avatar
Washington Should Follow Latin America’s Lead in Condemning Israel’s War on Palestine


Major conflicts have flared up across the globe in recent months, many of which have their roots in US foreign policy and past imperial interventions. In the case of Israel’s offensive against Palestine, the difference between reactions from Washington and Latin America highlight new power configurations in a multi-polar world. On the one hand, Washington remains complicit in Israel’s war crimes, and on the other, Latin American governments have taken a stand with the Palestinian people, on the right side of history.

Throughout Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Palestine, which began on July 8th of this year, US President Barack Obama has stated his support for the country’s “right to defend itself,” and has continued the crucial $3 billion in annual assistance sent to Israel from Washington – which in recent years makes up about a quarter of the nation’s entire defense budget.

News of Israel’s harrowing violence unleashed on Palestine has covered the front pages of media outlets around the world – demolished homes and hospitals, bombed schools where sleeping children were taking refuge, an injured civilian searching for loved ones shot dead by an Israeli sniper, teenagers playing soccer on the beach murdered by Israeli rockets, and on and on. This violence has continued for weeks, all under the pretext of Israel “defending” itself. The death toll alone speaks volumes: since Israel’s offensive officially began, some 1,938 Palestinians (most of them civilians) and 67 Israelis, including 3 civilians, are dead.

Washington has encouraged such violence against Palestine, most recently going as far as resupplying Israel with weapons in the midst of the onslaught in late July, even while officially calling for a ceasefire.

As Washington supports Israel’s violence, Latin American heads of state have stood up against the offensive, acting as moral leaders for the hemisphere, and demonstrating their independence from the historically-hegemonic empire to the north.
Five countries in the region, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and El Salvador, have recalled their ambassadors from Israel in protest against Operation Protective Edge – Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba having already done so in the past – while other leaders throughout the region have condemned Israel’s offensive in words and actions.

“Chile notes with great concern and dismay that such military operations, which at this stage of development are subject to a collective punishment against the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, do not respect fundamental rules of international humanitarian law,” the Chilean government explained in a statement. “The scale and intensity of Israeli operations in Gaza violate the principle of proportionality in the use of force, an essential requirement to justify self-defense.”

Across the region, the argument that Israel was simply defending itself against Hamas was dismissed, as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called the Israeli attacks a “massacre” and Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa denounced the “genocide that is being committed in the Gaza Strip.” Uruguayan President José Mujica also called Israel’s actions against Gaza “genocide,” explaining that “everyone has the right to defend themselves, but there are defenses that have a limit, that you can’t do, such as bombing hospitals, children and the elderly.”

The views of these leaders shared the sentiments of protesters filling the streets of Latin America who have been marching against Israel’s violence. They also represented a radical departure from the era when many Latin American heads of state were simply Washington’s puppets in the empire’s backyard. Today, new trade and political blocs in the region challenge US power, as well as that of its close ally, Israel.

Such a shift in North-South relations was evident at a recent meeting in Caracas of the members of the South American trade bloc Mercosur. In the face of Israel’s crimes, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela, four of the five full Mercosur members, released a joint statement at the meeting in which they condemned the “disproportionate use of force by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, which in the majority affects civilians, including children and women. … We urge an immediate lifting of the blockade that is affecting the Gazan population, so that the free movement of people, food, medicine and humanitarian aid can flow freely in and out, both by land and sea.” At the time of this writing, Venezuela is flying twelve tons of humanitarian aid to Palestine.

Bolivian President Evo Morales went even further, declaring Israel a “terrorist state,” revoking an agreement with Israel signed in 1972 which allows Israelis to enter Bolivia without a visa. (Israeli citizens now have to apply to enter the country.) Morales explained, “Israel does not respect the principles or purposes of the United Nations charter nor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In July, the president filed a request with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prosecute Israel for “crimes against humanity.”

Israel’s foreign ministry responded to this backlash in Latin America: “Israel expects countries who oppose terrorism to act responsibly and not to hand terrorists a prize.” Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor even called Brazil a “diplomatic dwarf” for recalling its ambassador.

Yet in spite of this strong rhetoric in the diplomatic and political arena, it is still unclear to what extent Latin American leaders will sever economic ties with Israel, boycotting the country in protest. Israel’s exports to Latin America in electronics, medicine and weapons have been on the rise for years, and the country recently became an “observer state” in the Pacific Alliance trade bloc involving Chile, Mexico, Colombia and Peru. In a meeting in held Tel Aviv to complete a bilateral trade deal, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said, “If somebody called my country the Israel of Latin America, I would be very proud.”

On Saturday, August 9th, thousands of protesters filled in the streets of Santiago, Chile to demand that the Chilean government break all of its ties with Israel. Uasim Barros, a protester of Palestinian descent, participated in the march, telling The Jerusalem Post, “We are present at this march to demand that the Chilean state, once and for all, break all types of relationships with Israel. The government would be acting as an accomplice to this huge massacre that Israel is carrying out against Palestine.”

Time will tell how far Latin American leaders will go in fully breaking ties with Israel in the face of its aggression. In the meantime, Washington would do well to follow the lead of its counterparts in the south and stand with the Palestinian people.

Benjamin Dangl is a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. He edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: @bendangl

Leave a comment