Over the past month, Israel and Palestine have made international headlines for what is being recognized as a conflict between the Israeli army and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, after the October 7 bombing in Southern Israel that left 1,400 people dead. At least 3,400 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 12,000 have been injured in the wake of that night, according to the Palestinian Health Authority. The reactions across the globe have ranged widely and almost every country has expressed solidarity with either Israel or Palestine — who, as a result of the violence, have allies and enemies. Colombia, for example, officially declared its support for Palestine and likewise, pro-Palestine movements have grown throughout other countries in Latin America including Mexico and Venezuela.
With the ongoing violence that’s led to the death of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians, the conflict has received global media coverage and gripped people on social media. As a result, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation rising as we are watching events unfold. It’s more important than ever that we are aware of what exactly is happening, the long history of events that led up to it, the historic ties between Palestine and Latin America, and how we as a community can show up. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide but a starting place for education and allyship. Read on to learn more about the Free Palestine movement and how to help victims of the violence.
A Brief History of #FreePalestine
Many of us have only become aware of what has been happening in Palestine since October 7th when Hamas launched a violent surprise attack on Israeli towns during a Jewish holiday. But in fact, the issue of Palestine’s status as a free state has been an issue since the 19th century. Then and now, Israeli forces have been fueled by an ideology known as Zionism, the belief that Jewish people deserve their own homeland or state because of the suffering and persecution they have endured for centuries. The United Nations explains that it was during Great Britain’s Mandatory Power of Palestine, decided on by the League of Nations at that time following the end of World War I, that Zionists worked to establish the land as their national home:
“During the period of the Mandate, the Zionist Organization worked to secure the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. The Indigenous people of Palestine, whose forefathers had inhabited the land for virtually the two preceding millennia felt this design to be a violation of their natural and inalienable rights. They also viewed it as an infringement of assurances of independence given by the Allied Powers to Arab leaders in return for their support during the war. The result was mounting resistance to the Mandate by Palestinian Arabs, followed by resort to violence by the Jewish community as the Second World War drew to a close.”
Today in the Israeli-occupied territory of Gaza, 2 million Palestinians live in what is often called “the world’s largest open-air prison” (i.e. an internment camp). They are restricted by military checkpoints where they are regularly searched and interrogated, face regular missile attacks, have had their homes destroyed, have been arrested without cause, and are legally discriminated against. On the international stage, they also lack autonomy or power against the colonization of the land. The U.S. is one of the world powers, along with Australia and the U.K., who do not recognize the State of Palestine. Recently, President Joe Biden voiced his support of Israel during a press conference in Tel Aviv: “I come to Israel with a simple message: You are not alone.”
On October 7th, the militant group Hamas launched a revolt against Israel where they killed thousands of Israelis in response to decades of Israeli occupation. Civilians and soldiers alike were shot, burnt, and tortured as seen in photos and videos released by Israeli intelligence from body cams and phone videos. The attack received widespread condemnation from at least 44 countries worldwide, many of whom have stated their unconditional support for Israel.
Since that date, Israel has set into motion a counterattack against Palestine that many have recognized as genocide. The 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, more than half of whom are children, currently have no access to food, water, electricity, or fuel. Doctors at the few hospitals left standing have been forced to perform surgeries on the wounded without anesthesia and store dead bodies in ice cream trucks. In addition, over the past 10 days, Israel has dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza, an unrelenting attack that has destroyed residential areas, civilian evacuation routes, and refugee camps, as well as massacred more than 2,000 people and displaced one million as of October 16th. On average, that is one Palestinian child every 15 minutes or one Palestinian every five minutes. As a result, at least “45 three-generation families have been killed, wiped from the civil registry,” according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Latin America’s Ties to the Palestinian Community
There have been divided responses to current events throughout LATAM. While Brazil, Chile, and Mexico officially remain neutral, there are others like El Salvador and Argentina, which has the largest Jewish community in the region (about 200,00), that have condemned Hamas and the loss of civilian life, and solidified their support for Israel. Venezuela, Bolivia, and Colombia, on the other hand, have offered their full support to Palestine and their fight for liberation, and have demanded an end to the genocide and Israeli occupation.
