Grapevine: Viva Latin America

Latin America
HONDURAN PRESIDENT Juan Orlando Hernández rallies with supporters outside the Presidential House.

HONDURAN PRESIDENT Juan Orlando Hernández rallies with supporters outside the Presidential House. . (photo credit: JORGE CABRERA/ REUTERS)

It’s a pity that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who is due to arrive in Israel on Saturday evening in order to inaugurate the Honduran diplomatic office in Jerusalem on Sunday, September 1, was unable to coordinate his visit to be here later in the month when his ambassador, Mario Edgardo Castillo, will join forces with Guatemalan Ambassador Mario Búcaro Flores, Costa Rican Consul General Javier Rojas Viquez and El Salvador Charge d’Affaires Hector Enrique Celarie Landaverde to celebrate the 198th anniversary of the independence of Central America.

According to reports, the Honduran diplomatic office will be an extension of the Embassy of Honduras, which is expected to eventually transfer to Jerusalem.

While the United States was and is Israel’s greatest ally, it would be wrong to overlook the role played by Latin America in the establishment of the State of Israel, and in the recognition of Jerusalem as her capital.

The historic investigation as to whether there should be a partition of Palestine was conducted by an 11-member United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. Of the 11 countries represented within UNSCOP, three were Latin American: Guatemala, Peru and Uruguay.

The committee’s recommendation was to go ahead with partition for the purpose of having one Jewish state and one Arab state living side by side

Of the 33 votes in favor of the November 29, 1947, UN Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Palestine and paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel, 13 affirmative votes came from Latin American countries. Some were persuaded by the eloquence of Guatemala’s Jorge Garcia Granados and Uruguay’s Prof. Enrique Rodriguez. From among the Latin American countries, Cuba was the only one to vote against the partition. There were also six abstentions, from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. All six subsequently established diplomatic relations with Israel and now have embassies here.

Miguel García Granados was Guatemala’s first ambassador to Israel, and in 1956, Guatemala was the first country to open an embassy in Jerusalem. In 1949, Garcia Granados wrote a well-received book, The Birth of Israel: The Drama as I Saw It.

He was not the only member of his family to serve as an ambassador to Israel, and Israel’s connections with his family and those of other Latin American UNSCOP members remains solid to this day.

While much ado has been made of moving embassies to Jerusalem, not everyone is aware that at the peak of international recognition of the capital, there were 17 embassies in Jerusalem. These began to move out in 1980 in response to a UN order based on its displeasure over Israel’s de jure annexation of a section of Jerusalem that had formerly been part of Jordan.

Paraguay has moved out of Jerusalem twice. The first time was in 2005, due to budgetary cuts. The second was after it had re-inaugurated its embassy in Jerusalem in September 2018, and then backtracked for political reasons.

Costa Rica and El Salvador maintained embassies in Jerusalem long after others had left.

It was only in August 2006 when the governments of both countries announced that their embassies would move.

Other embassies that departed much earlier included those of The Netherlands, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Zaire (which is now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Kenya, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela. Here again, even without the inclusion of Costa Rica and El Salvador, Latin America was in the majority.

Some of these countries still own property in Jerusalem, including former embassy premises, and would therefore have no problem in resettling.

■ THERE WAS a time when Israel also had good relations with most of the countries of Africa, many of which fell by the wayside and have been gradually revived. The Foreign Affairs Ministry is finalizing arrangements for the visit of Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, 71, the reigning King of the Zulu nation, which is the largest ethnic group in South Africa.

Coincidentally, the king, who was born in the same year as the establishment of the State of Israel, will celebrate the 51st anniversary of his reign on September 17, the day Israelis once again go to elections. He has been invited by Foreign Minister Israel Katz to come on a three-day visit. In response to rising anti-Israel sentiments and the promotion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, by anti-Israel groups in South Africa (which have also called for the severing of diplomatic relations), Israel is courting various African states and tribes, particularly those which practice Christianity.

King Goodwill Zwelithin is known to be pro-Israel and is also keen to promote biblical traditions such as circumcision. He underwent a circumcision himself in order to set an example.

■ THE DATE for the preview screening of The Voice of Ahmad – which will be shown in cinemas around the country from September 5 – was determined well before Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint Arab List, made his controversial statement on a willingness to enter into a coalition with Blue and White providing certain conditions are met. The Blue and White Party rejected the overture outright, while there was divided opinion among Arab voters. Nonetheless, both Arabs and Jews should make it their business to see The Voice of Ahmad in order to realize the political, social and historic mistakes that have been made by both sides. Some Arab citizens have risen to high positions in Israel against all odds. The most successful ones are most visible in the medical and legal professions. The majority, however, including Palestinians with permits to work in Israel (as well as those who work illegally), are engaged in menial and often dangerous labor such as building construction, in which so many are killed or injured.

Sadly, the organizers of the preview at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque chose 12 noon for the screening – a time inconvenient to most people who have jobs. Thus, there were barely a dozen people in the auditorium. The 85-minute screening comprised six short documentary films which were a joint project of Jewish and Arab alumni of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem. It was in tribute to the groundbreaking 1966 documentary I am Ahmad, directed by the late Avshalom Katz, produced by Ram Loevy, and jointly scripted by both.

An Israel Prize laureate known for challenging the status quo, Loevy, 79, despite a physical disability and advancing age, is still going strong and has produced more than 70 television documentaries, the most famous of which are Bread and Khirbet Khize.

The project was created by Renen Shorr, who was also executive producer.

The directors of the six films selected for the project were Mamdooh Afdile, Ayelet Behar, Doron Djerassi, Dan Geva, Shadi Habib Allah, Noam Kaplan, Avshalom Katz, David Ofek,and Iddo Soskolne.

When I am Ahmad was first released in Israel, it was heavily censored and caused a stormy debate because instead of demonizing Arabs, it depicted them as human beings who suffered discrimination. No one in Tel Aviv wanted to rent a room or an apartment to an Arab. The job market was extremely limited, and Arabs were given only those jobs which Jews refused to do. The irony of this is that Israel was largely built with Arab labor, because as Ahmad says in the film, Arabs were dispensable.

The Voice of Ahmad was shown in May at Docaviv, but now it will hopefully have a wider audience.

Ahmad is a real person, Ahmad Masarwa, from Arara, who together with boys from other Arab villages was brought to Hashomer Hatzair’s Kibbutz Yakum to study and work. He was one of the few boys who actually had a bagrut (matriculation) certificate. Most of the others had barely completed elementary school. While the kibbutz was very welcoming, there were certain conditions to be met. For instance, the boys could no longer be known by their real names. Ahmad was given the name of Zvi. He is seen as an aging, no-longer-naïve man in a documentary made this year in which he revisits the kibbutz and recounts his story to the present generation of adolescents.

The six films in the project are: I am Ahmad, I used to be Zvi, Sky of Concrete (a memorial tribute to all the Arab construction workers who fell to their deaths on the job), I am Ram Loewy, I am Hummus and The Helsinki Accord.

■ KNESSET FOREIGN Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter, in an interview with Aryeh Golan on Reshet Bet, was asked his views on the evidence against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provided by state’s witness Shlomo Filber, a former director-general of the Communications Ministry during the period in which Netanyahu’s various portfolios included that of communications minister. Dichter, who was internal security minster, and before entering politics, the director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), replied that it should be borne in mind that state’s witnesses are all criminals who will say anything to save their own skins. He suggested that there might be some surprises if the cases in which Netanyahu is allegedly involved come to court.

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