Israel/Palestine needs a South African style truth and reconciliation commission

What would Israel/Palestine look like in a one-state solution? An exclusive new article on the Independent Australian Jewish Voices website by John Docker examines some possibilities:

Recent South African history may also give us a basis for new ideas and visions. In Sydney this year I heard Albie Sachs speak about human rights and the rule of law before and after apartheid South Africa. It was very moving to see him in person, a man who in 1966 had gone into exile after sustained mistreatment, including lengthy bouts of solitary confinement, only in 1988 in Mozambique to lose an arm and the sight of an eye after being car-bombed by South African security agents. In The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law Sachs refers to the new legal institutions of post-apartheid South Africa, institutions which I think could be seriously considered as models for a post-apartheid Israel-Palestine.

In the opening chapter, “Tales of Terrorism and Torture”, Sachs gives some of the background for the post-apartheid creation of the famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He observes that state terrorism by South African security forces led to mutilation, massacre, and extermination on a large scale. But he also refers to intense debates in the ANC in exile, initiated by Oliver Tambo, over the question of torture, for it turned out that ANC security personnel were torturing captured South African security agents in ANC camps in Angola. Tambo wished Sachs to be involved, so that a Code of Conduct could be drawn up, “a code of criminal law and procedure, adapted to the peculiar circumstances of an exiled and dispersed political organization”.

What had to be debated, Oliver Tambo made clear to the 1985 assembly, was “whether the Code of Conduct should make special allowance in extremely grave circumstances for what were called ”˜intensive methods of interrogation’”.

Sachs reports that, one by one, the “young soldiers of Umkhonto We Siswe came up to the platform and gave their answer: an emphatic no”. They insisted that there be “very clear standards and that absolutely no torture be used in any circumstances, whatever the euphemism used”. In Sachs’ view, the young soldiers were making a statement about “the kind of people we were, what we were fighting for, and what our morality and core values were about”.

Opposition to torture became a part of the Code of Conduct, supported by the soldiers and Oliver Tambo and formulated by Sachs and ANC lawyers. Such opposition to torture was also, Sachs says, “absolutely consistent with hard-won principles of international law”. It was in this spirit, Sachs feels, of creating a future “constitutional order in a free South Africa”, that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and allied institutions were established. This includes “what many today regard as the most progressive Constitution in the world”, with its centrepiece Bill of Rights and its respect for human dignity.

So, there’s a key feature here that I believe can be drawn from The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law. A future Israel-Palestine could create such a constitutional order, with a Constitution and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission modelled on post-apartheid South Africa’s.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

Site by Common