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How Gaza Looks From Latin America

A view from afar on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the Jewish-American lobby looks all too much like the Cuban-American lobby.

A pro-Palestinian protest in Buenos Aires
A pro-Palestinian protest in Buenos Aires

SANTIAGO — Weeks into the war of attrition in Gaza and with over 1,000 Palestinians and dozens of Israelis killed, América Economia wants to hold on to a sense of optimism that a ceasefire is not a far-fetched prospect. Or better said, that it's not yet another ceasefire.

There have already been two wars in Gaza that led to ceasefires after weeks of fighting — in 2007 and 2012 — and this time cannot be much different. The United States is finding it increasingly difficult to keep backing the Israeli government, while the Islamist Hamas administration, which has governed Gaza since 2007, is starting to run out of rockets.

The ceasefire will last months, maybe years. The last one in 2012 resolved nothing, and neither will this next one, in all likelihood. Only the firing, the bombardment and deaths will stop. The news will switch to something else and two million Palestinians living in Gaza will again cease to exist for Israel — and the world.

But they will still be there. Gaza, a strip 40 kilometers long and 10 wide, is one of the world's most crowded places. Since 1994, the Palestinians themselves have governed this territory, under Israel's air, sea and frontier control. And since 2007 when Hamas took power in Gaza after an electoral victory, the Israelis have imposed a blockade that prevents its residents from freely entering or leaving the strip, blocks trade and restricts basic activities like fishing. Gaza has efffectively become the world's largest open-air prison.

The latest Israeli ground assault began on July 18, though it really began three months earlier with the failure of peace talks brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Given the casualties so far, the vast majority of which have been Palestinian civilians, an end to fighting would be welcome. But it should not be like former ceasefires.

So far Israel has acted as if it wished to forget, not resolve, the problem of Gaza. When Hamas stops firing rockets, Israel tends to ignore the issue, as if to suggest that when there is no mortar fire, there are no Palestinians in Gaza. With such neglect, launching rockets seems to be the only way to demonstrate one's existence to the Israelis, and to the world.

There is no military solution. A solution would require Israel to truly accept that it will have a Palestinian state as a neighbor, made up of the West Bank and Gaza.

That is what immediate, medium or long-term talks are really about. There will be no solution if Israel keeps on refusing the existence of a Palestinian state. The first, urgent step is to stop this war. That merely requires Israel to carry out its promise of 2012: to lift the blockade that has turned Gaza into a prison and a poorhouse. Hamas must in turn promise to stop firing rockets — and keep its pledge.

It is difficult to believe however that Israel will do what it should.

The United States, Israel's only real ally, is the one that can convince it to do the right thing. Barack Obama gave the impression, when he took office in 2009, that the U.S. would finally start to act with pragmatism in this conflict. But Obama's reasoned intentions clashed with Pentagon realpolitik. Israel was the only its ally in the region, and the United States was at war against al-Qaeda.

The president found another, and equally powerful obstacle: the Jewish-American lobby, which practically takes its cue straight from Israel.

Just as the Cuban lobby has impeded a transition toward democracy and the free market in Cuba, the Jewish lobby has done the same with regard to resolving the Palestinian issue. John Kerry will have to do much more than he has so far to ensure that a ceasefire leads to serious talks to attain stable peace for the region.

We might do well to look at Latin American states, where Arab and Jewish communities have established and acquired economic and political power without rivalries. One of the world's richest men, Carlos Slim, is the son of Lebanese migrants, while the main players in the world of Latin American finance — but also business and politics — are of both Arab and Jewish origin.

Argentina, the country with the western hemisphere's second largest Jewish community after the U.S., had a president of Syrian ancestry: Carlos Menem. We may recall other regional leaders of recent decades — Presidents Abdalá Bucaram and Jamil Mahuad of Ecuador, Colombia's Julio César Turbay Ayala, the son of a Lebanese migrant, and Antonio Saca in El Salvador, born from Christian Palestinian parents.

Latin American states should follow the example of Brazil and Ecuador, and withdraw their ambassadors from Israel. Not just for the 20 million Latin Americans of Arab origin living on the continent, but because the move would help show Israel what it must do.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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