Israeli-Guatemalan Relations: Expanding Gardens of Broken Shadows

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Article published in The Funambulist 18 (July-August 2018) Cartography & Power. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

In December 2017, Guatemala became the second country of the world after the United States to announce the transfer of their embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This polemic measure — and the beginning of the end of the age of international diplomacy — was deemed illegal by the United Nations and condemned by 128 countries across the world. This is because the establishment of foreign representation in Jerusalem to Israel (for which Israel had started lobbying in Central America in the mid 1980s), implies hammering the last the nail in the coffin of the peace process with Palestine by overstepping on one of their conditions for peace: Jerusalem as a multi-confessional capital of two states or of a possible bi-national state. Guatemala was also the second nation — always behind the US — to have recognized the existence of the Jewish State on what in 1948 was known as Palestine. Jorge García Granados, the Guatemalan Ambassador to the United Nations helped lobby votes on behalf of the Jewish state, becoming the first Guatemalan ambassador to Israel. This allegiance between a Central American country and “the only democracy” of the Middle East not only manifests itself in the international arena of diplomacy but is also palpable on the everyday life of Guatemalans.

During a year I spent there (2010-2011), I would often drive through the cluttered Hincapié Avenue and see a puzzling and gigantic billboard demanding to “Free Gilad Shalit” showing the image of the young Israeli soldier that was being kept by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, shackled, holding a newspaper looking gaunt and pale. Gilad was a soldier of the Israeli Defense Forces captured on June 2005 by Hamas militants in a cross-border raid via underground tunnels near the Israeli border. He was held hostage for over five years until his release in October 2011, as part of an exchange with 1,027 mainly Palestinian prisoners. The billboard in Guatemala was part of a massive media campaign for Shalit’s release launched by his parents and a public relations firm. The campaign included public protests held weekly, text messaging, a flood of posters and billboards, Israeli citizens’ letters to Gilad, a Facebook campaign, etc. Gilad’s family even chained themselves to the fence outside of Netanyahu’s home to assure that the Israeli government would secure his release. But aside from the questionable asymmetrical value bestowed to Israeli and Palestinian lives by the deal, and from Guatemala’s historical backup of Israel in the international arena, why was Guatemala City functioning as an extension of Israeli soil where the “Free Gilad Shalit” campaign had reached? I had been also puzzled by Mayan girls performing “Hebrew dances” in the main square of Antigua within the context of a “Festival of Cultural Tourism” sponsored by “AmIsrael,” an NGO devoted to “peace” in the region.