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Mandela: I was inspired by Begin's struggle against the British

Mandela’s statements about Begin on the one hand and Arafat on the other should make just about everyone uncomfortable.

In Chapter 42 of his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom,” Nelson Mandela describes how, in 1961, he began forming the African National Congress’ (ANC) military wing to launch guerrilla attacks on the apartheid regime. “I, who had never been a soldier, who had never fought in battle, who had never fired a gun at an enemy, had been given the task of starting an army. … I began in the only way I knew how, by reading and talking to experts.”

Mandela recalls that he read about Castro and Che Guevara, about Mao Tse-Tung, about the uprisings in Ethiopia, Kenya, Algeria, even about the Boer revolt against their former British rulers. He mentions three books that were crucial to his education.  One was Commando by Deneys Reitz about the Boer rebellion. The second was Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China about Mao’s revolution.  And this was the third:

I read The Revolt by Menachem Begin and was encouraged by the fact that the Israeli leader had led a guerrilla force in a country with neither mountains nor forests, a situation similar to our own.

Interesting. It gets even more interesting when you read what Mandela told Yasser Arafat in 1990, two weeks after he was released from 27 years in prison:

There are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO. We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel…”

Mandela against apartheid, Begin against the British Mandate, Arafat against the occupation. Their differences as rebel leaders are not as important as what they had in common: All three took up arms in the cause of freedom.

Related:
Seeing Mandela’s miracle: A trip from Israel to South Africa
On Mandela’s legacy: Three political innovations

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    1. Adam

      At no point does he equate the struggles that Begin and Arafat individually undertook. He clearly admires Begin’s military victories but given that he also read “Commando” about the Boer Rebellion, it takes a significant leap of imagination for you to suppose that he sympathized with the Israeli struggle against the British. The most I can glean from the quotes you have provided is that both Commando and The Revolt provided first hand accounts of fighting a much more powerful military force using guerilla tactics, which had its use in fighting the apartheid regime.

      Reply to Comment
    2. greg nichols

      It is courageous of you to post this interesting history.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      Of course, Bibi & Co. will argue that, while comparing Mandela with Begin has merit, no such comparison between Arafat and Begin is valid.

      Just as in the case of beauty, terrorism is in the eye of the beholder.

      Reply to Comment
    4. John Turnbull

      “All three took up arms in the cause of freedom.”

      The difference is the Mandela knew when to quit. (Unless someone can find a reference to Begin’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.)

      Reply to Comment
      • Philos

        No, the difference was that F.W. de Klerk knew when to “quit.” Mandela said only when the oppressor puts down his weapons may the oppressed do the same. It’s an inverted Israeli negotiation demand. It’s like the Palestinians saying, “We will stop the armed struggle when you withdraw the army from the West Bank.” No wonder Afrikaners admired Israel so much. They actually got the whole world to pressure the oppressed to put down their weapons without any expectation of reciprocity from the oppressor.

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        • Kolumn9

          Well, it takes two to tango. I am not actually waiting for the Palestinians to abandon armed struggle. I expect the Palestinian leadership to condemn attacks on Israeli civilians as being immoral and unethical, not just counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. I expect their leadership to not turn those that massacre Israeli civilians into heroes. This would be sufficient to demonstrate that the Palestinian leadership intends to live in peace with Israelis rather than waiting for an opportunity to kill or expel them.

          Reply to Comment
          • Philos

            Well, if we take Mandela’s logic a step further then the oppressed shouldn’t condemn their own violent excesses until the oppressor does so first. So when the Israelis punish murderers in the army, condemn their own air force for killing dozens (hundreds upon hundreds in the cast of Operation Cast Lead aka the Hannukah Massacre) and ostracize Israeli politicians and pundits that call for killing and transfer then the Palestinians can do the same. Mandela’s logic is brilliant. It always puts the oppressor on the back foot. Although it doesn’t help when the oppressor is backed by almost unconditional US and EU political support. To crack that the Palestinians have to keep on resisting

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Yes, yes, the usual equivalences. I’ll happily accept the occasional Palestinian leader calling for the transfer of Israeli civilians (they do anyway), but unlike the Israeli leadership, the Palestinian leadership continue to praise the murder of Israeli civilians and treat those that murder Israeli civilians as heroes. In other words, the murder of Israeli women and children are seen as not just legitimate, but morally desirable. The Israeli army does not target Palestinian civilians. The Israeli government condemns attacks on Palestinian civilians and prosecutes soldiers and civilians that are responsible for such actions. There is no public support in Israel for the direct targeting of Palestinian civilians. The reverse is not true. Support for attacks on Israeli civilians within the green line among Palestinians is still at roughly 50% and the leadership continues to praise terrorists that have attacked Israeli civilians in the recent past. Your attempt at equivalence fails bluntly.

