Let’s advocate for Palestine’s right to be a full member at the United Nations.” The voice is very familiar to any Venezuelan or anyone living in Venezuela. Heard in small recorded sentences, it comes out every now and then, scattered between commercial ads on a local radio station.
“We want peace. We want the aggression on Palestine to stop. We want peace in the World.” Another sound clip comes up after a hip-hop song. It is the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ voice. And those are bits and pieces from his long speeches where he would often mention Palestine, explaining its history and calling for its freedom.
On another pro-government local radio station a broadcaster reminds a fellow broadcaster as they share the latest updates from Gaza that the story is not about three Israeli teens, kidnapped and murdered a few weeks ago. It is the story of a land, the broadcaster continues, that Israel occupies without any right and thus depriving Palestinians of it. He continues: “Imagine that our country Venezuela would be reduced to just two small states, not geographically connected, and the rest would be occupied by a new state, I mean another country. That is exactly how Gaza and the West Bank are now. Unbelievable, isn’t it?”
In El Venezolano Square downtown Caracas a lady of Arab descent prays for Gaza. Passersby stop to show solidarity with statements like, “Israel is a criminal practising genocide,” “Free Palestine” and “Israel is the number one terrorist.”
A few blocks away, the headquarters of Venezuela’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, known as the Yellow House (Casa Amarilla) has been the central point for collecting donations for Gaza: food, medicine, clothes and more. Since the start of the current Israeli offensive on Gaza, this would be Venezuela’s second humanitarian shipment to Gaza, by air and by sea, in coordination with the Embassy of Palestine in Caracas.
Ibrahim is a 23-year-old Venezuelan-Palestinian. He was reviewing the list of items required: mattresses, pillows, clothes, etc. He finds it strange that Venezuelans who are not of Arab descent seem more caring about Gaza than some of those who are of Arab descent: “Look at them sitting in their stores, he says, all they care about is filling their pockets with money.” A man passing by says: “I don’t mind helping other needy nations, but how can we donate something we don’t have here available to us, such as milk and sugar? Our economic situation is dire.” Another young Venezuelan lady responds: “True, but if you got lucky and did find milk, why wouldn’t you share it with the people of Gaza?”
In a rich neighbourhood on the opposite Eastern side of Caracas one would expect those opposed to the government, known as anti-chavistas, to have a different stance, especially because some opposition figures do have links with Israel. And, in fact, most of the time anti-chavistas build their positions on opposing whatever the government says. But there are exceptions, like Gaza.
Juan is an entrepreneur, busy having lunch with lawyers. He is in a hurry and says it all in a few words: “Gaza is a massacre. Full stop.”
Others who are opposed to the socialist government also expressed their disgust with the killing of innocent children, “shamelessly”, as one person put it.
Susana Khalil is a Venezuelan Palestinian activist and a very active member of Canaan, a Venezuelan NGO that sets up humanitarian and cultural projects to help Palestinians and help spread information on Palestine.