Chile's Israel sanctions push can also help its indigenous peoples fight oppression

Chile's Israel sanctions push can also help its indigenous peoples fight oppression
Comment: Boycotting Israeli military and surveillance technology would show solidarity with Palestinians and with Chile's oppressed indigenous peoples, writes Ramona Wadi.
6 min read
07 Dec, 2018
Chile is home to about 500,000 Palestinians [Getty]
In Latin America, Chile - belive to be home to the largest community of Palestinians outside the Arab world, has the potential to lead the region in supporting the Palestinian struggle.

Following the news from Santiago that parliament passed a resolution requiring President Sebastian Pinera to review all agreements with Israel and to boycott settlement products, it is time to evaluate the dynamics of such a decision.

The resolution also calls for the government to educate or inform individuals travelling to Israel about the colonial and military occupation contexts, according to the President of the inter-parliamentary Chile-Palestine group, Sergio Gahona.

Members of parliament are aware that the Chilean government - through its military and economic ties with Israel - helps the colonial state to maintain its military occupation of Palestinain lands. The resolution has been described as mirroring Ireland's decision last summer to implement boycott legislation targeting settlement products.

It is worth noting that in the run up to the Chilean presidential elections in 2017, former candidate Eduardo Artes from the Patriotic Union Party had proposed "a comprehensive review" of Chile's relations with Israel, stating, "We are going to study all our relations with the Zionist entity because they are relations that generally harm world peace, not only the peace and survival of the Arab peoples, particularly the Palestinian people in the Middle East."

PLO Secretary General Saeb-Erekat applauded the decision, stating, "These practical and effective initiatives are the rights steps that uphold the true meaning of solidarity with the Palestinian people and the essence of holding the occupiers accountable for all violations of international law and human rights."

Israeli military and surveillance equipment is mostly used as a tool of repression to target Mapuche communities

Government interests, however, may well reveal another story that dilutes the impact of such a resolution, both regionally and internationally.

Since 1949, the state has aligned itself with Israel by recognising the colonial state, and establishing diplomatic relations in 1950. Israel also 
supported the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and supplied weapons to the military - a trend which has continued through the democratic transition until today.

Chile has some similarities with Palestine in terms of indigenous rights from a community perspective. Regarding a political framework, however, Chile and Israel both refuse to recognise the indigenous populations' right to land. Chile's commitment to safeguarding Palestinian rights raises several questions, not least due to the Chilean government's own systematic oppression of the Mapuche population and the criminalisation of indigenous resistance for land reclamation.

Herein lies the Chilean government's reliance upon Israel for the latest military and surveillance equipment, which is mostly used as a tool of repression to target Mapuche communities.

The Araucania region, which is at the heart of the struggle for indigenous land reclamation, is monitored by Israeli drones manufactured by Elbit and BlueBird Aero Systems, while the military's incursions in Mapuche communities is similar to that of Israel's military raids.

Chile and Israel both refuse to recognise the indigenous populations' right to land

Pinera's reforming of the anti-terror laws also includes the detention of Mapuche leaders without charge - a tactic that Israel employs against Palestinian political prisoners through administrative detention.

Current President Sebastian Pinera is also the first Chilean president to have visited Israel. During his first presidential term, he recognised Palestine as a state, adopting the internationally-favoured rhetoric that favours Israel's purported security concerns through the two-state compromise.

Chilean-Palestinian relations have to contend with these dynamics, regardless of whether it is beneficial to Palestinians or not.

As a result, the resolution, even if implemented, will falter if it is isolated from the other political factors which allow for human rights violations against the indigenous populations in Palestine and Chile.

Pinera's increasingly militarised approach indicates that boycotting settlement products will be the focus of this resolution. The gesture is commendable and should indeed be implemented.

Read more: Chile latest BDS battleground as boycotting Israel ruled illegal

However, it is also part of the safe parameters constructed by the international community as the subject has become a common agenda item, with little collective effort to boycott and force Israel to face repercussions.

Chile may well implement all aspects of the resolution but, like other countries, it will not overstep any contentious limit, or adopt measures that would see it relinquish its targeting of the Mapuche population.

It is pertinent to ask why food, and not weapons, remains the target of countries seeking to implement forms of BDS. The latter would force an immediate rethinking of Israel and start the process of isolating its colonial existence, rather than exporting its violence for use on other populations after sufficient experimenting upon Palestinians.

The politics of such choices show that the resolution will likely fall within the parameters accepted by the Palestinian Authority and the international community.

It is not enough to argue that Israel will voice irritation over Chile's stance. Such reactions are cosmetic and tend to gloss over the fact that Israel remains safe in the knowledge that Chile, like other countries, is dependent upon its military and surveillance technology.

Meanwhile the Palestinian Authority can claim this resolution as a victory, magnifying it to an extent that if fails to acknowledge the Chilean government's similarities to Israel when dealing with the Mapuche.

It is pertinent to ask why food, and not weapons, remains the target of countries seeking to implement forms of BDS

Governments are in a position to manipulate a BDS victory in a way that eliminates the wider scenario. Chile gets its spotlight for taking a pro-Palestine stance on boycotting settlement products, while it earns accolades from Israel on retaining its business dealings as regards military and surveillance equipment.

The question therefore is, what do Palestinians stand to gain? As far as dissemination of information goes, the state's effort to inform of Palestine's colonisation can go a long way in shifting public opinion and awareness.

On its own, however, it is of little use. Expecting public awareness in the face of insistent government oblivion when it comes to oppression does not constitute a pro-Palestine stance.

The chance of creating boundaries between state-accepted activism implemented through a resolution, and the government's own prioritised dealings with Israel still remains in question, as Chile's resolution is premised on UN resolutions that maintain the colonial agenda as superior to Palestinian rights and narratives.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law. 

Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

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.