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‘We have been ignored’: Palestinian diaspora in Guatemala responds to Jerusalem embassy move

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On May 16, 2018, Guatemala followed the U.S.’s contentious example by moving its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, thereby recognizing the city as Israel’s capital to almost unanimous criticism from the international community. Guatemala’s long-standing alliance with Israel was widely mentioned at the time, but little attention was given to the reaction of its own large Palestinian population.

In a bid to overturn the embassy move Guatemalans of Palestinian origin have brought a case to Guatemala’s constitutional court. (A similar and unrelated lawsuit was filed in the same court in January by a lawyer seeking to overturn the embassy move and was rejected by the judges in March.)

Nidal Hanna Alhadweh, head of the group who filed the petition, the Asociación Palestina Guatemalteca, explained that online campaigning and debates are, “changing the Guatemalan mentality, which is largely unaware of the Palestinian cause and supports the state of Israel for religious reasons. …That is why we continue to work with great effort and dedication.”

Unlike most of the international community, Guatemala sided with the the US by voting against a resolution denouncing the change of embassy move at the UN in December.

“As Guatemalans,” Alhadweh wrote days later to his UN representative, “we lament that Guatemala cannot decide on its own international politics and that we have to cede before the pressure of certain countries to which we owe ‘debts.'” Such debts might include, for example, the U.S.’s annual aid of almost $300 million to Guatemala.

Salwa Massis, a prominent Guatemalan of Palestinian descent, told Mondoweiss in a phone interview from Guatemala, the embassy move exacerbated a sense of being overlooked.

“It’s something that disturbed us because it’s as if we’ve just been hiding and, you know, we don’t exist,” she said, adding, “I don’t like the fact that we have been ignored.”

Massis previously was a country representative for the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, a charity which works to reconnect the diaspora with Palestine. Through this organization she visited the occupied Palestinian territory for the first time in 2013 on a heritage program.

“It doesn’t matter if my name is Palestinian…I don’t get to be there for more than three months…Our fathers, mothers, grandparents left the country thinking that one day they would have the chance to return,” she lamented.

Her father immigrated to Guatemala at the age of 9 and her mother at 24.

The Palestinians in Guatemala are approximately 200,000 strong, making them the third largest Palestinian population in Latin America behind Chile and Honduras (with communities of 500,000 and 250,000 respectively).

Although it is difficult to ascertain exactly when the first Palestinian reached Guatemala, the Guatemalan Arab Association (Asociación Arabe Guatemalteca) believes that the first wave of Palestinian emigrants arrived towards the end of the 19th century. However, it was not until 1927 that the first significant migration took place. Numbers increased further in the aftermath of the 1967 war, as Palestinians were forced to leave their homeland and seek refuge elsewhere.

Their presence in the country predates Guatemala’s pro-Israeli policy, which began in October 1947 when the Guatemalan Ambassador to the UN, Jorge Garcia Granados, delivered a fiercely anti-Palestinian address. In this speech, he was emphatically clear about his country’s support for Israel:

“In 25 years, the Jewish people had left upon Palestine the indelible mark of an outstanding culture, which characterised the country even more than the Arab culture: Palestine was no more Arab than certain Spanish countries of Latin America were Indian.”

Over the years, the Palestinian diaspora in Guatemala has seen the damaging effects of the close relationship its state has with Israel. The opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem by President Morales, they say is the latest injustice caused by this alliance but is by no means the first.

When Guatemala stopped receiving arms from the U.S. in the late 1970s, its relationship with Israel strengthened. Israel stepped into the void as Guatemala’s biggest arms supplier and military advisor, with their weapons and training methods aiding the massacres that were perpetrated at this stage of the Guatemalan civil war (which lasted from 1960 to 1996). By the 1980s, roughly 300 Israeli military advisers were working in the country to bolster their ally’s army.

In 1981, Guatemalan Army Chief-of-Staff General Benedicto Lucas Garcia, the man responsible for the “scorched earth” policies which razed 440 villages to the ground, famously remarked that the “Israeli soldier is the model for our soldiers.”

During these years, the Mayans, Guatemala’s indigenous community, suffered enormously: tens of thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Similarities between the treatment of the Mayans in the second half of the 20th century and the Palestinians in 1948 is no coincidence; some of Guatemala’s top generals spoke openly, whilst receiving help from Israel, about the “Palestiniani-zation” of the nation’s Mayan population during the war.

Yet despite the decades of shared military support between Israel and Guatemala, Massis said most people still know very little about Palestinians.

