DevMode
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, head of the former Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, was interviewed by the PIJ's co-managing editors, Hillel Schenker, Zahra Khalidi and Sarah McGregor-Wood.

What do you feel are the most pressing human rights issues in Israel and Palestine today?
I would have thought that the most obvious one is the inalienable right of people to self-determination. To be able to live secure, happy, full lives. I am speaking about the right to your own land, your own country, to be the citizen of a country that has recognized international borders. If a country is to be sovereign, it has to be viable and that holds for both Israel and the Palestinian people. To be a citizen means you have a right to integrity of person, to property, to freedom of movement and speech. You have the right to choose who represents you, who your spokespeople are and you have the right, if you are arrested, to a proper defense, in an open court. If you are detained, the detention must be free of torture and you will be treated with respect as someone who is innocent until proven beyond reasonable doubt to be guilty.

What do you feel are the best methods of dealing with problems of human rights abuses?
It depends where we are speaking about. If you are in a situation where the overall authority is an unjust one, then, of course, you have a plethora of problems - you have to deal first with the legitimacy of the authority. But basically, you hope that any questions or debate relating to human rights would be resolved nonviolently. You would hope that those involved in the conflict shared a common set of values and would be ready to have their conflicting demands and challenges adjudicated by an authority that they recognize. That would be the ideal situation. In situations such as the one you are dealing with, you would hope both sides would accept the mediation of an international authority, such as the UN, and be willing to abide by its decisions.

What was the primary way that you, in South Africa, dealt with the question of human rights?
Under apartheid, we were clearly dealing with an authority that was unjust and illegitimate. First of all, we tried to appeal to this authority to ameliorate the situation and recognize that we had inalienable rights. The apartheid regime started out on the premise that people were fundamentally unequal, which already conflicted with fundamental human rights. They did not believe the majority of the people in the country, the indigenous people, had the same intrinsic worth as the minority, the privileged few. So we kept appealing to them, but we also appealed to the international community for assistance.
We started out resisting the justice and oppression nonviolently. We had passive resistance campaigns, defiance campaigns, always hoping that those you were addressing would respond favorably to your appeals. As you are aware, things became progressively worse and the repression tightened until eventually it became clear that even nonviolent opposition would not be tolerated. That was in 1960, when public organizations were banned, after the Sharpeville massacre. The African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress and the Communist party decided they had no option but to use force. Many of us on the inside were still committed to using nonviolent means. Because we didn't have very many leaders available, I became a leader by default. I was part of the movement calling for economic sanctions against South Africa - we were still committed to using nonviolent means and were helped by the fact that the international community had long ago declared apartheid to be a crime against humanity.
Therefore, although it took a long time, we were able to persuade many Western governments to support us, and to persuade the business community around the world that it was in their interest to accept the imposition of economic sanctions. It wasn't easy, but that was part of what ultimately helped to overthrow apartheid. That and the fact that our people refused to buckle under - even when the repression was at its most intense and they thought they had knocked the stuffing out of our people, they found there was a remarkable resilience. Our people refused to lie down quietly. When the apartheid regime realized they would have to step up their oppression to levels that would be totally unacceptable to the international community, they saw they had to begin to dismantle their unjust system.

