Earlier this month Democracy Now! aired the audio of a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., found by the the director of the Pacifica Radio archives, Brian DeShazor, about apartheid in South Africa and the struggle for black civil rights in the United States. Dr. King gave the speech in December 1964 at London’s City Temple.
This article won’t look at the parts of the speech that focus on civil rights, segregation (legal and de jure), or the “abyss of exploitation,” as King called it, that blacks faced (and continue to face) in America. Rather, it will compare what King said about South Africa and how that compares to the fight for justice in occupied Palestine. 
During his 1964 speech, he compared the “struggle for freedom and justice in the United States” by black Americans to those engaged in a “far more deadly struggle for freedom in South Africa.”
In part, he said:
We know how Africans there, and their friends of other races, strove for half a century to win their freedom by nonviolent methods …we know how this nonviolence was only met by increasing violence from the state, increasing repression … in South Africa, even the mildest form of nonviolent resistance meets with years of imprisonment, and leaders over many years have been restricted and silenced and imprisoned.
We can understand how in that situation people felt so desperate that they turned to other methods, such as sabotage … against a massive, armed and ruthless state, which uses torture and sadistic forms of interrogation to crush human beings, even driving some to suicide, the militant opposition inside South Africa seems for the moment to be silenced. The mass of the people seems to be contained, seems for the moment unable to break from the oppression.
In the case of occupied Palestine, nonviolence is no doubt met with repression. For example, protesting Palestinians have been tear gassed (even gassing a funeral procession), shot with so-called “rubber-bullets,” and even killed. At the same time, five children have died of the cold in Gaza just this year, along with attacks on Gaza fishermen, and much more. Unlike South Africa, occupied Palestine, the Gaza strip in particular, has been the front of military assault.
As I wrote back in August, “the Israeli military has pummeled the citizens of the Gaza Strip with bombs, naval bombardment, mortars, white phosphorous,” resulting in thousands displaced and vital social services being destroyed. This is happening while, as I noted at the time, that Israel is “a state founded on war itself.”
A report released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OSHA oPt) earlier this month declared that “Palestinians in the oPt [occupied Palestinian territory] face a range of serious protection threats related to these factors including threats to life, liberty and security, destruction or damage to homes and other property, forced displacement, restrictions on freedom of movement and on access to livelihood.”
The report went on to note that Palestinians not only also face limited access to food and basic services, but that over 1,800 structures have been demolished in the West Bank from 2012-2014, and that over 3,200 Palestinians were displaced from 2012-2014. These dire circumstances are only part of the picture: over 2,600 Palestinians were been killed and 25,700+ injured between 2012-2014 compared to 96 Israelis killed and 3,100 injured over the same period. Additionally, the report goes on to note that last summer’s war in Gaza has led to approximately 100,000 Palestinians becoming internally displaced, damaging or destroying 22,000 housing units.
With these circumstances, it is no surprise that numerous Palestinians support those who want to fight back with missiles, often fired by Hamas, which are known to be inaccurate. 
This is because, as Noam Sheizaf writes in +972 Magazine, recalling a sentence he heard often: “If we had planes and tanks to fight the IDF, we wouldn’t need to fire rockets.”
As Sheizaf later points out, “Palestinians are convinced Israelis are looking to enslave them, and that as soon as the war is over the siege will be reinforced. Since this is exactly what Israel intends to do, as our government has repeatedly stated, they have no reason to stop fighting.”
Building on a similar logic, Chris Hedges argued that Palestinians have a right to self-defense — even through violence — against armed Israeli attack: “the international community will have to either act to immediately halt Israeli attacks and lift the blockade of Gaza or acknowledge the right of the Palestinians to use weapons to defend themselves … At what point do Palestinians have the elemental right to protect their families and their homes? … There is little in life that Palestinians can choose, but they can choose how to die.”
Like Dr. King said, it seems that the Palestinian people are “unable to break from the oppression” since they are under siege in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military and separated by barriers in the West Bank.
This includes the illegal ‘separation wall,’ currently being built. When completed, according to the Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, it “will de facto annex some 46% of the West Bank, isolating communities into Bantustans, ghettos and “military zones,” meaning that “the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip … will be encircled on only 12% of mandate Palestine.”
At this point, another quote from King’s recently discovered 1964 speech is relevant, as he talks about why Western governments like the US and UK must join in boycotting, divesting (he implies it) and sanctioning South Africa:
… It is in this situation, with the great mass of South Africans denied their humanity, their dignity, denied opportunity, denied all human rights … we in America and Britain have a unique responsibility, for it is we, through our investments, through our governments’ failure to act decisively, who are guilty of bolstering up the South African tyranny … our responsibility presents us with a unique opportunity: We can join in the one form of nonviolent action that could bring freedom and justice to South Africa, the action which African leaders have appealed for, in a massive movement for economic sanctions …
If the United Kingdom and the United States decided tomorrow morning not to buy South African goods, not to buy South African gold, to put an embargo on oil, if our investors and capitalists would withdraw their support for that racial tyranny that we find there, then apartheid would be brought to an end.
Israel has no doubt, engaged in heinous crimes in clear violation of international law, like in their 2012 war on Gaza, and humanity itself, against Palestinians and Bedouins in particular, that have, like the South Africans, “denied their humanity, their dignity, denied opportunity, denied all human rights.”
Every thinking person knows that this is the reality. Whether you think that Israel is an apartheid state or not , it is clear that Dr. King’s argument about South Africa has parallels in the occupation of Palestine by a state, Israel, that thinks it is above the law. For one, states like Britain, the United States, and others in the industrialized West have a responsibility to engage in divestment from this brutal occupation, which is funded by US taxpayer money, money from American organizations and investments of American mega-corporations. I am not sure that if states in Western Europe and the United States were to pull out their investments in Israel, that the occupation of Palestine would end considering that some Israel-defenders have argued that US aid to Israel isn’t needed anymore, but there is no doubt that it would have a powerful effect.
Still, divestment, which King implied, is not the only step. There are also boycotts and sanctions, both of which he talked about in reference to South Africa as a way to end the “racial tyranny” in that state by nonviolent means. In regards to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, many groups have engaged in this effort by groups such as the women’s peace group, CodePink, End the Occupation, and many more that are engaging in a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that was originally started by Palestinian civil society.
We must remember, as Eugene Debs noted in 1918, that “when great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong.”
This is the case with the boycott, divestment and sanction movement which is still not accepted by the American populace as a whole.
As I wrote over two years ago in an article honoring fearless journalist Helen Thomas after her death: “I urge the readers of this article to stand against the Israeli occupation of Palestine by participating in the BDS movement.”
And that participation starts now.
 Numerous legal authorities and international organizations consider the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to be occupied, include the International Court of Justice, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN Security Council resolutions 446, 465, 478, UN General Assembly resolution 58/292, the UN’s OSHA oPt (see here and here for two examples), the European Union (in a confidential report and here), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Human Rights Council.
Additionally, the former UN expert on human rights in occupied Palestine, Richard Falk, said Palestine was occupied, as did international law expert, David Kretzmer, who was quoted as saying that he couldn’t “understand how someone claims that Israel is not an occupying force in the West Bank, after over forty years of government petitions to the High Court of Justice, citing authority as an occupying force in an occupied territory.”
 Despite my previous articles on this topic, including one where I argued that Israel is an apartheid state, I am wary to use the word until I engage in further research on the topic. At that point, I can say if Israel is an ‘apartheid state’ or not. The same goes for the word ‘Zionism’ since I am also trying to get a working definition.
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