“‘Interesting that it’s [Guatemala] full of places that sell shwarma and falafel, and they [Guatemalans] love hummus…but they don’t know where they come from,” she said.

Rory Macdonald
About Rory Macdonald

Rory Macdonald is a freelance journalist living and working in Bethlehem, Palestine.

Other posts by .


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15 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    July 10, 2018, 8:26 pm

    RE: “‘We have been ignored’: Palestinian diaspora in Guatemala responds to Jerusalem embassy move”

    A BIT OF BACKGROUND:

    Guatemala’s Jimmy Morales Formally Accused of Sex Abuse
    Published 10 July 2018
    Ex-foreign minister Edgar Gutierrez filed a complaint on behalf of two victims whose identities remain undisclosed due security concerns.
    LINK ~ https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Guatemala-Calls-Intensify-for-President-Morales-to-Resign-Over-Corruption-Allegations-20180421-0004.html

    Guatemala: Calls Intensify for President Morales to Resign Over Corruption Allegations
    Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales also faced protest in August of 2017.
    Published 21 April 2018
    LINK ~ https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Guatemala-Calls-Intensify-for-President-Morales-to-Resign-Over-Corruption-Allegations-20180421-0004.html

    After Outcry, Guatemala Admits: Sheldon Adelson Funded Flight to Israel for Embassy Move
    Following days of speculation, Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel says American magnate offered Boeing 767 to officials flying to embassy relocation ceremony
    The Associated Press
    May 25, 2018 9:55 PM
    LINK ~ https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/americas/after-outcry-guatemala-admits-adelson-funded-flight-to-israel-1.6116748

    • JLewisDickerson
      JLewisDickerson
      July 10, 2018, 8:39 pm

      P.S. GOOGLE TRANSLATION:

      The president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, denounced for sexual abuse: “Sometimes it was the bosses who took them away”
      GUATEMALA
      ASIER VERA Guatemala city
      JUL 10 2018 19:23 (7 hours ago)

      ▪ Former Guatemalan foreign minister denounces Jimmy Morales for sexual assault against 12 women

      “It was not suspected that he was an abuser of young girls, as indeed he is, taking advantage of the position.” These statements directly accusing the president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales , were launched on June 18 by the former foreign minister of Guatemala between 2002 and 2004, Edgar Gutiérrez, in his opinion column of a local newspaper. However, Morales fell silent and did not deny these facts at any time. Gutiérrez was not satisfied with writing, but this Monday went to the Public Ministry (MP) to present before the Attorney General, Consuelo Porras, a complaint against the president for sexually abusing 12 young women who work in the Government .

      According to the former minister, they were transferred to the Presidential Palace, as well as other public and private buildings to be subjected to abuse by both Jimmy Morales, as well as other state officials . “In some cases, it was the bosses who carried them,” he reveals. For now, none of them has dared to file a complaint in the fear that their lives are in danger, as Gutiérrez points out, who believes that “silence is not an option”.

      The former minister has already spoken with two of the victims, who have told him that at least ten more women have been sexually abused by the President. “There is a case in which I know the victim directly as a child and that also touches the deepest fiber,” he said after presenting the complaint as a “referential witness”, with the aim of activating the Office of the Prosecutor to initiate a investigation. However, the attorney general, Consuelo Porras, has already clarified that for this, it is necessary for women to give their testimony before prosecutors of Crimes Against Women. At their request, Gutiérrez has not provided his names, so the Prosecutor’s Office can not contact the alleged victims, nor initiate an ex officio investigation until they have knowledge of who it is. . .

      CONTINUED AT – http://www.elmundo.es/internacional/2018/07/10/5b44e98422601dca4e8b45c4.html

    • JLewisDickerson
      JLewisDickerson
      July 10, 2018, 9:13 pm

      P.P.S.
      Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales
      14,779 views
      AIPAC
      Published on Mar 4, 2018
      President of the Republic of Guatemala Jimmy Morales delivers live remarks at the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference.

    • JLewisDickerson
      JLewisDickerson
      July 10, 2018, 9:49 pm

      P.P.P.P.S.
      More Sexual Assault Accusations Against Guatemalan President
      Guatemala | telesurtv.net | Published 4 July 2018
      • A former Guatemalan foreign minister said on Wednesday there are more women who were “systematically” sexually abused by President Jimmy Morales.

      (EXCERPT) A former foreign minister of Guatemala alleges that President Jimmy Morales sexually abused 12 “young women” working for the state.

