marwan barghoutiDear Ahmad Kathrada and South African friends,

Dear Excellencies, Honourable guests,

The struggle of the anti-apartheid movement has transformed Robben Island from a symbol of oppression to a living testimony of the triumph of freedom over chains, of light over darkness, of hope over despair. This place reminds us of the worst the human kind is capable of. And of the best. We belong to the same cause, the cause of freedom and dignity. And our enemies are similar, oppression, negation of rights, segregation and apartheid, without forgetting one that allows them to prolong their existence, indifference or refusal to act. When others speak of universal values, human rights and international law, we embody, through our struggle, these principles and defend them bearing great sacrifices. But the will of oppressed peoples can not, and will not, be defeated. Freedom shall prevail in Palestine, as it did in South Africa. As peoples around the globe and throughout history have been able to achieve freedom and allow it to prevail in the face of oppression, colonial rule, dictatorships, segregation, racism and apartheid, we will vanquish this occupation.


Today, you are using an extraordinary power in the defence of justice. Not your hard power, nor your soft power, but the power of inspiration. Palestine is the most universal of national causes and it draws from your struggle many lessons:

1-      Freedom is not negotiable. The liberation of our prisoners is unconditional, and the freedom of our people is inevitable.

2-      The oppressor spreads tribalism, political, ethnic and religious divisions to prevail. Unity is the law of victory for oppressed peoples, as the broad coalition you were able to establish to defeat apartheid has proven. Leaders from different factions in prison, in  occupied Palestine, in exile, should complete and complement each other, not compete with each other, so as to sustain the political unity of our people and reunify our land so as to reflect the unbreakable unity of our people.

3-      You do not defeat your enemy by resembling him. As we face this colonial and racist system that spreads violence, segregation, annexation and oppression, we must defend a pluralistic vision, respectful of international law and human rights, which can achieve freedom, peace and coexistence.

4-      One must bet first on the people and their mobilization. It is the civil disobedience and your resistance on the ground that had the most important transformative effect leading to the end of the apartheid regime.

5-      The international community has political, moral and legal obligations to act in defence of justice, and to uphold international law and human rights. This responsibility lies on governments, elected representatives, human rights organizations, civil society movements, trade unions and each individual citizen. The international BDS movement was instrumental in putting sufficient pressure on the South African government to change its policies, and start working jointly with the anti-apartheid movement to end apartheid and contribute to the establishment of a non-racist, non-sexist, democratic South Africa. De Klerck made historical choices, but international pressure and resistance on the ground motivated his decisions.

6-      It is only when the apartheid government made clear it decided to end apartheid and acted upon that decision, including through the release of Mandela and all prisoners,  that negotiations started between the enemies who became peace partners. Did the Israeli government show its will to end its occupation, and acted upon that decision? Every new settlement, every home demolished, every arrest and incursion provides us all with the answer. There is clearly no De Gaulle and no De Klerck yet in Israel. And Israeli impunity only drives the day of peace further away.

But we do not only draw lessons from your struggle. We also draw a deep belief that we shall reach the shores of freedom and that we will fulfil our legitimate rights to independence and return. This is the only way to achieve peace and security for all the peoples in the region. We know victory awaits us, as the aspiration for freedom in our hearts is stronger than hatred in the hearts of the occupier and colonial power. The triumph of freedom and dignity, justice and independence in Palestine, the return of our refugees, the release of Palestinian prisoners are the markers of the international capacity to uphold universal values and international legality in the world.

I will come and visit this place one day, a free man, citizen of a free country, and with freedom as my horizon. I am reminded of a great man, who did not only see that horizon, but shaped it with his companions, including from within prison, the great Nelson Mandela, the heart of your inspirational power.

On my behalf and on behalf of 5000 Palestinian political prisoners, and of the Palestinian people in homeland and exile, allow me to thank all those who have made this event and the launch of this Campaign possible, notably the Members of the International High Level Committee who have accepted to use their political and moral weight to support this important cause. Allow me to honour here the memory of one of these members, Stéphane Hessel, who has championed human rights worldwide and was the Honorary President of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. Allow me to extend special thanks to Mr Kathrada and his foundation. It is honourable to rise against injustice when you are one of its victims. It is admirable to do so when it befalls on others. Mr Kathrada, it is a privilege to have you, and all what you symbolise, as the soul of this Campaign. I am writing these words after having read your book and having lived from within my prison cell through its lines your suffering, instant by instant. I followed through the pages the struggle of South Africa for freedom, as I did when reading the book of Mandela. I visualised this place of oppression, transformed through your struggle into a lighthouse, showing us the way forward. It is no coincidence if the International Conference “Freedom & Dignity” held in Palestine took place on the 27th of April. I chose that date so as to coincide with South Africa’s Freedom day. As guest of honour, Mr Kathrada suggested the launch of this Campaign, and his Foundation and himself worked tirelessly during the last 6 months to transform this powerful idea into a reality. What is happening here today is a turning point in the international endeavour in support of the freedom of Palestinian prisoners and of the Palestinian people. This Campaign shall only end when all Palestinian political prisoners are free, and I am confident we shall celebrate one day together the freedom of the prisoners and the freedom of Palestine. 

Finally, allow me to tell you all, when asked on which side you stand, always choose the side of freedom and dignity against oppression, of human rights against negation of rights, of peace and coexistence against occupation and apartheid. This is the only way to serve the cause of peace and to act for the advancement of humanity.


Marwan Barghouthi

Cell n°28

Hadarim prison