The mixed reactions are in large part because of the political relationships between Israel, Palestine, and Latin American countries that have existed for as long as Palestine has fought for their independence. For example, Israel has played a role in crimes against humanity across Latin America throughout history, particularly against their Indigenous populations. In the 1980s, Israel not only trained and armed the Guatemalan military but also provided funding that would allow them to commit genocide against Indigenous Mayans. This system of providing military training, supplying arms, and selling surveillance tech to oppress and massacre children, activists, and indigenous groups has been replicated in other LATAM countries as well like Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.
At the same time, LATAM has proven to be a safe haven for Palestinian immigrants. As of 2019, half a million Palestinians live in Chile nearly a century after fleeing an oppressive Ottoman empire. A similar story can be found in Honduras and El Salvador where thousands of Palestinians fled for their safety. In these countries, the Palestinian influence can be felt today in the culture, food, music, art, and business and political life.
As much as Latin America is currently supporting Palestine in this way, it’s still important to do our part on an individual level. It’s worth emphasizing that both innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives are worth saving and protecting. Like any community that is not a monolith, not every Israeli is a Zionist and not every Palestinian supports Hamas. But whether we’re part of the Latinx community in the U.S. (which continues to provide unconditional aid to Israel) or in LATAM, we have all been complicit in or witness to ethnic cleansing, oppression, and genocide. So here are ways to support the movement as well as how to support victims of the violence.
5 Ways You Can Help
1. Educate yourself
One way to show up for the Free Palestine movement is to educate ourselves on the history of the territory and what is happening in the modern day. While this article is a place to start, we recommend seeking out lists of thoroughly researched books and films. Book publishers like Haymarket Books, Pluto Books, Penguin Random House, and Social Justice Books have put together their list of Palestinian and Israeli-authored books for readers of all ages offering insight into the history, culture, and people. Many of them are discounted or come with a free ebook. Additionally, there are Palestinian films and documentaries that cover the history and day-to-day life in the region that are available on a variety of streaming services, including Netflix. The more informed we are, the more we can educate others and open up conversations about the movement. Thomas L. Freidman , Alan Dowty, Sam Bahour, and Fida Jiryis are prominent writers who have discussed the issue for U.S. publications.
2. Donate to reliable organizations and charities
If you have the funds, donations are a great, immediate way to support affected civilians and refugees. A few organizations that need support include Project Hope, Anera, and Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Note that when researching organizations on your own, pay attention to the language that is used and be sure you understand where exactly your money is going. If you are unable to donate, you can also share info about these organizations and others you feel comfortable supporting within your community to raise awareness.
3. Share information on social media
Whether it’s reposting videos or photos of what is happening on the ground in Gaza, educational and informational posts, or other important information shared by those currently in Palestine and Israel, it’s crucial to use social media as a means of raising awareness, educate people on the history beyond the current violence, and encouraging your followers to express their support. As with any resource, be mindful of misinformation and fact-check everything before you share or repost. In recent days, Western media has been accused of pro-Israel bias so be aware of what you share from mainstream media outlets and sources.
4. Contact your local, state, and national representatives
One way to directly take action is to call or email political representatives who represent you. Whether by phone or email, it’s important to contact the government and let them know your position on current events and how you want them to take action. You can find your representative online and reach out to call for a cease fire, to demand an end to Israeli occupation, and to encourage a peaceful way forward.
5. Organize/attend protests
Consider organizing or attending protests in your area. Physically showing up and taking advantage of our constitutional right to protest is one of the most important things we can do to let the world know that current events are not going unnoticed. If you can, bring a friend and take proper measures to ensure that you are protected and safe.
As events continue unfolding, the future of Israel and Palestine remains unclear. But what is certain is that any more loss of innocent civilian life is an atrocity and there must be peace in the region. For now, all we can do is fight, speak up, and speak out.