Tanzania under its pan-Africanist president Julius Nyerere staunchly supported the struggle of the Palestinian people against the US-backed brutal occupation by the Jewish state of Israel, thereby providing a shining example of an African nation’s commitment to emancipation of all oppressed peoples
The current war between Israel and Palestine has once again brought to the forefront a debate about the struggles between the two peoples. The Palestinian/Israel conflict has polarized world opinion. Many countries, particularly African, have had to tread carefully while constructing their policies towards Israel and Palestine. The pendulum has increasingly veered in support of the Palestinian people. Throughout most of the 1960s through 1980s, Tanzania was one of the African countries that supported the Palestinian struggle. This support can be partly attributed to the leadership of President Julius K. Nyerere.
The on-going violence between Palestinians and Israelis has a long history. Early struggles reached an apex during World War II. A crisis first arose after hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fled from Germany and German-controlled territories in the late 1930s. Many European nations and Americans resisted taking in large numbers of Jewish refugees. It was during this time that Britain came up with numerous plans to resettle Jewish refugees in its colonies. Tanzania (then Tanganyika) was one of the sites considered by the British as a territory to resettle Jewish refugees. The British plan came during a time when Germany was demanding that all the former colonies be returned to them, including Tanganyika. The future of Tanganyika hanged precariously on the outcome of the conflict between the world super powers. A German takeover of the colony would have had a catastrophic impact on the Tanganyika people. At the same time, resettlement of Jewish refugees in Tanganyika would have created tension between the settlers and the locals.
Germany claimed Tanganyika as its territory in 1885 after Carl Peters signed dubious treaties with African leaders. Peters was a proponent of Social Darwinism and the Volkisch movement. He was appointed as the Imperial High Commissioner for the Kilimanjaro region in Moshi in 1891 and acquired a reputation for brutality and for killing Tanganyikans. The locals called him mkono wa damu (Swahili for ‘bloody hand’). A German judge indicted Peters for cruelty against Africans in 1892, but news of his brutality did not reach the German public until several years later. Peters was dismissed from colonial service in 1897. Such was the experiences of Tanganyikans under German colonial rule. More would follow later in the first decade of the 1900s leading to the Maji Maji rebellion between 1905 and 1907. For his service, Hitler later spoke of Carl Peters as a ‘model, if stern, colonial administrator.’ Germans tried to rehabilitate their colonial administrators in the German propaganda of the 1930s. The German population grew steadily in places like Moshi where Peters worked as an administrator at the end of the 19th century.
Tanganyika had a large German settler population scattered around the territory, with at least 1,000 settlers in Dar es Salaam alone by 1914. The Germans opened a military camp in Moshi and called it camp Neu-Moschi during the hey-day of their colonial rule in Tanganyika. Some of the German settlers remained in Tanganyika after the territory fell to the British; many of them actively supported the rise of Hitler in the 1930s. Nazi youth movements sprung up in Tanganyika and South West Africa (Namibia) in late 1930s. One of the groups held a large rally in 1937 at a German school at Mweka in Moshi, Tanganyika.  Over 200 enthusiasts and leaders of the local Hitler youth groups gathered to celebrate the rise of Germany on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. They paraded with Nazi flags and gave Nazi salutes. The Police Commissioner in Tanganyika eventually ordered the group to cease its activities.
Fear struck Africans and Europeans over the prospects of German takeover of the territory. Several thousand Tanganyikans marched on November 4, 1938 to protest plans by the British Tory government to accede to Hitler’s demand that Tanganyika be handed back to Germany.  The fear was not without foundation; Britain and France capitulated to Hitler over Czechoslovakia in 1938. Hitler had his eyes set on South West Africa (Namibia) and East Africa; he wanted the territories back. Tanganyikan leaders opposed British colonialism, but felt that their plight would be worse under the Germans. While German youth were celebrating the rise of Hitler in Tanganyika, millions of Jewish refugees were escaping Germany and neighbouring countries. European and American leaders scrambled to find a solution for the Jewish refugees. The British proposed Tanganyika as one of the territories for settling Jewish refugees.
