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Opinion

Wales, Apartheid and Palestine

06 Jan 2024 11 minute read
Palestinians look for survivors after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip. Photo Anas-Mohammed

In this article the Palestine Solidarity Campaign groups in Wales explore Wales’ proud history in opposing apartheid in South Africa. They consider whether Wales can still feel proud considering that we have collectively buried our heads in the desert sands when in comes to the ongoing apartheid Israel has imposed upon Palestinian people.

Yes we can feel proud that on 8 November the Welsh Senedd joined the majority of the world’s countries in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. These calls, however, were not led by Welsh Government itself, but by Plaid Cymru, supported by 11 Labour backbenchers and the 1 Liberal Democrat.

Out of 60 Senedd Members just 24 voted in support of a ceasefire. Several put forward an amendment calling for a humanitarian pause, and 19 voted against, including the entire Welsh Conservative group. The 13 Welsh Labour government ministers abstained as “Welsh Government has no jurisdiction over international affairs”.

In March 2022, in an admirable display of solidarity, the Welsh Government voted in support of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. And public bodies in Wales followed suit, engaging in a boycott of goods and services and divesting investments and pensions from Russian companies, and those with Russian ties.

At the time, First Minister Mark Drakeford stated that The people of Wales are appalled at the invasion of Ukraine. Though when it came to calls for an immediate ceasefire amidst the appalling bombardment of Gaza, Mark Drakeford attended but did not take part or comment. And in a way, perhaps that is understandable.

As the result of the debate was announced, cheering and shouts of “free Palestine” could be heard coming from the public gallery. And it is this cry for freedom, rather than the calls for a ceasefire, which are at the heart of the wider issue of apartheid.

Also in March 2022 Mr Lynk, the then UN ‘Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967’, released a statement which stated that apartheid is being practiced by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory”. Echoing findings by Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights organisations

Discriminatory

The statement speaks of a “deeply discriminatory dual legal and political system” of “the walls, checkpoints, roads and an entrenched military presence” which separates the “more than three million Palestinians, who are without rights, living under an oppressive rule of institutional discrimination and without a path to a genuine Palestinian state that the world has long promised is their right”.

The statement described Gaza as an ‘open-air prison’ which even before the ‘siege on Gaza’ was “without adequate access to power, water or health, with a collapsing economy and with no ability to freely travel to the rest of Palestine or the outside world.”

The Special Rapporteur concluded that “a political regime which so intentionally and clearly prioritizes fundamental political, legal and social rights to one group over another within the same geographic unit on the basis of one’s racial-national-ethnic identity satisfies the international legal definition of apartheid”.

The UN Rapporteur’s remit covers only the occupied Palestinian territories and not Israel itself. Other human rights groups have referred to Israel practising apartheid against Palestinian citizens of Israel as well.

For example, a 2022 Amnesty International report states that Israel imposes a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians ‘wherever it has control over their rights’.

Nelson Mandela

We have learned that Wales has a proud history of opposing apartheid. When president Nelson Mandela made his only visit to Wales in 1998, four years after the ANC had been swept to power in South Africa’s first democratic elections, he praised Wales’ contribution in the fight to end apartheid.

The man, who had been labelled and imprisoned as a terrorist by the apartheid regime, was introduced by the then Cardiff City Council leader Russell Goodway as “a beacon of light during the dark days of apartheid and oppression” and “a symbol of hope in the new world order.”

After meeting with the Queen and thanking those in Wales who had campaigned for apartheid’s end, he asked the crowds at a Freedom of the City Ceremony in Cardiff Castle to “accept our heartfelt thanks on behalf of the people of South Africa for your solidarity. When the call for the international isolation of apartheid went out to the world, the people of Wales responded magnificently”.

Nelson Mandela meeting schoolchildren at Cardiff Castle. Image via YouTube

Archives

So how did this Wales come to have the proud history of opposing apartheid?

The archives held by the National Library of Wales record that The Welsh Committee of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) was established in 1981” as ‘The Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement’ (WAAM) bringing together numerous local branches ‘as a national movement in Wales, with a clear Welsh identity’.

According to these records its aims and objectives included informing the people of Wales and elsewhere about apartheid and campaigning for international action to bring about an end to apartheid.

From the 1960s – 1990s, the government of the United Kingdom traded with and openly supported the Apartheid regime of South Africa, despite the open knowledge that South Africa was an apartheid regime. This included the sale of weapons and other apartheid equipment.

And today we make similar public shows of unconditional support for an apartheid regime, and actively encourage trade and investments in arms and other equipment used to enforce apartheid. This includes companies based in Wales.

WAAM’s campaigning work “covered a wide range of areas including sports, cultural and consumer boycotts, and campaigns against investment in South Africa by British and international companies and banks, against nuclear and military collaboration, loans to South Africa and oil sanctions”.