Could you make a comparison between the process you underwent in South Africa and the Israeli-Palestinian issue?
I am aware of the sense of insecurity that the Israelis operated under when they came to the Holy Land in an arrangement that was already seen by many as being unjust. They came into a situation where they felt utterly vulnerable. Many in the Arab world were vowed to destroy Israel. One is very aware how that sense of insecurity would lead to people thinking that the way to ensure you remain secure would be firepower. You would insist your security come through the barrel of a gun.
I have to say that, even so, what I have seen occur there has saddened me deeply, to see things that remind me so very much of the situation here - the restrictions on movement, the fact that many were able to say they had been turfed out of their homes. It reminded me so much of what happened here in South Africa, in Cape Town's District Six, where the colored people were moved out to inhospitable places with smaller houses. Today many can still take you round Cape Town and say, "You see that house? That used to be my home. It was taken over by whites when apartheid came into being." I have met a number of Palestinians who can echo that. You see the roadblocks and again you remember what happened to us when we had to run the gauntlet of similar structures - meeting utterly arrogant white police officers who treated you with scant courtesy and considerable disdain.
I was weeping in my heart that this could happen and could happen precisely with the Jews, a people for whom I have an enormous admiration in this country as leading stalwarts in the fight against apartheid. They are way ahead in the process of the transformation of our country. They have been marvelous. But we learnt in South Africa that you will never get true security from the barrel of a gun. You cannot hope for peace when there is a deep sense of injustice. You condemn suicide bombers, rightly so, but you have equally got to be quite unequivocal in your condemnation of collective punishment - when homes of suspected so-called terrorists are demolished.
I pray, as many do, every day, that these two peoples who are so close, Semitic peoples, with suffering on both sides, that you could end up finding each other, really sitting down and sharing with each other. If it can happen in South Africa, where everyone thought we were going to be overwhelmed by a racial blood bath - if it can happen here, that former enemies, people who had been at each others throats, treated each other horrendously, if they could sit to negotiate and look for a win-win situation, if they can say, "How can we help so that we have a community that can co-exist," I believe that the notion of having two sovereign states exist side by side as legitimate and viable, holds out the best possibility. I am a member of Shimon Peres' Peace Center and in the one or two meetings I have attended, I have said 'South Africa holds out hope because it seemed such a hopeless case.' Out of a seemingly intractable situation a resolution was arrived at and it gives hope for all the conflict situations around the world. There is no reason whatsoever why the Palestinian and the Jew cannot live peacefully, side-by-side, together.

You were head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. What did the commission achieve to help the process of transformation in South Africa?
The commission has completed its work. In 1998, we handed over our five-volume report to Nelson Mandela and in March of this year, we handed over the codicil to President Thabo Mbeki. What have we accomplished? I often say to people that we look at countries that made their transition at the same sort of time - take Russia and you see instability in that part of the world and even Germany, which has become united legally. When you look at what is happening, you realize that reunification and reconciliation aren't a one-off event, but a process and I think the fact that we had a government of National Unity involving former enemies - an apartheid-era president being deputy president to Nelson Mandela - indicates how far we have come.
The law under which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission worked is entitled the Promotion of National Truth and Reconciliation; it doesn't say the achievement. There is the recognition that unity and reconciliation are not things that are going to be achieved even by the most powerful and dynamic commission. It is a national project to which every South African is supposed to make a contribution. It would have been naïve in the extreme to think that people who had been alienated from one another for so long would forget - apartheid merely codified, in a vicious form, something that was part and parcel of the life of this country from the moment that white people stepped on the shores of South Africa in 1652. People had memories of colonialism and apartheid; you couldn't expect that they would become friends overnight.
It is remarkable, given our antecedents, that we are where we are. But there is much still for us to do. Many of the black people were the deprived, the poor, the disadvantaged and it hasn't changed a great deal. The white people are still, by and large, the affluent ones. They benefited from better education than our people and the playing field is not level - there is no magic wand that does that. But almost everyone now admits that had we not had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we would have been for the birds.
In Chile, where they had a military dictatorship, they had a truth commission but the army exonerated themselves. You can't say, "let bygones be bygones" - they come back to haunt you. General Augusto Pinochet was just fortunate the British House of Lords didn't extradite him to Spain.
What I am trying to say is that we have done something not without its faults, but up to now it is probably the best of its kind. We said we want to look at our past, we didn't want to pretend that it hadn't happened. Let us look the beast in the eye then move on. Forgiveness is not something nebulous, it is crucial in how you get to deal with the legacy of the past. Its opposite is retribution and revenge. We see this working itself out horrendously in the Middle East but we have seen it also in Burundi, in Rwanda. We are talking about something that is very practical and you people are going to have to consider very seriously what the role of forgiveness is.

