardian, he said: “What is not so understandable, not justified, is what Israel did to another people to guarantee its existence. I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.”

“In our struggle against apartheid,” he noted in the same address, “the great supporters were Jewish people.” Turning to Israel and the Palestinians, he continued: “Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden? Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people.”

Throughout the 1980s — when South Africa was gripped by anti-apartheid violence and a state of emergency giving police and the military sweeping powers — Tutu was one of the most prominent Blacks able to speak out against abuses.

Archbishop Tutu was an outspoken critic of Israeli occupation in Palestine and the siege on Gaza.

"I wish I could keep quiet about the plight of the Palestinians. I can't! The God who was there and showed that we should become free is the God described in the Scriptures as the same yesterday, today and forever," he told the Washington Post in 2013.

He drew parallels between Israeli occupation and apartheid in South Africa.

"What's being done to the Palestinians at checkpoints, for us, it's the kind of thing we experienced in South Africa."

Tutu was to lead a UN fact-finding mission with Professor Christine Chinkin to investigate a November 2006 Israeli attack on Gaza's Beit Hanoun district that led to the deaths of 19 Palestinians, including seven children.

Israel refused to grant Archbishop Tutu and Professor Chinkin authorisation to enter Gaza, but they were eventually able to travel to the besieged territory via Egypt. They met with survivors and eye-witnesses and produced a report to the Human Rights Council.

In a May 2008 statement about his mission, the archbishop decried the Israeli siege on Gaza, in place since 2007, as "a gross violation of human rights". He also said the Israeli siege contradicted the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

"Those scriptures speak about a God: a God of the Exodus, a God notoriously biased in favour of the weak, of the oppressed, of the suffering, of the orphan, of the widow, of the alien," he said.

"We are in a state of shock, exacerbated by what we subsequently heard from the victims and survivors of the Beit Hanoun massacre. For us, the entire situation is abominable," the joint statement by Desmond Tutu and Professor Chinkin said.

"We believe that ordinary Israeli citizens would not support this blockade, this siege if they knew what it meant for ordinary people like themselves. No, they would not support a policy which limits fuel supplies or automatically cuts off the electricity supply.

"They would not support a policy which jeopardizes the lives of ordinary men and women in hospital, that cuts off water and food from hospitals jeopardizing the lives of babies."

The Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 highlighted his stature as one of the world’s most effective champions for human rights, a responsibility he took seriously for the rest of his life.

With the end of apartheid and South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, Tutu celebrated the country’s multi-racial society, calling it a “rainbow nation,” a phrase that captured the heady optimism of the moment.

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