There are huge similarities then between WAAM and the many Palestinine Solidarity Campaign and other groups in Wales who are working to end apartheid and liberate the Palestinian people through calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Ally

As the apartheid regime of South Africa was a key cold war ally then, Israel is a key strategic ally of the UK today. Then as now, apartheid is an inconvenient truth best ignored, or even suppressed. To the extent that heavy pressure (which included spying) was put on activists campaigning to end apartheid.

And then as now expressing solidarity with an oppressed people is an incredibly brave thing for people to do. In Wales such outspoken activists included Peter Hain, who went on to become MP for Neath and the Welsh Office Minister; and Mick Antoniw who became, the AS/MS for Pontypridd and Counsel General for Wales.

And their valued contribution, and that of Wales was celebrated by Nelson Mandela when he stated that “The knowledge that local authorities all over Wales were banning apartheid products from canteens and schools – and that the universities, the Welsh Rugby Union, and the choirs had cut their links – was a great inspiration to us in our struggle.”

So, how does Wales fare when it comes to opposing apartheid today?

We’ve heard about how groups small local groups are coming together to campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in Wales. And in a piece for the IWA ‘Protecting the Right to Boycott in Wales’ the author examined the ‘Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill (UK)’ and its likely impact on the right of public bodies to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions here in Wales.

Undermine devolution

The article outlined how the UK Government is attempting to undermine devolution and the powers of public bodies to take part in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions and how worryingly the bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons with ease on July 3, 2023, after many Labour MP’s followed the party whip and abstained and passed through both Committee and Report stages unamended.

Yet on the 15  November, following the terrible events of 7 October , and the brutal bombardment of Gaza which followed, when asked to vote on the SNP amendment to the King’s speech calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, 56 Labour MPs rebelled and voted in favour of the amendment.

The rebellion, however, was largely confined to Labour MPs from England. Out of 40 MPs from Wales only 5 voted for a ceasefire; 3 Plaid Cymru MPs, 1 Labour & 1 independent. One Labour MP was unavailable to vote as they were in the US. In the UK Parliament the Wales record on opposing apartheid isn’t looking great.

According to Mr Lynk “The 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court came into law after the collapse of the old South Africa. It is a forward-looking legal instrument which prohibits apartheid as a crime against humanity today and into the future, wherever it may exist.”  Standing against apartheid then is therefore a matter of international law which Welsh politicians cannot pick and choose to ignore.

Thankfully, on  8 September Rebecca Evans, MS & Minister for Finance and Local Government laid a Legislative Consent Memorandum before the Senedd which stated that it would not be appropriate to adopt the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill (UK)’  for Wales stating:

“I cannot recommend consent is given whilst questions remain as to the compatibility of this Bill with convention rights and international law”.

Then on 22 November the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee laid its final report on the proposed bill before the Senedd noting that: “The devolution settlement requires the Welsh Ministers to comply with both international obligations and the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention rights)”

The committee also shared the ministers’ concerns that: “A decision by the Senedd to consent to the Bill could contribute to a breach of international law and would mean the Senedd acting incompatibly with international obligations, which would be in contrast to the spirit of the devolution settlement.”

When this report comes up for debate in the Senedd Chamber it looks highly likely that any motion to oppose consent for the bill as it stands will gain the support of the majority, but not all, of the Senedd’s members. Like the vote for a ceasefire, this will stand as a signal of solidarity between the people of Wales, as represented by the Senedd, and the Palestinian people in their ongoing struggle against apartheid.

But such a signal of solidarity still falls far short of the actions needed.

Significant areas of concern remain with regards to Wales’ ongoing relationship with the apartheid state of Israel. If the campaign to end apartheid is to be successful once more, then civil society will need to organise around the anti-apartheid banner. And bring concerted pressure to bear on the public sector so that it can play its part in boycotting goods and services, divesting finance, and engaging in sanctions.

Are we comfortable with Wales being a place where the Israeli arms industry does business? With Wales being a place where the Welsh public sector provides public sector inward investment support to cyber security, aerospace, and other firms with links to an apartheid regime. With Wales as a place where public sector pensions profit from apartheid. As the people of Wales, are we okay with this?

Friends of the Earth Cymru, People & Planet, and Palestine Solidarity groups have been calling for the divestment and decarbonisation of public Sector pension funds for several years. In July 2023 several Welsh Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) groups wrote to their local authorities to express their concerns about the continuing investments of over £4.6bn of funds. Yet little progress on divesting has been made.

In his opening speech on the Ceasefire debate Rhun ap Iorwerth said: There cannot be justification for the collective punishment of an entire population”. As the UN and other human rights organisations makes clear, apartheid is collective punishment. 

Palestine solidarity groups in Wales are calling on civil society to join in the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). The groups are, for example, calling on everyone in Wales to boycott Israeli goods and companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Yes, Wales has a proud history of opposing apartheid. But apartheid isn’t history. Let us work together to maintain Wales’ proud history of opposing apartheid whenever and wherever it arises.

Let us come together and oppose apartheid once again.


