In contrast with western complicity with Israel’s attack on Gaza, Venezuela and its allies are offering concrete help to Palestine, says Matthew Willgress
The Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Ministry has been transformed into a hub of activity over recent weeks as Venezuelans responded en masse to their revolutionary government’s call to provide donations for the people of Gaza.
“We have more than a plane’s worth of donations to send, more than two tons of food, clothes and medicine,” explained Danielis Escalona Arellano, who has been directing the effort. “We are all brothers and all united for the Palestinian cause,” she added.
Explaining the reason for the effort, Venezuelan official Marvin Mijares said: “Israel does not respect human rights. Venezuela is responding, we are a humanist country, we are supporting them with all our might.”
Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad Al Maliki is scheduled to arrive in Venezuela later this month when he will collect the aid before returning to Palestine.
His visit is particularly important, given that Venezuela is due to begin sending 240 million litres of oil to Palestine every four months as part of the creation of the new body PetroPalestina. The first batch is expected to be sent over the next few weeks.
Although the oil was originally intended to be sent to the West Bank, Palestinian authorities have confirmed that it will now be sent to Gaza, where it will be used to restart electricity generation since, as Palestinian ambassador to Venezuela, Linda Sabeh Ali, explained, “the only plant in the zone was bombed by Israel and now is in total darkness.”
Many of those bringing donations to the centre felt that Palestine was suffering a massacre and that international organisations were failing to protect them.
“There is so much injustice and the world is asleep. The United Nations sits there with its arms folded,” commented Maribel Brazon, who brought medical supplies.
Thousands also marched through Caracas last Saturday for the second time this month, demanding an end to Israel’s siege of Gaza. In stark contrast to the attitude of many Western governments, these rallies have been announced in government media as well as progressive independent news sources, with a Twitter account associated with President Maduro even publicising them.
In motivating support for donations and the march, President Maduro said, “[Some] say that there is a war between Israel and Palestine, but there is no war,” adding that ”Israel, [is] recognised by the UN [as] an occupying power that has been displacing Palestinians from their historic territory, carrying out a war of extermination,” before confirming his government will give asylum and shelter to children orphaned by the onslaught.
Earlier this month, President Maduro condemned “Israel’s unjust, disproportionate and illegal military attack on the heroic Palestinian people.” Launching an “SOS Palestine” campaign he said: “Enough already, I’ve joined the campaign.”
“#SOS Palestina, let’s launch it,” he said while holding up a handwritten placard, adding: “The Palestinian people have the right to live in their ancestral lands in peace … our international position over the issue of Palestine is just and follows the policy of [former president] comandante Hugo Chavez.”
Venezuela is not alone in standing in solidarity with Palestine — other progressive governments in Latin America have also taken action.
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has said it is high time something was done “to end the genocide that Israel is carrying out on Palestine” and labelled Israel a “terrorist state.”
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to “annihilate the Palestinian people.”
Cuba meanwhile has a long tradition of standing shoulder to shoulder with Palestine, while Chile (where the left recently returned to government) has halted free trade negotiations with Israel, withdrawn its ambassador is sending $75 million of aid and called for an immediate ceasefire.
Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru and Brazil have also recalled their ambassadors.
Then, in the last week, as Latin American leaders met in Venezuela for a summit of the regional trade bloc Mercosur, the presidents of four of the five countries in the organisation demanded an end to the military actions in Gaza and called for Israel to permit the free flow of people, food and aid.
Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela (all except Paraguay which saw a left-wing president overthrown a couple of years ago in what was termed an “express coup d’etat”) announced in a statement that they “energetically condemn the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, which in the majority affects civilians, including children and women.”
These positions and initiatives in solidarity with Palestine reflect a proud tradition in Venezuela in recent years.
Former President Hugo Chavez cut diplomatic relations with Israeli after its earlier war on Gaza. This was followed by a statement in which Chavez declared that the presidents of both Israel and the US should be tried at the International Criminal Court. His stance was again emphasised in the aftermath of the massacre on board the Gaza-bound aid ship Mavi Marmara in 2010, with Chavez asserting that the attack was “an act of war undertaken by the Israeli army against defenceless civilians.”
Following the UN vote which established Palestine as a non-member state, a Palestinian delegation from Ramallah visited Venezuela. A further notable gesture on behalf of Venezuela was the abolition of visas for Palestinians wishing to travel to the country.
Most recently, just weeks before Israel’s attacks on Gaza, President Maduro received Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, explaining that “the Palestinian cause is the world’s cause.”
A key reason for the visit was to establish PetroPalestina, an organisation aimed at helping fulfil the oil demands of the besieged Palestinian economy that will, in the words of Maduro, “firm up the supplying of diesel from Venezuela to Palestine.”
Discussions were also held on the creation of a Palestinian centre of Mission Miracle, a health programme which, free of charge, uses laser surgery to restore sight to people who can’t afford private attention.
As the holder of the world’s largest oil reserves, with a repeatedly elected progressive government in power committed to national sovereignty and the redistribution of wealth, Venezuela has faced constant hostility from the US in recent years. No doubt Venezuela’s stance on Palestine and other Middle East questions, and its support for international justice more generally — the government opposed the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq — is another reason for this hostility.
It can also be added that one certain consequence if Venezuela’s revolution was ever overthrown would be the country’s dramatic realignment with the US camp internationally and the reactionary positions resulting from this. A hint of the right’s true alignments was made clear in 2012 when a Caracas mayor and leading figure in Venezuela’s right-wing opposition met Benjamin Netanyahu and pledged a future restoration of relations with Israel.
Viva Venezuela, Viva Palestina!
Matt Willgress is national coordinator of Venezuela Solidarity. For more information about the campaign visit www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk. To learn more about social change in Latin America come to the Latin America Conference on Saturday November 29 – tickets available soon at www.latinamerica2014.org.uk