      Two weeks ago the ex-foreign minister, Edgar Gutierrez used his op-ed column to accuse Morales of harnessing his authority to “abuse young ladies” and called for the president’s resignation.

      On Wednesday Gutierrez gave further details about the allegations to Guatemalan media outlet, La Coma Periodismo. He said that “young women working in the public sector who have systematically been subjected, against their will, to demeaning acts for any human being,” at the hands of the current head of state.

      The former minister said that these transgressions committed just by Morales with the complicity of his inner circle of high-ranking government officials. The abuses were “committed or induced by high-ranking government authorities who, taking advantage of their rank, their position of power, trampled on the dignity of Guatemalan women.”

      According to Gutierrez, over a dozen women so far have told him that President Morales is the person who directly harassed and abused the women, but that government official “induced or pressured” them to go to the Presidential House or private location to meet the president. Gutierrez says they were” complicit collaborators” to the president’s sexual abuse.

      “They are not yet encouraged to file a criminal complaint, there is fear, there is also fear of the stigma that generates such a conservative society and family circles are also prudent,” he said.

      Gutierrez said in his interview that the sexual violations took place at the Presidential House, hotels and government offices this year and last.

      “These are not isolated cases, we are dealing with a pattern of unlawful, immoral, and demeaning behavior for the human condition. This should not be tolerated,” said the former minister. . .

      CONTINUED AT – https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/More-Sexual-Assault-Accusations-Against-Guatemalan-President–20180704-0038.html

  2. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    July 10, 2018, 8:54 pm

    RE: When Guatemala stopped receiving arms from the U.S. in the late 1970s, its relationship with Israel strengthened. Israel stepped into the void as Guatemala’s biggest arms supplier and military advisor, with their weapons and training methods aiding the massacres that were perpetrated at this stage of the Guatemalan civil war (which lasted from 1960 to 1996). By the 1980s, roughly 300 Israeli military advisers were working in the country to bolster their ally’s army.
    In 1981, Guatemalan Army Chief-of-Staff General Benedicto Lucas Garcia, the man responsible for the “scorched earth” policies which razed 440 villages to the ground, famously remarked that the “Israeli soldier is the model for our soldiers.”
    ~ Rory Macdonald.

    Bruce Cockburn – If I Had A Rocket Launcher

    If I Had a Rocket Launcher
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_I_Had_a_Rocket_Launcher

    (EXCERPT) “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” is a song by Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, from his 1984 album Stealing Fire.

    The song was inspired by Cockburn’s visit, sponsored by Oxfam, to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico following the counterinsurgency campaign of dictator Efraín Ríos Montt.[1] Although Cockburn had occasionally touched on political themes in his earlier songs, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” was his first explicitly political song to be released as a single, and earned him a new reputation as an outspoken musical activist.

    In the song, Cockburn despairs of waiting for a political solution to the crisis, and expresses the desire to take matters into his own hands. Each verse ends with a line stating what Cockburn would do if he had a rocket launcher: in the first verse, “I’d make somebody pay”. In the second, “I would retaliate”. In the third, “I would not hesitate”. The fourth and final verse ends with the song’s most famous and controversial lyric: “If I had a rocket launcher, some son-of-a-bitch would die”.

    In a later interview, Cockburn stated that the song “is not a call to arms; this is a cry.”[1] . . .

    • annie
      annie
      July 10, 2018, 10:34 pm

      a very powerful song dickerson. thank you, i had never heard of it before.

      • gamal
        gamal
        July 11, 2018, 5:49 am

        ” i had never heard of it before”

        really, I like this version old man with guitar gets some youth screaming, Dr. Bruce Cockburn.

      • JLewisDickerson
        JLewisDickerson
        July 12, 2018, 1:35 am

        Yes, this is a really nice acoustical version (minus the ’80s hair).

  3. Rob Roy
    Rob Roy
    July 11, 2018, 7:23 am

    Thank you, JLewisDickerson, for this additional information about the Guatemalan president and his accomplices …..wish I had a rocket launcher myself.

  4. eljay
    eljay
    July 11, 2018, 8:50 pm

    Bruce Cockburn has written some evocative songs. “Rocket Launcher” is definitely one of them. Less political but – IMO – at least as evocative is “Tokyo”.

