Israel's bombardment of Gaza has not gone unnoticed in Chile. Representatives of Chile’s sizable Palestinian community have been urging the government to take a more active stance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and build on President Michelle Bachelet's condemnation last week of the shelling.
So far, 243 Palestinians, including many women and children, have been killed and more than 1,500 injured since the bombing began on July 8, according to Gaza's health ministry. In Israel, rockets launched from Gaza that weren't picked off by the Iron Dome missile defense system have injured several people. One Israeli civilian died after he was hit by shrapnel near the Gaza border, and an Israeli soldier was killed during ground operations that began on July 17.
Chile, which recognized Palestine as a “free, independent and sovereign state” on January 7, 2011, is home to the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East. Estimates of the number of Palestinian descendants in Chile range from 450,000 to 500,000.
About 1,000 people protested in the Chilean capital city Santiago on Saturday, July 12, under the banner, “silence is complicity”. Two days later, with the number of Palestinian victims rising, members of Congress requested urgent action from the Foreign Ministry including the suspension of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations; the withdrawal of its ambassador to Tel Aviv; and a call for Israel's condemnation by the UN Security Council (UNSC) in which Chile is currently a non-permanent member.
“Chile has to be an instrument of peace, because from the moment that it recognized the Palestinian state, Chile also recognized [Palestine’s] struggles to be a free and sovereign state,” Senator Iván Moreira told the press.
On the other hand, the Chilean-Israeli group within the Chamber of Deputies met with Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz to express their concern regarding the Foreign Ministry’s statements and warn the government against focusing solely on Israel’s attacks on Gaza and not the Palestinian role in the conflict. “We’ve asked the foreign minister to be careful and not bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to [Chile],” Congressman Gabriel Silber said. “We have to be especially careful that statements reflect a certain impartiality to what is happening in the Middle East.”
There was an exchange of open letters between Chile's Jewish and Palestinian communities. One letter, addressed to young Jewish people in Chile and signed by leaders of the Chilean-Palestinian community, urged the Jewish people to speak out against Israel's abuse of the Palestinian people's human rights:
[…] No los culpamos porque, quizás, han crecido pensando en que somos sólo un grupo de personas sin rostro y no han tenido la oportunidad de mirarnos cara a cara. […]
Sabemos que ustedes conocen este sentimiento: el sentir que para otros, sus vidas son tan solo un número. Sentir que su pueblo está siendo masacrado y que el mundo, mientras tanto, permanece impávido. Entendemos, como nadie, el dolor que sus antepasados sintieron alguna vez y por lo mismo, es que nos extraña que ustedes, los más jóvenes de la comunidad judía, no estén llevando hoy la bandera de lucha de los derechos humanos con nosotros. […]
En Chile no hay conflicto porque ninguno impide al otro retornar a sus hogares, o controla hacia dónde y cuándo puede viajar, o coloniza sus tierras, o secuestra a sus hijos. Es cierto, debemos mostrar que podemos vivir sin odio y sin ocupación; pero sobre todo, que el camino hacia la paz y la fraternidad no es el sometimiento, sino que la justicia y el reconocimiento mutuo.
[…] We don't blame you, because maybe you have grown up thinking that we are only a group of faceless people and you haven't had the chance to look at us face to face. […]
We know that you have felt this: the feeling that to others you are just a number. The feeling that your people is being massacred while the world stands still. We understand, more than anyone, the pain that your ancestors felt and thus we don't understand why the younger Jewish generation isn't holding the human rights banners with us. [..]
In Chile, there isn't conflict because no one prevents the other from returning to their homes, or controls where and when they can travel, or colonizes their lands, or kidnaps their children. It's clear, we must demonstrate that we can live without hate and without occupation; but above all, that the road to peace and brotherhood isn't submission, but justice and mutual recognition.
Four days later, an open letter signed by leaders of the Chilean-Jewish youth community responded:
No recordamos cuándo fue, pero aprendimos a referirnos los unos a los otros como primos. Hoy tenemos el atrevimiento de llamarlos hermanos. Hermanos, no porque compartamos una misma madre, sino porque anhelamos una misma patria.
[…] Nos invitaron a apuntar con el dedo a Israel, atribuyéndole toda la responsabilidad del conflicto sin dejar espacio para el entendimiento mutuo. ¿Esperan que luchemos por los derechos humanos? Por supuesto que lo haremos. Condenaremos directa y enérgicamente la violación de aquellos que se cometan en Medio Oriente o en cualquier otra parte del mundo. Marcharemos con ustedes por la búsqueda de la paz, pero ¿lo harán ustedes? ¿aplicarán a Hamas y la Autoridad Palestina el mismo estándar moral que exigen a Israel? […]
Nosotros, por nuestra parte, estamos dispuestos a tranzar porque tenemos la convicción de que el diálogo y las ansias de vivir en armonía en Medio Oriente son la única forma de terminar el conflicto. […]
[…] Hoy les tendemos la mano, no para que se unan a nuestra causa, sino para que entendamos que la causa de ambos pueblos sólo puede prosperar si es la misma. Los invitamos a caminar juntos, desde Chile, por la paz para Palestina e Israel.
We don't remember when it was, but we learned to refer to each other as cousins. Today, we dare to call you brothers. Brothers, not because we share the same mother, but because we long for the same nation.
[…] You invited us to point the finger to Israel, making it fully responsible for the conflict without leaving space for mutual understanding. You wish that we fight for human rights? Of course, we will. We will condemn directly and strongly the violation of human rights in the Middle East or anywhere in the world. We will protest with you in search for peace, but, will you? Will you apply to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority the same moral standard that you ask from Israel? […]
We, on our side, are willing to compromise because we are convinced that dialogue and the desire to live in harmony in the Middle East are the only way to end the conflict. […]
[…] Today, we are extending our hands to you, not to ask you to join our cause, but to understand that the objective of both communities can only be fulfilled if it is the same one. We are inviting you to walk together, from Chile, for the peace in Palestine and Israel.