Britain proposed to settle Jewish refugees in its colonies in the end of the 1930s. Britain’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, presented a proposal for dealing with Jewish refugees to the House of Commons in December 16, 1938. He told members of the House of Commons that Tanganyika, British Guiana, Kenya, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland were being considered as homes for Jewish refugees. According to Chamberlain, Britain was looking for ways it could contribute to the ‘international effort to facilitate the admission and settlement and involuntary emigrants from Germany.’  The British plan envisaged opening up to 50,000 acres in Tanganyika and leasing it to Jewish organizations, who would in turn subdivide the land among settlers and provide finance for operations. Some European settlers in Tanganyika welcomed this scheme. They were pleased by the fact that Jewish settlement in Tanganyika meant that the colony would not be handed back to Germany.  The plan would have forcibly taken away at least 50,000 acres of arable land from Tanganyikans. The British did not consult Africans about this scheme; they were going to impose it on Tanganyikans.
The Nazi movement in Tanganyika eventually faded away once Germany started losing World War II. The plan for settling Jewish refugees was also abandoned. However, for a brief moment in the 1930s, the fate of Tanzania was linked to that of Palestine as both places were considered as sites for settling Jewish refugees. This brief plan for settling Jewish refugees in Tanganyika never materialized. European and American powers eventually agreed on a plan to settle Jewish refugees in Palestine. It was this scheme that led to the displacement of the Palestinian people.
It is not clear whether Nyerere was aware of the activities of German Nazis in Tanganyika in the 1930s; he was fifteen years old when the Nazi Youth rallied in Moshi. However, Nyerere was quite familiar with the history of Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel when he determined his policies on the Palestinian struggle and in the 1970s set out to give full recognition to the Palestinians by recognizing and supporting the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Tanzanian support for the PLO actually dates back to the 1960s. Nyerere was among the leaders who spoke in support of the Palestinian struggle during the Six Day War of 1967. During the 1967 conference of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), Nyerere stated that: ‘The establishment of the State of Israeli was an act of aggression against the Arab people…the international community accepted this as an aggression. The Arab States did not and could not accept that act of aggression.. The Arab states cannot be beaten into such acceptance.’ He ended by stating Tanzania’s position is that: ‘We recognize Israel and wish to be friendly with her as well as with the Arab nations. But we cannot condone aggression on any pretext, nor accept victory in war as justification for the exploitation of other lands, or governments over other peoples.’ Nyerere accepted that Israel had the right to exist. He accepted aid from Israel through most of the 1960s. However, he was not willing to compromise on principles. He condemned anything he considered a violation of human rights.
Tanzania’s support for the Palestinian struggle expanded in the 1970s. The PLO was one of the liberation groups invited to attend the non-alignment meeting of Third World countries in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in April of 1970 as an observer. The invitation of the PLO to participate in the Dar es Salaam Non-Alignment conference was the beginning of Tanzania’s official recognition of the PLO as representative of the Palestinian people in international bodies. The PLO attended the conference as an observer alongside the ANC from South Africa, FRELIMO of Mozambique, and other liberation groups from southern Africa.
Tanzania opened its doors to the PLO in 1974 by allowing the organization to have an office in the country. Two PLO representatives, Fouad Bitar and Kheir El-Din Abdulrahman, PLO representative in Sudan, brought a message for Nyerere from Yasser Arafat in May 1974. Another message by another PLO official, Farouk El Qaddouni was brought to the Tanzanian Foreign Minister, John Malecela. The PLO delegation came to Tanzania to start the process of opening an office in the country. The man selected to head the office was Foud Bitar. The office was eventually set up after May of 1974. The PLO representation in Tanzania expanded the following year when another office was opened in Zanzibar . The move came after the President of Zanzibar, Aboud Jumbe, travelled to the Middle East at the end of 1974. Jumbe identified with the Palestinian struggle and offered his support to the organization. The government of Zanzibar decided to allow the PLO to open an office. Mohammed El Nasr, a PLO representative of Lebanese descent, went to Zanzibar in the end of March to open a PLO office there.
