Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, who is engaged in a controversial campaign urging divestment from Israel, in London on July 4 was honored for supporting travel to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, identified in the New Testament as the birthplace of Jesus.
Tutu, who is Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa and became known for his fight against his nation’s apartheid system of racial discrimination, at a London meeting was awarded an honorary “Bethlehem Passport” by the charity Open Bethlehem, of which he is a patron.
The London-based charity’s founder, Leila Sansour, commented that Tutu remains “an inspiration to millions in your dedication to the principles of peace, reconciliation and freedom. We remember your certainty that ‘we will all be free’ as we struggle for a Palestinian state, but we also remember that this state is only worth the struggle if it remains open, democratic and teaches respect for human rights.”
Tutu said that he was “very sorry you have had to endure all this suffering. It almost seems endless but it will end. At home for so many years it looked like the apartheid system would never end. But it did. The Jews thought the Holocaust would never end but it did. They did eventually come into their own land once again.”
He added, however, that Jews “are inflicting the same suffering they experienced on others” in terms of creating armed checkpoints through which Palestinians must pass and security operations against Palestinian areas.
Tutu was in London for a meeting with members of former South African president Nelson Mandela’s “Elders Group” of former world leaders and to meet organizations promoting human rights and development.
He also said that “Bethlehem is a city which clearly belongs to the whole world. It is a very great privilege to be given this passport to Bethlehem. I hope one day that everyone will have the privilege to visit.”
For a couple of years, Tutu has equated Israel’s reaction to Palestinian attacks to the apartheid system and urged divestment from companies that do business with the Jewish state.
However, his stance has come under criticism. A June, 2011 editorial in The Australian newspaper said Tutu’s “experience in his own country does not qualify him to meddle in other complex conflicts.” Referring to a proposal by a Sydney local council that it pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, the newspaper said Tutu “has lent unwarranted credibility to an absurd, unjust policy.”