            So, yes, use Mandela’s logic. It is the Palestinians’ turn to publicly condemn attacks on Israeli civilians as being immoral and to stop treating suicide bombers as heroes. That they haven’t done so and still publicly treat those that attack Israeli women and children as heroes only demonstrates how far away they are from Mandela’s ideals despite those that try to find similarities.

            Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            Larry, you do know that –
            1. Those organizations existed more than 60 years ago, while standards were a bit different.
            2. Lehi and Etzel were very far from mainstream and were publicly criticized for their actions.
            3. This behaviour and its morality were openly discussed and murder of civilians was NEVER something either of these organizations was proud of.

            Had Etzel and Lehi existed today, they would probably been called Terrorist organizations. However, besides the brand – they don’t share that much with the likes of Hamas or PLO, with their popularity and love for murder of civilians.

            Reply to Comment
          • No, the condemnations were against Irgun and Lehi for killing the British; there was no condmenation of blowing up Arabs by the score because the Haganah and Palmach were doing it, too. Your so-called morality rests on massive denial of what Israel did and how Israel, then and now, immortalized those who did it. We’re not morally superior to the Palestinians – not inferior, either, but not superior.

            Reply to Comment
          • Philos

            K9, treading on dangerous territory bringing up the moral argument… If defending Israel is moral and defending Israel requires killing Palestinian (and Lebanese) civilians in their thousands then the killing of those civilians isn’t immoral. That’s the moral argument employed by Israel. You see it’s a bit convoluted. Israel doesn’t praise it’s slaughterers? Didn’t you hear about Ari Shavit’s latest book? Let me give you the cliff notes. “Thinking about all the Palestinians who were murdered and raped in Lydda by my granddad and his pals in 1948 makes me feel sad, and a little guilty, but then I remember that it had to happen or else this country would be full of Arabs (it’s bad enough with all these Mizrachi ignoramuses and Russian sluts and drunks) so I’m grateful it happened.” – Ari Shavit

            Yes, I’m sure you can agree that these are some very sound moral arguments being made. It’s a bit like saying without apartheid there wouldn’t have been Nelson Mandela so you’re glad apartheid happened and the South Africa Defence Force (SADF) murdered all those people in South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Botswana and Mozambique.

            Yes K9, to make your claim you would have to overlook the quite popular call to “wipe Gaza off the map” or when senior military and political leaders call Gaza an “abscess” that needs to be excised. Yes, you will also have to ignore the threats to flatten Beirut and destroy all the villages in the south of the country in the event of war to make the claim that the State of Israel does not threaten to murder scores of civilians. Streets are named after organizations, like the Lehi, that practised systematic butchery of Palestinian civilians throughout the 30s and 40s. So, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?

            I also have my suspicions about the South African Jews that came to Israel in the early 90s. I reckon they were horrified when Apartheid fell. I’ve known a few. They talk about the “good old days” before the “bleecks” ruined everything. And then they add a cautious note about “leeeting the Arabs geeet away wit too much here. Trust me, I know what I am talking about.” Where did you immigrate from K9? South Africa or Rhodesia? Someone really needs to look into the history of some of the settler leadership. You have Australians, South Africans and Americans; all of three countries notorious for their systematic murder of indigenous people.

            Reply to Comment
          • Richard Lightbown

            Ah yes, the delusional Ari Shavit. This was him opining yesterday in Haaretz: “At base, the Jewish national movement was the most just liberation movement on the face of the earth.” Probably also thinks the IDF is the most…well you know the bollocks I am referring to.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Richard Witty

      An important article for the irony, the cognitive dissonance relative to the simplistic which side are you on.

      Begin gave up terror on British (no longer an enemy) and on those Arabs that no longer considered themselves (and acted) as enemy towards Israel.

      Begin did orchestrate the settlement enterprise though, as a permanent expansion effort, the first significant institutionalized articulation of “finishing 48”.

      And, Arafat never in fact renounced terror, as he rewarded “martyrs” with family pensions and homes paid for by the state/authority. (The originating motive of the home demolition campaign, to remove the reward for mass murder.) And, as he funded and cued (if not directly ordered), the Al Aqsa Martyrs (who were responsible for more terror incidents in the second intifada than Hamas).

      It took Abbas to actually renounce terror.

      Mandela started the military wing of the ANC late (10 years after the ANC formation). Noone can honestly say that he adopted armed struggle as his chosen means. He adopted armed struggle reluctantly, and entirely conditionally.

      It is the modern left and right that has not forgiven, and continue to romance of Che, Mao, Begin, Arafat.

      But, there is always new young people, who haven’t gone full circle from effort to war to treaty to peace, yet, so there is always a naive and enthusiastic audience for romantic revolutionaries, and a disdain for wise former warriors.

      Reply to Comment