The opening up of the two offices in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar was just the beginning of collaboration between Tanzania and the PLO. Much of the support Tanzania gave to Palestine centred on diplomatic support. The PLO sought and received assistance from the Tanzanian government for their struggle for land and statehood. Tanzania provided diplomatic support for some of the PLO initiatives, particularly at international organizations such as the United Nations. One such example came in September 1974 when the PLO was planning to make their case at the UN General Assembly meeting. Yasser Arafat sent his representative Fnu Hilmy to inform Tanzanian officials about their plans at the Assembly and sought support. Tanzania was among a group of nations that supported the Palestinian cause at the UN. This support was important in pushing the Palestinian agenda at the UN. For example, the United Nations passed resolution 3210 in October 14, 1974 inviting the PLO to participate in the General Assembly deliberations on the question of Palestine. Tanzania played a key role in getting the UN to recognize the PLO. Salim Ahmed Salim was the Tanzanian representative to the UN at the time. Salim managed to build a coalition made up of African and Communist countries to secure the UN’s recognition of PLO in 1974. Opening the door for PLO participation in UN deliberations was very important for the Palestinian cause. Another important resolution was passed in November 22, 1974; resolution 3237 gave the PLO observer status at the UN. This was an important diplomatic victory for Palestine.
Tanzania co-sponsored a resolution on Palestine at the Security Council in January 1976. Pakistan, Romania, and Panama were the other countries that helped draft the resolution on Palestine. Tanzania suggested the PLO be invited to participate in the deliberations. The group agreed to let Pakistan present the resolution to the Security Council. One of the items of the draft resolution was ‘political independence’ of all states in the area and the ‘right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.’ Salim consulted with Libya, Panama, Guyana, and Sweden, France and Pakistan about the initial draft of the resolution. Salim encountered some reservations from Guyana and Panama; they were particularly concerned about a paragraph that identified 1967 occupied territory. Salim was fighting an uphill battle at the UN. The Egyptian delegate had already given up the fight in drafting the resolution stating that it would be impossible to get the nine votes necessary to pass the resolution because of the wording.  The debates on the resolution continued in the course of January 1976. The resolution received enough votes to pass, but was defeated by a US veto.
Drafting UN resolutions that had a chance to pass was difficult; this challenge partly reflected the support that Israel enjoyed from the West, particularly from the US. There were many debates in 1976 on resolutions affecting Palestine and Israel. Eventually, the UNGA and the Security Council agreed to pass a number of tepid resolutions. The UN Security Council resolution 390 adopted on May 28, 1976, noted efforts to find peace in the Middle East and expressed concerns over continued tension. The Assembly passed more resolutions in November and December of 1976. Resolution 31/6-E of November 9, 1976 condemned collaboration between Israel and South Africa. About two weeks later, the UN passed resolution 31/20 that expressed concern that a just resolution to the Palestinian problem had not been found. Resolution 31/186 of December 16, 1976, requested a Special Committee to investigate Israeli practices affecting human rights in the occupied territories. Other resolutions failed to pass because of the US veto. The US vetoed Resolution S/11940 of January 26, 1976 calling on Israel to withdraw from all Palestinian territories. The draft resolution would have recognized the ‘national rights’ of the Palestinians and demanded withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967. Nine countries including, Tanzania, Benin, France, Pakistan, and Japan, voted for the resolution. Britain, Sweden, and Italy abstained; China and Libya decided not to take part citing the fact that the resolution did not go far enough for them. [15 The resolution was defeated by the US veto. This was followed by another veto of resolution S/12022 of March 25, 1976 calling on Israel to uphold protection of holy places. The resolution was critical of Israel for taking measures ‘aimed at changing the physical, cultural, demographic and religious character of occupied territories’ and for establishing settlements and violating human rights of the Palestinians.  All the countries voted in support of the resolution except the US. The resolution was once again defeated by a US veto. Lastly, the US vetoed UN resolution S/12119 of June 29, 1976 that affirmed Palestinian rights of return and sovereignty in Palestine. The attempts to pass UN resolutions that mildly condemned Israel for violating basic human rights failed, mostly because of US vetoes.
