Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes Nelson Mandela, South African struggler and leader who fought apartheid, and long-time political prisoner who was a symbol to the world of steadfastness and resistance from within the prison walls of a settler colonial, racist regime.
Mandela’s leadership and international recognition in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa was strengthened over his twenty-six years in apartheid prisons. The call to free Mandela and his fellow political prisoners was part and parcel of the call for a free South Africa and an end to apartheid.
Mandela, the African National Congress, and other leaders and organizations in the struggle against apartheid were deemed illegal, labelled terrorists both by the apartheid regime and by its enablers and supporters around the world, including the US, Canadian and Israeli states, and faced with the constant threat of imprisonment.
Today, the name “Robben Island” is a symbol of political imprisonment and the steadfastness of those imprisoned, just as Nelson Mandela is a name revered around the world as a symbol of the will of a people to resist racism, apartheid and oppression and struggle for liberation.
And today, Palestinian prisoners, who refuse – like Mandela – to give up their right to resist by all means occupation, apartheid, settler colonialism and racism, are daily struggling for their freedom and the freedom of their people.
Palestinian political prisoners are part and parcel of the Palestinian national liberation movement. They are leaders, symbols and heroes who distinguish themselves daily in the struggle for a free and liberated Palestine. Palestinian leaders – Ahmad Sa’adat, Marwan Barghouthi, and their over 5,000 sisters and brothers in occupation prisons inspire Palestinians and people all around the world to struggle for justice. They, like the prisoners who came before in South Africa, are a compass pointing towards liberation.
Nelson Mandela said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” South African liberation strugglers trained side by side with Palestinian liberation strugglers in the 1960s and 1970s, while Israel and the South African apartheid regime built strong military, economic and political ties.
Both recognized well their common interests and common nature: liberation movements seeking freedom, dignity, human justice and liberation from colonialism, apartheid and racism; and settler states determined to exert imperial force to retain stolen land, resources and power.
As we remember Nelson Mandela, as we remember Robben Island, we look today at Ofer, Nafha, Eshel, Ramon, Hasharon, Ramle, Negev, Megiddo, Hadarim, Gilboa, Nitzan, Shata, Ketziot, Moskobiya and every detention center, prison and interrogation cell where today’s fighters against apartheid, racism, colonialism and oppression are held behind the bars of occupation.
Palestine’s prisoners, Palestine’s people, and Palestine’s land will be free, and the thousands held behind bars, in prison cells, dungeons and torture chambers – and the nearly a million imprisoned over the course of occupation – will be, as they are now, leading at the front lines on the march toward freedom, return and liberation – their freedom, the freedom of their people, and all of our freedom.
Nelson Mandela gave his life to the struggle for freedom and justice. He spent decades behind bars as a prisoner of freedom. In dedication to his legacy today, we pledge to struggle until the freedom of all who walk the path of liberation.