As a ceasefire takes hold, it is time to reflect on the range of responses to the seven-week conflict in Gaza. Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge—Israel’s name for its latest military incursion into the Gaza Strip—pro-Palestinian demonstrations have occurred across the globe. July 26 saw massive solidarity protests erupt in cities across six continents. An August 16action, in which roughly a thousand Bay Area activists blocked an Israeli cargo vessel from docking in the Oakland port, raised awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and applied economic pressure on Israel for its role in creating those circumstances.
While protests have been far-reaching, they have had mixed success in swaying politicians. Unsurprisingly, elected officials in the United States have been all but deaf to calls for justice in Palestine. On August 1, all one hundred U.S. Senators voted to allocate $225 million of emergency funds to rearm Israel in the midst of a conflict, which at that point had killed over 1,600 Palestinians, three-quarters of them civilians. But for politicians south of the U.S. border, steadfast loyalty to Tel Aviv is by no means the norm. Recently, many governments in Latin America have been joining their populations in condemning Israeli aggression.
This report (produced for KPFA radio) zeroes in on a group of people—camped out in the most important public space in Buenos Aires, Argentina—trying to bring attention to suffering in Gaza and garner support from their government for the Palestinian cause. More generally, the report is motivated by one question with undeniable relevance to global solidarity activism: why is Latin America standing up for Palestine?
(Transcript of radio report follows)
Voice of protestor: “Hasta la victoria!”
The people at this protest encampment outside the presidential building in Argentina’s capital are not here to draw attention to their country’s staggering debt crisis or any other local or national issue. They are pro-Palestinian activists and they want, in their own words, an end to the genocide in Gaza. Fatima Paz, a member of the Argentina chapter of the Global Campaign for the Return to Palestine, is among this group. She says that Argentina and the other South American countries comprising the Mercosur common market must use their power to isolate Israel for its heinous treatment of Palestinians.
Fatima Paz:“We are here in the Plaza de Mayo, supporting the Palestinian cause and opposing the genocide, which the Zionist entity, Israel, is unleashing on Palestine. And we demand that the government of Argentina expels the Zionist ambassador from the country, breaks off relations with these perpetrators of genocide, and within the Mercosur cuts off free trade agreements pertaining to commerce between Israel and the Mercosur.”
For listeners in the United States, Paz’s demands may sound unrealistic. Politicians in the United States are extremely reluctant to censure Israel for what the United Nations and nearly every country in the world calls violations of international law. Here’s a Republican senator speaking on the current war between Israel and Hamas. LindseyGraham (R-SC): “I just want the United States government to be informed and to give Israel the space to deal with the terror tunnels and rocket attacks.” Here’s a Democrat. Charles Schumer (D-NY): “But when you think about it: who is to blame for this, who has caused it—it’s Hamas.”
While US officials may be just about uniform in their defense of Israel, this is not the case in Latin America. In response to its current military campaign in Gaza, which has killed civilians overwhelmingly, Bolivian President Evo Morales declared Israel, “a terrorist state.” Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, and El Salvador recently withdrew their ambassadors from Tel Aviv, and the President of Argentina joined the heads of state of Brazil, Venezuela, and Uruguay in issuing a “special communiqué,” condemning Israel’s “disproportionate use of force.” These official moves are fueled by broad-based sympathies in Latin America for the plights of Palestinians in Gaza. And these sympathies underlie an array of pro-Palestinian social movements and demonstrations like the one here in Buenos Aires.
“This is a general, inevitable, and natural reaction to what is happening.”That’s Rengaraj Viswinathan, a former Indian ambassador to numerous Latin American countries and, currently, a distinguished fellow at the Gateway House, where he recently wrote an analysis of Latin America’s reaction to the war in Gaza. He says part of what’s driving its hostility to Israel is the recognition of a parallel between the mistreatment of Latin Americans by US-backed dictators in the 20th century and the ongoing mistreatment of the Palestinians by an Israeli government that is funded and supported diplomatically by the United States.
Ambassador Viswinathan: “Latin Americans feel that Israel is able to do this with impunity because of the absolute support it receives from the United States. The same thing happened in Latin America where a number of dictators…they killed and disappeared people, sent people to exile and displaced populations, because of the strong support they received from the US and encouraged in some cases by the US.”
Viswanathan says that the end of dictatorships in places like Chile and Argentina coincided with the rise of a free press—the same free press now covering the wide-scale destruction of Gaza. But in the United States, media coverage of Palestinian perspectives is lacking, says Viswanathan. To take one example: in the early stages of this latest round of violence, CNN featured Israeli officials 4 times as much as Palestinian officials. But despite this gap in coverage, attitudes in the United States may be shifting. In a recent Gallup poll asking Americans whether they thought Israel’s actions in Gaza were justified, 51% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 said that they were not.