Internationalist solidarity with the Palestinian cause has the potential for reawakening in the aftermath of Israel’s latest aggression against Gaza. As activists worldwide shifted their focus to Israel’s systematic colonial violence spanning decades, rather than days of human rights violations and war crimes, the potential to influence politics is higher than it was in recent years. Until now, protests were limited to specific Israeli actions and the outcry diminished as soon as the settler-colonial state deemed it had caused enough destruction in the blockaded enclave.
In an example of coordinated and sequential pressure, the Chile-Palestine Interparliamentary Group in the Chilean Congress drafted a bill calling for a boycott of Israeli settlement products, and for importations to be designated and penalized as smuggling.
Pro-Israel groups in Chile, namely the Jewish Community of Chile and the Chilean Community of Israel, immediately condemned the bill. Quoted in the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Community of Chile declared, “If a motion like this is successful, we would be the only country in the world to take a trade boycott measure of this magnitude against a democratic state like Israel.”
The draft bill builds upon earlier initiatives in 2018, calling on the government to boycott Israeli settlements.
The draft bill builds upon earlier initiatives in 2018, when the Chilean Congress had approved a resolution, which passed with a majority, calling upon the Chilean government to boycott Israeli settlements and to ensure that its agreements with Israel are related to the territories within the Green Line. Additionally, the resolution also had called for available guidelines to be given to Chileans visiting or doing business with Israel that explained the historical context and cautioned against supporting colonization or becoming complicit in Israeli violations in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT).
During the campaigning for the Chilean presidential elections in 2017, the presidential candidate for the left-wing Patriotic Union party had also criticized the Chilean government’s ties with Israel and pledged a review of all agreements with Israel, should he be elected. However, Chileans voted for the right-wing Sebastian Piñera, who was the first Chilean president to visit Israel during his previous tenure also as President in 2011. Piñera adopted a stance akin to other governments worldwide: recognizing the state of Palestine while maintaining and increasing ties with Israel.
If this latest bill is successful, Chile would make inroads in demonstrating how activism can influence political decision-making.
Of all countries in Latin America, Chile is well-positioned to take a leading role in the region when it comes to internationalist solidarity with the Palestinian people. The country is home to the largest Palestinian community in the region, numbering over 500,000. Dating back to the first emigration during the Ottoman Empire in the 1880s, Palestinians also found refuge in Chile in the aftermath of the British Mandate of 1922, the Nakba in 1948, and the Six-Day War in 1967.
Chile is home to the largest Palestinian community in the region, numbering over 500,000.
Palestinian Chileans are among the most organized communities in the diaspora. Their strength lies partly in the way Palestinians have established themselves in Chile, making inroads in academia, sports, education, and politics. Perhaps the most prominent Palestinian Chilean currently is Daniel Jadue, Mayor of Recoleta and a candidate for the forthcoming Chilean presidential elections to be held in November. Speaking to Mondoweiss, Jadue stated, “I want to take Chile away from the remains of the dictatorship and of neoliberalism.”
In terms of activism, Palestinian Chileans have established common ground with Chilean human rights organizations dealing with trauma and collective memory relating to the dictatorship era of Augusto Pinochet. In turn, the same Chilean organizations have regularly expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian cause.
The recent demonstrations in Chile’s capital city, Santiago, organized by the Palestinian Federation of Chile, was described by the organization’s President, Maurice Khamis, as continuing action “to make visible what’s happening in Palestine and to pressure the government to come out with a statement and get out of the logic of the (stalemate).”
Chile’s indigenous people – the Mapuche – share a similar struggle with the Palestinians in terms of land confiscation and the criminalization of resistance. The Araucania region is a site of struggle for the Mapuche, who were massacred during the military campaigns by the Chilean army between 1861 and 1883, as it sought to occupy indigenous land to incorporate into the Chilean state. During the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, the Mapuche were stripped of their indigeneity as part of the neoliberal industrialization of the region, which continues to date under a democratically elected government.
The Chilean government is one of the region’s prominent purchasers of Israel’s weapons and surveillance systems.
Furthermore, the Chilean government is one of the region’s prominent purchasers of Israel’s weapons and surveillance systems, which are discriminately applied to the Mapuche, in much the same manner as Israel’s military power is regularly tested upon Palestinians in Gaza. In 2018, Israel’s Major General Yaacov Barak met with the Chilean Army’s Commander-in-Chief Ricardo Martínez to sign a memorandum for collaboration in military education and training methods.
While news of the draft bill remained underreported in both mainstream and alternative media, Chile’s strong links to Palestine through the Palestinian community, as well as the common experience of ethnic cleansing of the indigenous in both countries, are strong foundations upon which to build a unified, political approach that stems from activism and collective memory.
With an active community, and individuals who are in a position to influence society, Palestinian Chileans are in a unique situation to further support for the Palestinian struggle. The community’s focus on its history and roots is one that spans decades. Therefore any political approach that is influenced by activism, such as the current draft bill that takes its inspiration from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), is not drawn out of impulse, but is rather a result of organized campaigning and understanding.
Having interparliamentary support for the draft bill illustrates how support for Palestine in Chile navigates the entire political spectrum. On a political level, hence, there is considerable cohesion which can be built upon, even as activism on the ground continues to find similarities between the Palestinian and the Mapuche struggle.
The solidarity between Chileans and the Mapuche reflects the commonality in their struggles.
Since Chile erupted in protests in 2019, calling for a new constitution to replace Pinochet’s dictatorial legacy, the unified approach throughout the country resulted in the inclusion of Mapuche representatives in the redrafting of the new charter. The solidarity between Chileans and the Mapuche reflects the commonality in their struggles, in much the same way as Palestinians across historic Palestine rose in a shared narrative against colonialism and its violence in Sheikh Jarrah, the West Bank, and Gaza.
Considering the region’s historical links to Israel, particularly prior to dissidence against US-backed dictatorships in Latin America, as well as the strong presence of Palestinian Chileans in the country, Chile’s potential to lead the region in internationalist solidarity for Palestine should not be undermined or underestimated.
The draft bill was not tied to the latest Israeli atrocities that held media attention while they lasted. However, the timing is something that activists can use to influence political outcomes. With Chile moving towards the elections and a new constitution, it is indeed time that the Chilean government utilizes the precepts of BDS to consider and implement a complete rupture with neoliberalism, including military and economic deals with Israel.