May the Walls of Apartheid Come Tumbling Down


Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate – TRANSCEND Media Service

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine takes place in Cape Town, South Africa, 5-7 Nov 2011. The international jury consists of lawyers, writers, human rights activists. Archbishop Desmond Tutu opens the proceedings. During the two-day hearings, the jury receives many presentations, including ‘The Law and Practice of Apartheid in South Africa and Palestine’, and ‘The Palestinian Right to Self-determination’.

It is particularly important that this, the third session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (previous sessions were in London and Barcelona) be held in South Africa, a country that suffered racism and Apartheid until the people, under the leadership of President Mandela, Archbishop Tutu and many others, organizedmass movements and civil disobedience demanding an end to it. The South African Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign, supported by many around the world, helped bring down the Apartheid system. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine has in previous sessions, and in response to a call from the Palestinian people, supported the BDS campaign. Their visit to South Africa will show solidarity with the South African people, but particularly a support for the Palestinians in their struggle to end Israeli occupation and persecution, and in their desire for freedom and peace.

The first step to peace is to believe that it is possible, having the political will to choose it, and taking genuine steps to create it. The Israeli government, supported by the USA, has never shown any genuine commitment to peace, choosing land, building illegal settlements, demolishing Palestinian homes, and ignoring international law. It is important therefore that international pressure be applied; the Russell Tribunal on Palestine will help to do that.  As we learned in Northern Ireland, outside pressure can help bring about political change.

On August l976, after seven years of horrific violence in Northern Ireland, we found ourselves on the brink of a civil war. The cycle of violence kept turning and there seemed no way to break it.  But in August the death toll rose so much (following the deaths of four youths) that people turned fearful and fed up.  Some stood up and cried, ‘enough, enough, violence is getting us nowhere, let’s try another way!’  It seems that when violence reaches a breaking point, a critical mass of people rises up, joins in solidarity, and decides to have peace — because violence is wrong and the price too high. This was the turning point for N. Ireland.

When the massive peoples’ movement, mostly women, chose nonviolence, rejecting the bombs and the bullets, things began to change. It took sometime before the paramilitaries and politicians also acknowledged that in ethnic conflicts the military and paramilitaries do not solve anything, their being part of the problem.  It is only through all-inclusive dialogues (especially talking to ones’ enemy and implementing ceasefires) that the underlying problems can be identified and addressed, and a peace processes be entered into.  Through dialogues, in time, trust can be built up, and peace can begin to blossom.

In Northern Ireland we may have come a long way, but we are not foolish enough to believe that we have arrived at a perfect peace.  Indeed, we recognize that building a nonkilling, nonviolent, truly democratic Northern Irish society will take the rest of our lives, but we have learned many lessons.  We have learned that the fear of ethnic annihilation can lead to the unleashing of destructive forces that blind us to our common humanity.   We have also learned that when one lets go of the fear and anger, and chooses to ‘talk with the enemy,’ building trust and community, one can reach inner freedom and communal peace.  Only then can the personal and social ‘body pain’ begin to heal. We humans recognize we truly need each other in this challenging, joyful journey to true humanity.

Although there are many differences between Northern Ireland and Palestine/Israel, we have a great deal in common. Like Northern Ireland, Israel knows much about a heavy body pain, carrying memories of the holocaust.  Israel knows much about fear of ethnic annihilation, thus its preoccupation with national (in)security and its security blankets of nuclear weapons and militarism.  But the truth is, as it was for Northern Ireland, these things will not bring real human security. To the Israeli society, only humans can do that for each other.

Like the people of Northern Ireland, the people of Israel will have to reach out to the Palestinians, their longest and nearest neighbours, and work out how they are going to live together for the rest of their short lives.  Only the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, together, can do that; and it must be done for the sake of their children and their children’s’ children. The international community can help, as it did for Northern Ireland, insisting that human rights and international laws be upheld. But in the final analysis only Israel can choose peace and do the right thing for both peoples.

In the last 10 years I have often visited Palestine/Israel and made many good friends in the process. Unfortunately I am currently under deportation orders, having tried to enter Gaza on the ‘Rachel Corrie’ boat and been taken by force to Israel and deported.   I have been very inspired by the work of Palestinian and Israeli peace activists – particularly the Nonviolent Movements in Palestinian villages such as Bilin and Nilin on the West Bank of the occupied Palestine, and in besieged Gaza, where in spite of such tremendous suffering and persecution by the Israeli military people continue to have hope for the future.

My journeys have led me to believe that it is from the beautiful souls of the Palestinians that their freedom will blossom. At the moment, for some of them, it may feel as if the power of the military might of Israel-and of the USA, which pays for the occupation-will go on forever, and that the world will remain silent in the face of war crimes being committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. But in the end I pray that they will keep hope alive knowing that truth and rightness will win, and believing that peace and freedom are possible. Working to bring it about is the duty, and joy, of every Palestinian and Israeli citizen no matter where they live.

Solidarity and nonviolent action with all Palestinians, who suffer painful memories of their Nakba, and the ongoing daily humiliations of poverty, occupation, imprisonment, displacement, deportation, etc., is part of our responsibility as human beings. It is for these reasons that the work of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine is important. By its presence in South Africa, and from there reaching out in solidarity to Palestinians, it is choosing to break the complicity of silence and raise the worlds’ chorus for ‘Palestinian freedom’so that the walls of ‘Apartheid’ will come tumbling down.


Mairead Corrigan Maguire is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. She won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace in Northern Ireland. Her book, The Vision of Peace (edited by John Dear, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu and a preface by the Dalai Lama) is available from She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. See:


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 7 Nov 2011.

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One Response to “May the Walls of Apartheid Come Tumbling Down”

  1. satoshi says:

    If Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Palestine, he would address like this:

    I have a dream that one day even the state of ‘Palestine’, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by ‘their religion’ but by the content of their character.

    I have a dream today!

    I have a dream that one day, down in ‘Jerusalem’, with its vicious racists, with its ‘prime minister’ having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in ‘Jerusalem’ little ‘Palestinian’ boys and ‘Palestinian’ girls will be able to join hands with little ‘Israeli’ boys and ‘Israeli’ girls as sisters and brothers.

    I have a dream today!

    I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

    This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the Middle-east with.

    With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

    And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

    My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

    Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

    From every mountainside, let freedom ring!