Friday December 06, 2013
Remembering Nelson Mandela’s Extraordinary Legacy
“All of us need to do more in supporting the struggle of the people of Palestine for self-determination; in supporting the quest for peace, security and friendship in this region” – Nelson Mandela
As we remember our hero Nelson Mandela who passed away yesterday at the age of 95, we too are reflecting on his extraordinary legacy. Having suffered under the wrath of oppression as a political prisoner for 27 years, he emerged with unwavering conviction and extraordinarily, with genuine reconciliation. In his historic speech as President of South Africa at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in 1997, he reminded us that “the temptation in our situation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine to a state of their own…yet we would be less than human if we did so.” Having defeated the abhorrent system of apartheid in South Africa, he chose to lead his country, but also continue the struggle for human rights worldwide. Like the rest of the world, we mourn the loss of this great man.
The above picture of Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat hangs at AAI and is signed by both men. The Nelson Mandela quote from 1990 reads: "There are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO. We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel..."
Read the full address by President Nelson Mandela at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People here.
Below, in an article for Huffington Post, AAI President Jim Zogby gives the backstory on the photo:
Mandela and Arafat
In late February of 1990, just two weeks after being released from prison, Nelson Mandela met with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasir Arafat. Afterwards Mandela spoke publicly of his affinity with the Palestinian people and his support for their struggle. He described the parallels between the two peoples' struggles for justice, saying in part.
"There are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO. We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel..."
That was 1990, when it was taboo in the U.S. to have any contact with the PLO. Because Americans had a double standard when it came to addressing Palestinian rights and/or had been cowed into silence about Israeli behavior, many were shocked that Mandela would not only praise the PLO but would also compare the Palestinian struggle against colonization and occupation with the campaign against apartheid. But Mandela would not be silenced. The man stood firm reminding those who questioned him that the PLO had always been an ally of his African National Congress (ANC), while Israel had been an ally and arms' supplier to the South African apartheid regime. At one point he said "Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." For supporters of Palestinian rights, all of this was exhilarating and validating.
I was so moved by Mandela's courage and his commitment to speak the truth about Palestinians that I made a poster commemorating the Mandela-Arafat embrace including an excerpt of his words.
I met Nelson Mandela a few times. On one occasion, he told me how thankful he continued to be for the early support Algeria and Egypt had provided to the ANC and to him personally. On another, in 1991, I remembered to bring a copy of the poster and asked him to sign it. He looked at it, smiled and said about Arafat "he is a friend and a good man."
Four years later I remembered to bring the poster to Arafat asking him to sign it.
That poster has hung in my office for more than two decades as a reminder of the real Mandela -- the brave and always honest fighter for justice and of his strong support for the Palestinian people.
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