Activists in Chile have again demonstrated how national struggle can extend to international solidarity with the oppressed. A vigil held outside San Miguel Prison in Santiago to commemorate the 81 prisoners who lost their lives in a fire there seven years ago, was expanded to affirm solidarity with the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
The fire at San Miguel Prison started after a riot involving rival groups of inmates. This prompted former President Sebastian Piñera to make a statement about overcrowding and the inhumane conditions in the prison. Giudo Girardi from the Chilean Democratic Party laid the blame on the Piñera government, insisting upon "state responsibility".
The commemoration vigil was attended by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists, the Palestinian Federation of Chile and Alicia Lira, President of the Association for the Families of Executed Political Prisoners. In 2016, Lira was hosted by Addameer in Palestine, prompting her to declare, after witnessing Israeli violations against Palestinians, that the people "are even more desperate than we were during the [Pinochet] dictatorship."
For Palestinian prisoners, there is not even the possibility of attributing a shard of accountability upon Israel and its prime collaborator in the form of the Palestinian Authority. The restrictions upon freedom of speech, as well as the complete monopoly retained by Israel over media narratives and international discourse, have resulted in a gap which hinders efficient communication. While the mobilisation of prisoners has ensured that the ongoing hunger strike by 1,600 of them has not been forgotten within days of its commencement, there are several factors which limit the impact.
The PA has urged Palestinians to defy Israel on the streets, a move which can result in yet more civilians being arrested merely because the PA always separates its rhetoric from action, and its 70,000 security personnel are never there to protect the people from Israeli forces. Just as it has turned a blind eye to the ramifications of such security coordination with Israel, as well as torture in PA prisons, it will also acquiesce to Palestinians being detained by Israel despite them having acted upon calls for solidarity action uttered by PA officials.
Activism, if unshackled by these dynamics, can achieve what politics are trying to thwart. Erwin Moller from the BDS movement at the University of Chile, declared that the activists' freedom permits them "to take all the necessary actions to impart strength to our Palestinian brothers." Unity, he stressed, is important to fight against the violations committed "by the opulence of power."
Alicia Lira insisted that there should be "no barriers between the struggles," reiterating that all defenceless populations should unite in solidarity with each other. Her statement is in stark contrast to what the PA has attempted to manipulate. While urging Palestinians in the occupied West Bank to defy Israel, Mahmoud Abbas has also been increasing the hardships meted out to Palestinians in Gaza — collective punishment by any other name — thus fragmenting even further the same occupied people living under different conditions.
Far from being a mere symbolic gesture, Chilean activists have illustrated the importance of internationalist solidarity, imparted from within the country's own struggles against human rights violations. Politically, this action should also serve to highlight the importance of such activities to overshadow any opportunistic rhetoric coming from within the ranks of the PA, the politics of which reek of vested interests. The world has a moral duty towards Palestine and an obligation to ensure that the PA does not, in any way, contaminate the resurgence of internationalist awareness.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.