    Lyrics & song facts

  5. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    July 12, 2018, 1:59 am

    RE: “Calls Intensify for President Morales to Resign Over Corruption Allegations” ~ from above

    SEE: ▣ “Trump works to thank Guatemala for moving embassy by weakening anti-corruption panel” | By Frabco Ordonez | mcclatchydc.com | July 10, 2018

    (EXCERPT) GUATEMALA CITY — After Guatemala joined the United States in moving its embassy to Jerusalem, the Trump administration has been working to weaken an international commission on corruption that is targeting the Guatemalan president, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

    The Trump administration is still debating what specific changes it wants to pursue, but talks between agencies have alarmed supporters in Guatemala and Washington who feel the changes could undercut the role the United Nations-backed body plays in combating official corruption and other root causes of illegal immigration.

    Proposed changes to the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, include changing the body’s mandate to more narrowly redefine corruption, increasing reporting requirements for donors, limiting terms of the commissioner and appointing a deputy commissioner which Guatemala would help select, according to the sources.

    Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, who with his family is a target of CICG’s investigations, has accused CICIG of abusing its power and has tried to oust the commissioner, Iván Velásquez.

    Until recently, the criticism largely went unheeded as the agency got credit for tackling crime and corruption. But the body now faces its own accusations of corruption and abusing its power that Republicans say has gone unchecked for too long.

    The White House was particularly grateful to Morales for backing Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital amid international uproar. Guatemala was the second country to move its embassy there from Tel Aviv after the U.S. did earlier this year. Jerusalem is a divided capital with part of it in Palestinian territory.

    “The only reason why the U.S. is all about it is because they’re so happy with Guatemala that they moved the embassy to Jerusalem,” said one U.S. source with direct knowledge of the conversations. “Just because the president (Morales) is upset that CICIG is investigating some of his family members then he makes a decision to do the whole thing in Israel to get in front of the Trump administration and then tell Trump, ‘Help me on CICIG.’ “

    The United States has spent $44.5 million – the largest individual donor – supporting CICIG since it was established in 2007. . .

    CONTINUED AT – https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/white-house/article214592525.html

    • Tuyzentfloot
      Tuyzentfloot
      July 12, 2018, 4:22 am

      In Back to the Future the Ronald Reagan 1955 joke was was told. Someone should go back to 1985 en tell Michael Fox about Trump.

    • JLewisDickerson
      JLewisDickerson
      July 12, 2018, 7:03 am

      P.S. ALSO SEE:
      “Web of intrigue as Guatemala president fends off corruption probe”
      By Daniel Wilkinson, Opinion Contributor, TheHill.com, 05/29/18

      (EXCERPT) On May 4, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announced a hold on $6 million in aid to the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a United Nations-sponsored body that works with local prosecutors to investigate organized crime and corruption. Rubio said he wanted answers to “serious questions” regarding “possible collusion” between the commission and the Russian government. He urged Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to investigate.

      Rubio is an outspoken advocate for the rule of law in Latin America and elsewhere. So it’s striking he would take a step that could sabotage what is widely seen as the most successful anti-corruption initiative in the region. Since 2007, CICIG has helped secure the arrest of scores of suspects once considered untouchable — including a reputed drug lord and three former presidents, one of whom was forced from office after the commission exposed a corruption ring run out of the presidential palace.

      The commission’s success largely has been due to support from Washington — which, until recently, has been bipartisan and effusive. Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Mike Pence have praised the commission. During a 2016 visit, the State Department’s top anti-drug official, William Brownfield, said it had made “more impact in combating and resisting impunity and corruption than any other institution, not just here in Guatemala, but on the planet.” Last August, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley declared that the commission had “the full support of the United States.”

      Most Guatemalans share this enthusiasm. But not their president. Jimmy Morales, a former TV comedian, won the 2015 election running as an anti-corruption, pro-CICIG outsider. But he turned on the commission after it brought fraud charges against his son and brother and began investigating the financing of his campaign. First he tried expelling the head of the commission from Guatemala. Then his political party and its allies sought to pass legislation that would allow corrupt officials to avoid prison. CICIG supporters thwarted both efforts, helped by U.S. government pressure.

      Morales next set out to curry favor with the White House. On the heels of President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Morales announced that Guatemala would do the same. He attended the National Prayer Breakfast, where he met briefly with President Trump. For months, he seemed to be making little headway with undermining the commission’s support in Washington, and the investigation into the financing of his campaign steadily advanced.

      But then help arrived for Morales from an unexpected source: Bill Browder, a U.S.-born financier . . .

      CONTINUED AT – http://thehill.com/opinion/international/389488-web-of-intrigue-as-guatemala-president-fends-off-corruption-probe

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