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Lord Custard
Lord Custard
1 month ago

That’s it blame Israel. They moved their troops out of Gaza in 2005 and what happened ? The residents voted in a terrorist organisation with the avowed intent to ‘oblitorate’ their neighbours Israel. After a wave of suicide bombings, Israel built a wall round them. Then Hamas started to fire rockets at Israel which they are still doing now. But it’s all Israel’s fault somehow ? Really? What’s happening in Gaza is terrible for the civilians, but it didn’t come out of thin air.

Che Guevara's Fist
Che Guevara's Fist
1 month ago
Reply to  Lord Custard

Riiiiiight. And I suppose you think Russia isn’t to blame for the Ukrainians punching them right back in the face, yes?

G Horton-Jones.
G Horton-Jones.
1 month ago
Reply to  Lord Custard

2005???? Wait a minute this has been going on a very longtime Cofiwch Lawrence of Arabia and before.back to the 5 Crusades.
Gaza is a Ghetto created by Israel aka Warsaw .. Contain Control Exterminate
Cymru 1066-1283 Contain so called Acts of Union aka annexation to England aka control Can we expect extermination possibly not but being kept permanently as a poor colony of a once large Empire then the answer is YES

CapM
CapM
1 month ago
Reply to  Lord Custard

“What’s happening in Gaza is terrible for the civilians, but it didn’t come out of thin air.”

I don’t think the air started to become thick only from 2005 though.

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
1 month ago

Israel is NOT an apartheid state. Anti-Semitism has no place in Wales!

We all want peace, and 2 states, for both Israel and Palestine, but spreading anti-Semitic lies is not the way forward!

Another Richard
Another Richard
1 month ago

In its way it’s quite an achievement to write over two thousand words about policy towards Palestine without mentioning Hamas. However, the resulting product is unlikely to add anything useful to the debate, as this article goes to show.

CapM
CapM
1 month ago

Isn’t the article about policy towards Israel though.

Surely “product” which informs does add something particularly if the information is new to some.

Gareth Westacott
Gareth Westacott
1 month ago

Israel is not an ‘apartheid state’. Stop this intentional and disingenuous misuse of terms in a pathetic attempt to link two entiely different situations.

Last edited 1 month ago by Gareth Westacott
Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
1 month ago

I was proud, when Wales’ Parliament was among the first in western europe to call for a ceasefire – on both sides – in Israel and Gaza. Backing a Plaid resolution that condemned hamas’ atrocities in Israel on October 7th and, while recognising Israel’s right to defend itself, rightly called for an end to the IDF’s military assault on the heavily populated gaza strip. And called for a two state solution and a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But its worth pointing out that in a statement issued in 2022 the Simon Wiesenthal Center (a body which knows… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Leigh Richards
CapM
CapM
1 month ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

I’ve had a look at the online – International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
It seems to list the features of pretty much the full blown South African Apartheid system.

However the convention doesn’t define an Apartheid system as having to totally duplicate South Africa’s one but to have aspects of that system. So it’s possible for Israel or another country to meet some criteria but not others.

How many criteria are met, which, to what degree and whether implementation is by law or practice is obviously going be subjective as well as objective.

Che Guevara's Fist
Che Guevara's Fist
1 month ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

And yet, even South Africa recently has been calling Israel’s actions a genocide. Go figure!

Nothing of what you said about Israel being a “democracy” makes any iota of a difference to Palestinians being ethnically cleansed from their own territory even when representatives from Israel itself has admitted to it.

You can deny it a thousand times if you like, but Israel IS an apartheid state set up by England from it’s Palestinian former colony in 1947. It’s intended purpose of which is everything you’re seeing right now.

Riki
Riki
1 month ago

I’m sorry but Ukraine and Palestine are completely different situations. Russia has done for eastern ukraine exactly what the UN should do for Palestine. Intervene in stopping war crimes. The Ukrainian government has been attacking their own ethnic Russian populace since 2014. Let’s not put Palestine in the same breath as Ukraine, Palestine has had it way worse for way longer! Ukraine brought this on their selves whereas Palestine literally had their country given to someone else by a people who had spent the same to us centuries before hand. We have such short memories in Wales!

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Riki

So why didn’t the UN intervene when Saddam Hussein was killing thousands of Kurds in Iraq? Or intervene in regards the Xinjiang concentration camps in Eastern China, or even Chechnya (I’m sure Putin would be okay with that won’t he)?

The UN is not going to violate its own Charter which prohibits member states from violating the Sovereignty of other states, even on the grounds of ‘humanitarian intervention’.

Furthermore bombing innocent civilians and kidnapping children from their families can never be considered humane.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rob
Che Guevara's Fist
Che Guevara's Fist
1 month ago
Reply to  Riki

You bought into Russia’s koolaid regarding the Maidan coup, huh? Russia, as has been shown in the war in Ukraine, has been wearing Ukrainian military uniform to carry out atrocities against the Russian population in the southern regions as a pretext for an invasion by stating that Russians are under attack from the Ukrainians and they therefore must be “saved”, of which they have been planning this for years. While the war started, the Russian Spetznas were caught on camera in Moldova firing an RPG at a government building in a clear attempt at another provocation to open up another… Read more »

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