The efforts of the Tanzanian delegation to the UN in 1976 and the US use of veto reveals the challenges of addressing key issues in the conflict and secure lasting peace. The example of the steps taken by Tanzania and other countries in the course of 1976 serves to highlight the commitment of a few countries to uphold the principles of freedom and equality. This struggle has changed little for the Palestinian people over the past thirty years. Peace continues to evade this small, but important region of the world. The key to finding a lasting solution is to build an environment of mutual trust between Israelis and Palestinians. Longstanding fears and concerns of both sides must be addressed if progress towards finding a lasting peace is to be achieved. Most importantly, attempts to broker peace must be built on the platform of basic human rights for all the parties involved.
Nyerere summarized his views towards Palestine in 1984 just before he resigned as Tanzania’s leader. He told the Egyptian scholar and human rights activist, Nawal El Saadawi that:
‘We have never hesitated in our support for the right of the people of Palestine to have their own land. Our generation was a generation of nationalists struggle for the independence of our own countries-that is what we were there for-but the plight of the Palestinians is very different and much worse. When we were fighting for our independence, I was in Tanganyika, Kenyatta was in Kenya…But the Palestinian plight is more terrible and unjust; they have been deprived of their own country, they are a nation without a land of their own. They therefore deserve the support of Tanzania and the entire world. The world must hear their voice and give them understanding and support.’ 
 “Hitler Ready to Invade East Africa,” The Chicago Defender, 10-22-1938
 See “the Man with Blood on his Hands” http://www.ntz.info/gen/n00497.html, accessed 7-17-2014
 “Nazi Youths Organize in West Africa,” The Chicago Defender, 10-2-1937
 “Africans in Demonstration Against Nazi Germany,” The Chicago Defender, 11-5-1938
 “Britain May Offer lands to the Jews,” The Chicago Defender, 12-17-1938
 “Tanganyika to Aid Jewish Colonization,” The Chicago Defender, 12-24-1938
 Haroub Othman, “Africa’s Solidarity With Palestine,” http://www.aapsorg.org/en/vision-of-bandung-after-50-years/541-africas-solidarity-with-palestine.html, accessed 7-18-2014
 “Invitation to 74 Nations,” The Times, 1-21-1974.
 Message Text from US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, 5-22-1974. http://aad.archives.gov/aad/createpdf?rid=93625&dt=2474&dl=1345, 7-23-2014
 An American diplomat assessing the development conjectured that Jumbe’s decision to allow the PLO to open an office may have partly come as the result of pressure from mainland Tanzania. Message Text, http://aad.archives.gov/aad/createpdf?rid=15283&dt=2476&dl=1345,
 Message Text from US Embassy in Dar Es Salaam written by Carter, 9-23-1974, http://aad.archives.gov/aad/createpdf?rid=193807&dt=2474&dl=1345, 7-23-2014
 See William Safire, “Third World’s War,” The New York Times, 11-25-1974
 Message Text, 1-27-1976, http://aad.archives.gov/aad/createpdf?rid=129662&dt=2082&dl=1345,
 Message Text, -1-22-1976, http://aad.archives.gov/aad/createpdf?rid=127207&dt=2082&dl=1345,
 “Americans Veto New Middle East Resolution,” The Times, 1-27-1976
 “Arabs Deride US Veto of UN Censure,” The Times, 3-27-1976
 “President Nyerere Talks to El Mussar” Interview conducted by Nawal El Saadawi, 1984, in Chambi Chachage and Annar Cassam, eds., Africa’s Liberation: The Legacy of Nyerere, Cape Town: Pambazuka Press, 2010, 8.
* Azaria Mbughuni is an Assistant Professor of African History at Spelman College in Atlanta, USA.