BOSTON - South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu compared conditions in Palestine to those of South Africa under apartheid, and called on Israelis to try and change them, while speaking in Boston Saturday at historic Old South Church. "We hope the occupation of the Palestinian territory by Israel will end," Tutu said.
"There is a cry of anguish from the depth of my heart, to my spiritual relatives. Please, please hear the call, the noble call of our scripture, "Tutu said of Israelis.
"Don't be found fighting against this God, your God, our God, who hears the cry of the oppressed, "Tutu said.
Tutu spoke with political activist and lecturer Noam Chomsky and others to a largely religious audience about "The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel," a conference sponsored by Friends of Sabeel North America, a Christian Palestinian group.
Israeli policy toward Palestine is an inflammatory topic in the U.S. and is not commonly discussed in large, public forums.
In Boston, complaints were lodged with Old South Church in the weeks prior to the event, in an effort to halt the conference. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting complained that Sabeel is "an anti-Zionist organisation that traffics in anti-Judaic themes," according to press reports.
Outside the church Saturday, Christians and Jews United for Israel demonstrated against Tutu and the conference.
"Sabeel is an organisation that seeks to demonise Israel. Tutu several years ago made anti-Semitic comments," May Long, president of the group, told IPS. Long did not hear Tutu's speech, she said.
Tutu was an inspirational leader in the South African fight against apartheid, which officially ended 13 years ago. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and today continues to speak around the globe for peace and justice, and to call for Palestinian rights.
The 76-year-old Tutu also appears to have won a battle against prostate cancer, which he was last treated for in 2000.
"Because of what I experienced in South Africa, I harbour hope for Israel and the Palestinian territories," said Tutu, who invoked passages from the Christian bible throughout his talk.
Tutu drew parallels between the apartheid of South Africa and occupied Palestine of today, including demolitions of Palestinian homes by the Israeli government and the inability of Palestinians to travel freely within and out of Palestine.
"I experienced a deja vu when I encountered a security checkpoint that Palestinians must negotiate every day and be demeaned, all their lives," Tutu said.
Tutu said that Palestinian homes are being bulldozed, and new, illegal homes for Israeli's built in their place.
"When I hear, 'that used to be my home,' it is painfully similar to the treatment in South Africa when coloreds had no rights," Tutu said.
Tutu is a pacifist and he said only non-violent means should be used to confront the oppression at play in Palestine.
"Palestinians ought to try themselves to restrain those who fire the rockets into Israeli territory," Tutu said.
Tutu said that while fighting apartheid in South Africa he drew inspiration from the Jewish struggle as the bible describes it.
"Spiritually I am of Hebrew decent. When apartheid oppression was at its most vicious, and all but knocked the stuffing out of those of us who opposed it, we turned to the Hebrew tradition of resistance," and the belief that good will triumph over evil, and that a day of freedom from oppression will come, he said.
"The well-to-do and powerful complain that we are mixing religion with politics. I've never heard the poor complain that 'Tutu, you are being too political,' " he said.
"I am not playing politics when it involves children who suffer," Tutu said. "A human rights violation is a human rights violation is a human rights violation, wherever it occurs."
Tutu recently bumped up against U.S. discomfort with discourse about Palestine, when a Minnesota university president yanked an invitation to Tutu that had been extended by a youth group.
Rev. Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul Minnesota, said he did not want Tutu to speak because the Nobel Laureate's position on Palestine was viewed by some as anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic.
Dease also fired Cris Toffolo as head of the university's peace and justice programme, who had supported the invitation to Tutu.
Dease apologised to Tutu three weeks ago.
Tutu said Saturday that he accepted Dease's "handsome apology", but that he will not consider speaking at the school until Toffolo is reinstated and her record cleared.
At the conference, Chomsky said the U.S. provides heavy financial support to Israel and has a profound influence on Israeli policies, including those toward Palestine and foreign trade.
"If the U.S. doesn't like what Israel is doing, it just kicks Israel in the face," Chomsky said. In 2005, Israel wanted to sell improved missiles to China. The Bush administration halted the sale, Chomsky said.
"It blocked them and refused to allow Israeli officials to come to the U.S. The U.S. demanded an apology from Israel. It dragged Israel through the mud," Chomsky said.
The U.S. began its close relationship with Israel after the Israeli victory in the 1967 "Six Day War" against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Chomsky said.
2007 Inter Press Service