A Mixed Reaction From the Americas on Gaza
— Blue DuPage (@BlueDuPage) August 5, 2014
As a 72-hour ceasefire begins between Israel and Hamas, the devastation in Gaza can be seen with stories, photos and comments. More than 1,800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and more than 50 Israelis, nearly all soldiers, are dead.
What is interesting is the reaction toward the destruction occurring in Gaza as government officials, celebrities and even civilians take a stance. Specifically, the reaction in North America and South America merit discussion about the stances taken by governments on this issue.
Of course, the United States has been scrutinized intensely as its position as a superpower and the billions of dollars in aid to Israel force it to take a stand on this issue.
Perhaps the U.S. position could be found in a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on July 29 by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) titled “Supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, and for other purposes.” It passed with the vote of every Senate member, both Democrat and Republican. It seems on foreign policy both parties are unanimous on what is needed. Regardless, the text of the resolution included a few interesting parts such as:
Whereas the Government of Israel has taken significant steps to protect civilians in Gaza, including dropping leaflets in Gaza neighborhoods in advance of Israeli military attacks, calling Palestinians on the phone urging them to evacuate certain areas before the military strikes targets, and issuing warnings to civilians in advance of firing on buildings;
Whereas Hamas intentionally uses civilians as human shields;
Whereas the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to accept a biased resolution establishing a Commission of Inquiry to determine if Israel violated human rights and humanitarian law during the ongoing conflict with Gaza; and (Emphasis mine)
A satirical piece in The Onion more accurately describes what Palestinians face escaping from Israeli missiles. The reality is Israel has not taken any “significant steps to protect civilians in Gaza” and they are dying at the careless hands of the Israeli government.
Furthermore, the argument that Hamas uses civilians as human shields is an argument without evidence*. Amnesty International actually debunked this claim while dispelling myths about the conflict in Gaza:
Amnesty International is monitoring and investigating such reports, but does not have evidence at this point that Palestinian civilians have been intentionally used by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups during the current hostilities to ‘shield’ specific locations or military personnel or equipment from Israeli attacks.
In fact, journalist Rania Khalek found Israelis use Palestinians as shields for soldiers through the “neighbor procedure.” This procedure is when “Israeli soldiers force Palestinian civilians to approach armed suspects as well as homes potentially rigged with explosives to protect the lives of soldiers.”
“If anyone should be condemned for using human shields, it is clearly Israel,” Khalek said.
Finally, the resolution accuses the Human Rights Council of a “biased resolution,” despite legitimate claims Israel committed human rights violations. One example can be seen through the bombings of UN schools. Even the White House called it “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.”
The resolution cannot be considered biased if 29 countries voted for it even though the U.S. voted against it. It is not as if the other countries developed a conspiracy around the resolution.
Anyway, the Senate resolution, filled with errors, had the support of all the Senators, including the ones championed as progressive such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). To understand where they stand on Israel and Palestine, the latter two did not post anything about it on their websites, while Warren’s website has a section where she defends Israel’s right to exist and vows to defend them in the Senate:
To me, it is a moral imperative to support and defend Israel, and I am committed to ensuring its long-term security by maintaining its qualitative military edge. Israel must be able to defend itself from the serious threats it faces from terrorist organizations to hostile states, including Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and others.
Her efforts against greed on Wall Street should be praised, but the job of a U.S. Senator is not just on finance. It includes foreign policy and her efforts are severely lacking here.
For instance, Canada, specifically Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his administration, have taken such a pro-Israel stance that as York University professor Reg Whitaker said “Canada is closer to Israel then just about any other country in the world.” He explained, while speaking to The Real News, just how significant this policy was:
There’s no daylight between the Israeli government position and the Canadian government position. It has been one of the leading elements of Canadian foreign policy under the Harper Conservative government that the support for Israel is simply unequivocal, as he has often said.
Yet Canada does much more than provide political backing for Israel’s actions in Gaza. Journalist Yves Engler reported three years ago how the Canadian government, through its tax system, subsidizes Israeli settlements. Not only does Israel have Canada’s support, but also the financial backing for its expansion.
Such reaction from the North American countries, however, are not the same among Latin American countries. In fact, the response from countries in South America has been opposite to what North America has been doing.
For instance, Bolivia changed its customs policy to make Israelis obtain a visa in order to enter the country as Israel’s status changed. It moved from the first group, used for a few requirements for certain foreigners, to the third group:
“[To] pass to the third group signifies, in other words, that we are declaring [Israel] a terrorist state,” Evo Morales, Bolivian president, said.
The country broke relations with Israel in 2009 for “crimes against humanity” against Palestinians. Morales said a genocide was occurring in Gaza and felt the change was necessary because of what was happening.
Ecuador, and other countries like Brazil, El Salvador and Chile, recalled their ambassadors from Israel in protest for what was happening in the region. Countries like Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay canceled talks with Israel on free trade agreements. While there is a lot to discuss, such as the hesitation of Argentina and Uruguay to recall their ambassadors due to their large Jewish population, such a stance surely trumps any action by either the U.S. or Canada.
In terms of Argentina, it was in discussions with Israel over the safety of Argentinian priest Jorge Hernández and the group of people with him in Gaza. The Argentinian government warned Israel his safety was in their hands and relations would be jeopardized if anything happened.
Hernández is located at the Holy Family Parish in Gaza, where, as the articles above note, 30 disabled children, nine elderly civilians, and six nuns also reside.
Overall, such a reaction from the Americas is mixed with both good actions and bad actions toward the destruction in Gaza. Yet what stood out was the stance by Club Deportivo Palestino, a soccer team playing in Chile’s first division. The club was formed in 1920 by Palestinians living in Chile and has been playing the top flight of Chilean soccer for most of its history.
Before their match against Cobreloa, the players came out in support of Palestine amid the chaos occurring in Gaza. Journalist Bruno Scelza of El Pais, a Uruguayan newspaper, stated their appearance had offended some in the Jewish community who called for a form of punishment for their stance. Scelza wrote:
The players went to the field with another jersey but with the map of ancient Palestine painted on their wrist, on their left [arm] the colors of Palestine and black on the right [arm] as a symbol of mourning for the victims in Gaza.
If a football team in the National Football League or a baseball team in Major League Baseball took such a stance, it would be considered treason by certain members of the establishment media. This is what makes their public position so important amid the reactions from governments and the media.
The governments in these continents understand how volatile the situation is and sometimes take into consideration their own population’s attitudes. However, what is happening in Gaza cannot be ignored and actions do speak louder than words. By doing nothing, countries are contributing to the crisis. Such actions taken by these governments clearly show where they stand.
* Update: Based on a commenter’s point, there seems to be some credibility to this statement in the Senate resolution as found here.