Chile and Israel: a murderous match?

Chile and Israel: a murderous match?
Comment: The Chilean government is using Israeli military hardware and expertise to help execute a brutal repression, and not for the first time, writes Belén Fernández.
7 min read
29 Oct, 2019
'In 2018, Chile and Israel agreed further cooperation in military education, training and doctrine' [AFP]
Since popular protests over extreme economic inequality engulfed Chile two weeks ago, at least 19 people have been killed. 

Over the course of a mere four days,
more than 5,400 people were detained by Chilean security forces, and reports of torture, sexual violence, beatings and other human rights violations abound.

In an unendearing throwback to the US-backed fascist dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which lasted from 1973 until 1990, right-wing Chilean president Sebastián Piñera proclaimed that "We are at war" - one of the late dictator's favourite lines - but was quickly forced to backpedal.

notes that "Piñera asked for forgiveness for successive governments on both left and right that failed to act sooner to stem deep inequalities in Latin America's fifth-largest economy" - a pretty rich move coming from a literal billionaire.

Shortly after the protests broke out, The Independent ran an opinion piece by Benjamin Zinevich on the vibrant history of military collaboration between Chile and Israel, for which the subheading reads, "In recent years, the [Israeli army] has seemingly used a tactic of maiming Palestinian protesters rather than shooting to kill - and that's something we've seen reflected in Chile this week." 

Of course, given that the Israeli army has also managed to do things such as 
kill 59 protesters in a single day in the Gaza Strip, it seems that tactic is somewhat flexible.

Read more: Israeli plan to facilitate Palestinian emigration is even more insidious than you thought

Zinevich reminds us that, in the Pinochet era - during which tens of thousands were detained, tortured, killed or disappeared - Israel was a primary supplier of arms to the military junta.

And yet the partnership didn't end with the fall of the dictatorship: In 2018, for example, the two countries signed an agreement pledging further cooperation in military education, training and doctrine, among other perks. Zinevich writes that, in both regions, "those who are affected the most negatively [by the alliance] are working class and Indigenous people".

 Chilean police crack down on anti-government demonstrators 
in Santiago

The Canary Mission, an outfit dedicated to encouraging McCarthy-esque witch hunts on US campuses and the equation of any criticism of Israel's murderous policies with anti-Semitism, lists Zinevich as an organiser at New York University for - god forbid! - Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), in addition to being a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

A helpful catalogue of his perceived social media transgressions follows, although the listing has yet to be updated to reflect the intervention on Chile and Israel.

It's worth nothing one slight error in Zinevich's piece: his contention that there have been only 10,511 Palestinian casualties treated in the context of the Great Return March, and that nearly 60 percent of them were shot by the Israeli military in the lower limbs, the majority with live ammunition.

But the Times of Israel
article confirming these calculations was published last December, meaning that casualties are obviously considerably higher now.

On 26 October, Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta - the founder of the conflict medicine programme at the American University of Beirut Medical Centre, and a frequent visitor to the Gaza Strip to treat victims of Israeli assault - reported that, just the previous day, "the Israeli army shot 30 Palestinians in the legs with high velocity sniper bullets."

Meanwhile in Chile, protesters' legs appear to have received their fair share of projectiles, although eyes and other body parts have also reportedly been disproportionately targeted.

Israel's security products come in particularly handy in a neoliberal world characterised by increasingly fortified divides between the haves and have-nots

And while it's impossible to argue that Israel and only Israel is to blame for the trigger-happy behaviour of the Chilean security forces, the Chilean-Israeli military bond is hardly something to be overlooked.

A 2018 report titled 'Israeli militarism in Latin America', courtesy of members of the regional BDS movement, details some of Israel's long-lasting contributions to repression in Chile and elsewhere, including "the militarisation of the Araucanía [region, which] has been an instrument of oppression of the [indigenous] Mapuche people… in order to maintain the business of large foresters, entrepreneurs and energy projects that devastate the environment and the territory".

To be sure, Israel has ample experience in the field of defending the
usurpation of indigenous land.

Israel's unique access to a captive Palestinian population on which to test out various forms of barbarism means that it enjoys a considerable advantage in terms of marketing its weaponry and repressive knowhow worldwide.

Incidentally, in the midst of the current Chilean uprising, Israel Hayom newspaper produced an item headlined "Armed with passports, military attachés form Israel's lesser-known line of defence," in which the first country listed as being blessed with an Israeli military attaché is none other than Chile.

The Israeli army tries to repress Palestinian
protesters in Gaza [Getty]

According to the article, these envoys serve myriad functions, such as "deal[ing] with issues of joint training exercises between the [Israeli army] and foreign armies, knowledge-sharing, and the joint development of weapons and capabilities".

They also work at "cultivating the sphere of international legitimacy and influence" as well as "fostering operational leeway for Israel".

In other words, having a network of military propagandists strategically placed around the globe to vouch for Israel's "legitimacy", is no doubt a good way to "foster operational leeway" - and discourage international criticism - whenever Israel undertakes one of its periodic bouts of slaughter of Palestinians.

Read more: Palestinian-Israelis strike to press police to act against violence

The military attachés additionally "protect and promote Israel's security interests" by addressing "issues such as defence exports" - which of course have nothing to do with Israel's "security" per se, but rather with the security of the Israeli arms industry.

Chile, too, has military attachés stationed in Israel, where, according to the Chilean embassy in Tel Aviv, their noble duties include "increasing the military bonds between the Ministry of Defense and its Israeli counterpart" in order to comply with the Chilean Foreign and Defense Policy", as well as "prospecting areas of military technology in the local defense industry that could be applicable in the relevant areas of the Chilean Army".

Israeli surveillance technologies and other instruments of oppression are integral to the global domination of an elite minority

Significantly, Israel's security products come in particularly handy in a neoliberal world characterised by increasingly fortified divides between the haves and have-nots. As Todd Miller demonstrates in his new book 'Empire of Borders', Israeli surveillance technologies and other instruments of oppression are integral to the global domination of an elite minority at the expense of the poor masses.

And what do you know? The Chilean protests are themselves a reaction to neoliberalism - which suggests that the Chilean army may yet find more "relevant areas" for collaboration with its Israeli counterpart.

Despite the inherent violence of the neoliberal model and the lethal violence being exercised by the Chilean state, much of the western corporate media has opted to portray the demonstrators as violent for such acts as throwing rocks at police - behaviour that also regularly lands Palestinians in the "violent terrorist" category, while Israel's considerably more terroristic conduct is excused as self-defence.

Chile, as it so happens, already has its own anti-terrorism law, though as Amnesty International
notes, it has traditionally been used to criminalise the Indigenous Mapuche people. 

Read more: Israeli army to upgrade to swifter, more deadly assault rifle

Chile is not the only Latin American locale to have benefited from having an amigo in Israel. During the Cold War, for example, the Israelis armed all manner of dictators and death squads on behalf of the US' war on communism.

Now, Israel maintains a fan base among far-right leaders such as Honduran
dictator Juan Orlando Hernández, whose security forces are also known for killing and tormenting people, and who has paid his friendship dues by enthusiastically endorsing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

As protests against oppression erupt across the globe, it's high time we started connecting some dots. 

Belén Fernández is the author of Exile: Rejecting America and Finding the World (OR Books), The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work (Verso), and Martyrs Never Die: Travels through South Lebanon(Warscapes). She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine and writes regularly for Al Jazeera, Middle East Eye, and Current Affairs.

Follow her on Twitter: @MariaBelen_Fdez

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.