Palestinians on both sides of the Fatah-Hamas split have been mourning the death of South African leader Nelson Mandela, branding him an enthusiastic supporter of the Palestinian cause.
On Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Mandela “a great loss to Palestine, who stood with us and was the bravest and most important world personality to stand with us.”
“Mandela was a leader and fighter for the freedom of his people and a symbol of liberation from colonialism and occupation for all peoples,” Abbas told the official Wafa news agency. “We shared historic relations of struggle with Mandela, which will remain forever enshrined between the Palestinian and South African peoples.”
Though considerably less harsh on Israel than his successors in the African National Congress, Mandela was a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause and its leaders. He dubbed Yasser Arafat “one of the outstanding freedom fighters of this generation” following the death of the Palestinian leader in 2004.
On Sunday, PLO Executive Committee members Hanan Ashrawi and Hanna Amireh attended a special service in memory of Mandela, who died Thursday, at the Holy Family Church in Ramallah. Special services and masses commemorating the South African leader were held across the West Bank, Ashrawi’s office said in a statement.
For Mandela, Ashrawi said following the service, “Palestine was not a question of solidarity or advocacy, but was [a cause] that he internalized and participated in as one of us. The linkage between South Africa and Palestine that Mandela spelled out was one of shared principles and struggles, primarily for self-determination, freedom, and human dignity.”
Hamas, for its part, said the most important lesson Palestinians could learn from Mandela’s life was the need “to resist the Zionist occupation and [all] forms of injustice and oppression suffered by the people of the world.”
Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political bureau, said on Friday that Mandela was a source of inspiration “for nations suffering injustice and resisting occupiers.
“He was a symbol of resistance and human struggle,” Mashaal said.
Palestinians tended to focus on Mandela’s role as freedom fighter rather than on his call for reconciliation and the peaceful dismantling of the apartheid regime, admitted Sameeh Hammoudah, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah. But Hammoudah said this was only natural given the current Palestinian political situation.
“There is no political agreement [with the Israelis], and reconciliation must follow an agreement,” he told The Times of Israel. “The Palestinians have not attained the political rights which the blacks [in South Africa] had attained in terms of citizenship. Besides, South Africa is one state where there is no alternative to co-existence. The Palestinian reality does not discuss one state, and is still in the stage of [fighting for] liberation.”