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Tutu Calls for Urgent Solution to Israel-Palestine Conflict
Date:28 May 2009
Thursday 28 May 2009
The Israel-Palestine crisis is the most urgent problem for the world to solve, according to Desmond Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape Town who said tonight that if it remains unresolved, no other issues – from the war on terror to nuclear disarmament – will ever be resolved.
The Nobel peace laureate, who said that in some ways the situation in Palestine was worse than it was in apartheid South Africa, told a packed audience of more than 1,000 – including Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury – that the west "feels a deep, deep shame for what it did – or didn't do – during the Holocaust". And that was right, he said.
"You jolly well ought to feel that shame, but then the penalty, the penance, has been paid, not by the west, but paid by the Palestinians."
Speaking at the Guardian Hay Festival, where he received two standing ovations, Tutu said if the problems of Israel-Palestine weren't solved, "you can give up on all other problems. You can give up on nuclear disarmament, you can give up on ever winning a war against terror, you can give it up. You can give up any hope of our faiths ever working really amicably and in a friendly way together. This, this, this is the problem, and it is in our hands".
Dressed in deep pink robes, Tutu spoke of the trips he has made over the years to Israel, to Gaza, to Jerusalem, to the West Bank – most recently to Gaza on a UN human rights fact finding mission, where he met a mother who had seen in the space of minutes the death of her baby, her husband and her son. "Her son was on the floor, struggling to push back his bowels, which had been disembowelled, trying to shove them back into his abdomen, and she said that she said to him 'no, my son, go and join your brother and your father'."
Passing through checkpoints in the country, he said, "brought back memories of what things had been like at home" in South Africa under apartheid – "the arrogance of the police or the soldiers. You depend on their whim whether they'll allow you through or not." But things happen in Israel that never happened in apartheid South Africa, Tutu said, pointing to the "collective punishment", which sees the home of a suspected terrorist destroyed.
But Tutu was clear that he doesn't believe "ordinary Israelis would want to have supported something of this nature if they knew the effects of policies", and said that there were "some incredible people in Israel … have felt it was something that was contrary to the best in their faith", as well as women "who stand by at these check points who try to shame the soldiers into good behaviour".
He still believes a two-state solution for the region can be viable, "a solution that says Israel is a sovereign state, and there would be a sovereign Palestinian state and Israel's existence would be guaranteed".
Despite this he "can't quite understand how a people with this history could get to agree". But then again, "we do in fact have short memories", and he believes that one of the reasons that apartheid ended – that "God put the South African example as a small success" -was "to give the world some tangible notice of the fact that no situation is ultimately totally intractable – that the world would have to say 'if they could do it in South Africa, they could do it anywhere'."
A by turns serious and jovial Tutu was also critical of those "who have glibly said because of September 11 that Islam is a violent faith".
"One has to keep saying that Christians are the last people to say that. We burned witches, we burned those we said were heretics, and more recently the Holocaust – it wasn't pagans, it was Christians," Tutu said. "The people who proposed apartheid were not heathens – they said they had the support of the Bible."
God, he said with another roar of laughter, "is not a Christian".