Do you feel that such a commission could also be relevant for us here, given that we are not talking about a united solution but two separate states and that we're not all Christians, but Muslims and Jews, too?
Forgiveness isn't just a Christian thing - it's not even a religious thing. I mean, when an atheist quarrels with his wife, he knows something about forgiveness when he says, "Darling, I'm sorry I upset you and she says, (or doesn't say) 'Okay'." Forgiveness is part of the texture of the universe. It is the way of dealing with how we, as human beings, will often hurt and upset one another. If the only way to deal with those hurts was retaliation, there would be very few coherent communities. If you have a two-state set-up, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility for you to deal with this, because you hurt one another. How about setting up something where you try to listen to one another? That was one of the crucial lessons we learnt - the power of storytelling in a relatively supportive setting. Incredibly healing. You wouldn't have persuaded me that just telling a story would have such therapeutic power. But I have seen it with my own eyes. Especially when people have been denied the capacity to do that previously. The story carries a memory and memory has a lot to do with the identity of a person, a community. You are so and so because of this particular history. Listening and hearing the anguish in the hearts of those who are talking, not rushing in to be defensive, not rushing in to repudiate, but letting people tell their story in their own words.

How do we educate our two communities, the public and the leaders, to pay attention to human rights?
I think you have to try to appeal to self-interest. What I mean is, to say to them; "Don't think you will remain invulnerable." People in leadership positions must remember that they will not always be powerful. It is a moral universe that we inhabit. Right and wrong matter. It may take a long time. Many people who were in charge in this country didn't think that some of the things they had done would see the light of day. Say to people it is in their interests that we cultivate a culture of respect for human rights so you can be sure that when you are challenged, you know that you have rights that are respected. Even when people disagree with you or have the worst possible opinion of you, there are certain ground rules - like driving. If people were to say, "We don't care if there are traffic rules or not," chaos isn't the best setting for being able to drive. Rules are there also for their protection. If they say we want to drive in any way we like, they won't survive long when other people emulate them. It's the same with human rights. They provide a space so you can predict what is going to happen - if I am arrested, I know that I won't be tortured, I will have access to a lawyer, I will be brought before an open court with an independent judiciary. These are things that everyone should be saying, "I want to have for myself."

When the apartheid regime was ended, did the agreements between the leaderships contain human rights provisions and mechanisms for protecting them?
One of the things we have in this country is probably the most liberal constitution in the world, with a bill of rights incorporated into it. The highest court in this land is not the Supreme Court of Criminal Justice, it's the Constitutional Court, which has already been able to find against the government. Previously, parliament was sovereign in our country, so it was able to pass laws, even immoral ones, as they were in many cases. Now, it is not parliament that is sovereign, it is the constitution. We have a human rights commission, we have a public ombudsperson that anyone can go to complain to if they think their rights have been undermined. We have a whole plethora of commissions that are meant to ensure the constitutional rights of people are respected. Under the constitution, any discrimination of any kind is outlawed. So we have a constitution but we also have a court that makes absolutely certain the laws that are passed pass muster.

How did you manage to maintain a fundamentally nonviolent struggle, despite the levels of despair and desperation people felt and what recommendations would you give to the Palestinians in this context?
We were influenced by all kinds of people - especially maybe the Christian community. You know, Gandhi started out in South Africa, and so we, especially the ANC, which has members from all racial groups, were very influenced by the tradition of nonviolence from an early point in the struggle. We are a very diverse society, even religiously: We have Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists. You name it, we have it. One of the wonderful things was how the religious and the faith communities united in their struggle against apartheid. We came from a very rich religious background, which influenced the kind of tactics we used.

Do you believe that trade sanctions or any other kind of international pressure could play a role in helping to resolve this conflict?
I hope it would not be necessary to go in that direction. When there is intransigence and one side is refusing to move, to seek to persuade them, you try to use diplomacy, and if that doesn't deliver the bacon, you have to look for other nonviolent ways for moving people in the direction of real talks about the future.

You know that to propose to Jews and Muslims that something will "deliver the bacon," may not be the most appropriate thing.
(Laughs) Yes, I realized as I was saying that phrase I was getting in to hot water. But you know, it's simply an English phrase, you understand my meaning.

What would your message be to the Palestinian and Israeli societies?
Sisters and brothers, peace is possible, peace founded on justice for all. Peace that can never come from the barrel of the gun. An enemy is a friend waiting to be made. Please, please look at one another and see there not a Jew or Palestinian, not an enemy, see yourselves as who you are, sisters and brothers in one family. God's family. God bless you.
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