Desmond Tutu on Obama and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

12/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Desmond Tutu, awarded the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to Apartheid and who first voted at age 63 in South Africa's first democratic elections in April 1994, told Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman how he feels about Obama's election:

"Yippee! No, 'yippee' actually -- it captures something that is almost inevitable. It's very close to the kind of feelings we had on April the 27th, 1994. And some, maybe a few people in this country, have said it was as it was with Mandela -- Mandela moment. It's a moment when especially people of color have a new spring in their step. They can walk a great deal taller than they used to. And that even though this country, the United States, experiences very considerable racism -- I mean, people being dragged to their deaths behind trucks -- yet, it's a country that, in fact, has had this extraordinary experience, and it's something that has filled people with hope that the world can be a better place."

Here's the video:

Tutu also spoke on a range of foreign policy issues, including US-Israeli policy and urging Obama to sign the International Criminal Court treaty (the US is the only major power who is not a signatory):

Amy Goodman: What do you think has to be done now with the Middle East specifically, with Israel and the occupation?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: There's been some very interesting moves with the outgoing prime minister suggesting that Israel has to consider very seriously the proposal of going back to the boundaries of 1967. That's a very important initiative, if that was taken.

I think that we would have to move very quickly to lifting the embargo. The suffering is unacceptable. It's totally unacceptable. It doesn't promote the security of Israel or any other part of that very volatile region. And it is quite contrary to the best teachings of the Jewish faith, you know. And I know, I mean, that there are very, very many in Israel who are opposed to what is happening.

And I pray fervently that there will be a boldness, you know, in saying we've got to resolve this, because I think if that -- well, no, let's not say "if" -- because a lot hinges on what happens in the Middle East. Let's say, when that is resolved, what we will find, I mean, that the tensions between, say, the West and the Muslim world, and large part of the Muslim world, I believe, myself, what we will find that that evaporates and that this -- this is a saw, chafing, and it's mucking up too many things. And I pray that this new president will have the capacity to see we've got to do something here, for the sake of our own humility, you know, for the sake of our children.

Amy Goodman: Would you compare the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank to apartheid South Africa?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: I have to speak about what I know. I mean, most people -- a Jew will usually speak about their experiences and maybe compare whatever it is that is happening with what happened in the days of the Holocaust. For me, coming from South Africa and going -- I mean, and looking at the checkpoints and the arrogance of those young soldiers, probably scared, maybe covering up their apprehension, there's no way in which I couldn't say -- of course, that is a truth. It reminds me -- it reminds me of the kind of experiences that we underwent.

I mean, I was bishop of Johannesburg and would be driving from town to Soweto, where we lived, and I would be driving with my wife, and we'd have a roadblock. And the fact of our having to have passes allowing us to move freely in the land of our birth, and now you have that extraordinary structure that -- the wall. And I do not, myself, believe that it has improved security, breaking up families, breaking up -- I mean, people who used to be able to walk from their homes to school, children, now have to take a detour that lasts several -- I mean, it's -- when you humiliate a people to the extent that they are being -- and, yes, one remembers the kind of experience we had when we were being humiliated -- when you do that, you're not contributing to your own security. And all you are doing is you're saying to those people, in all of their desperation, "We're still human, and there are things we will not be able to accept -- I mean, just sit down. We'll have to -- we have to do something."

And so, you get the suicide bomber. And one does not condone them, but one understands perfectly how people can be driven into a corner, and out of that desperation -- and so you have that cycle. The response of Israel to the suicide bomber, which you know is going to provoke another cycle. And one says, No way, that's not how God intended to us live, that it is possible -- it's been shown; it happened in South Africa -- it is possible for people who have been enemies to begin to think that they can be friends, at least to coexist.

Amy Goodman: The International Criminal Court --should Barack Obama as president sign onto the ICC, sign the treaty for the International Criminal Court?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Of course! I said earlier that, actually, had America been a signatory, September the 11th , 2001 would have been -- the perpetrators were not a country. You know, they were guilty of a criminal -- abominable criminal act. And the right thing to do would have been to seek to apprehend those who were responsible. I mean, of course, you had the ones who had died, but then they had collaborators. And the world would have done their darnedest to support America in apprehending those people and bringing them before a court.

And so, I would say, yes, if you believe in the rule of law, then you are going to say, yes, this is one particularly important instrument, because it is an instrument that is saying we will no longer tolerate impunity. The many who are guilty, as is happening just now in the DRC or in Darfur, that people who are guilty of egregious violations have to be brought to book, and it's got to be done in a way that satisfies those standards that we have. I mean, you don't hold people in detention without trial. That's what the world used to say against the South Africa government. And if it was true that that was wrong, it has to be wrong consistently everywhere.