"Nelson Mandela Gets Warm Welcome in Gaza:
"Former South African leader calls on Israel to pull out of occupied lands"
October 20, 1999
Web posted at: 9:34 p.m. EDT (0134 GMT)
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinians gave Nelson Mandela a hero's welcome when he visited Gaza Wednesday, and the former South African president said he would press Israel to release all Palestinian prisoners.
"It is a realization of a dream for me to be here to come and pledge my solidarity with my friend Yasser Arafat," Mandela said.
Mandela also addressed a special session of the Palestinian assembly, telling legislators that "the histories of our two peoples correspond in such painful and poignant ways that I intensely feel myself at home amongst my compatriots."
Mandela, who fought against white minority rule in his homeland, and Arafat, the Palestinian leader, say they nurtured each other through some of their most difficult times as each worked toward the goal of self-determination for their peoples.
Mandela recalled a time when both movements were treated as pariahs by the international community -- a period that saw the forging of close bonds between the Palestinians and his African National Congress.
"The long-standing fraternal bonds between our two liberation movements are now translating into the relations between two governments," Mandela said.
But Mandela's visit was more than symbolic. He touted the political message that Israel needs to give up all occupied Arab land -- including the Golan Heights and southern Lebanon -- in return for its total recognition within safe borders.
Mandela said he has no doubt that Palestinian leader Arafat "is eager for peace. He is a passionate fighter for peace."
However, some Palestinian critics of Arafat say he has not emulated Mandela's much-praised democratic path in South Africa.
"I don't think (Arafat) has the potential to achieve our dream," opponent Abdul Jawad Salah. "In fact, he has shattered our dream."
Though his speech to the assembly was strongly supportive of the Middle East peace process, Mandela elicited thunderous applause when he stated his opinion that violence becomes an option when peace talks break down.
"Our men and women with vision choose peace rather than confrontation, except in cases where we cannot get, where we cannot proceed, where we cannot move forward," he said.
"Then, if the only alternative is violence, we will use violence," he said. That earned two thunderous minutes of rhythmic applause.
Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.