Arab and Islamic communities are scattered across various continents around the world. Statistics have shown that Arab communities hold weight in Europe and America, especially the Palestinian communities, which have succeeded in forming a strong lobby supportive of Arab causes.
One of the most significant regions in which Arab communities have settled is the Latin American continent, and these communities are located in various countries of the continent. One of the most important of these communities is the Palestinian community, which has proven its worth in many economic, social and political fields.
In this interview, we speak to member of the Palestinian National Council and President of the Palestinian Union in Latin America Samaan Safadi Khoury, to discuss the Palestinian community and its role in Latin America.
First of all, we would like to know how you came to Latin America?
I would like to thank you at the outset of this interview and thank the Brazilian people who always support human rights issues, especially the Palestinian cause. My name is Samaan Safadi Khoury, born in the village of Aboud in Ramallah, but my family's historic roots are from Safad. My family left the village of Aboud when I was about two years old to Bethlehem. Therefore, I carry a different Palestinian culture between the city of Safad, the village of Aboud and the city of Bethlehem. I am proud of this Palestinian national mixture. I worked in several jobs in Palestine, in free work and education.
READ: Israel's impunity is endorsed by the international community
In 1980, I moved to El Salvador because of the difficult living conditions in Palestine. I belonged to one of the Palestinian organisations, but I was stripped of this affiliation here in El Salvador. I continued to work in the service of the Palestinian cause at all levels, whether on the political or cultural level, in terms of communicating our cause to the public in El Salvador. There was a great response and support for us by a number of Salvadoran governments that ruled. I say with pride that all of this was with the efforts of the Palestinian community and a number of supporters of the Palestinian cause. One of our most important achievements was the closure of the Israeli Embassy in El Salvador in 2017, but it was reopened again after.
What is the situation regarding Palestinian communities in Latin America?
With regards to the Palestinian community in Latin America, it is large and spread in all countries of the American continent. For example, there are between 400 and 500 thousand Palestinians in Chile, about 200 thousand in Honduras, more than 150 thousand in Colombia, and more than 150 thousand Palestinians are also in El Salvador. These communities, whether in Chile, El Salvador, Honduras or Colombia, are very important, highly integrated and in permanent development in society, whether on the political, economic, social or artistic levels. I also want to point out that these communities contribute greatly to the national production of these countries. For example, 44 per cent of the national production in El Salvador is considered to be in Palestinian Arab hands, and the Palestinian community there is one of the largest in Latin America. As I said, most of them are immigrants from the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
What are the main difficulties and challenges facing Palestinians in Latin America? What is the nature of relations between Palestine and Latin American countries?
Arab immigrants in general, and Palestinians in particular, at the beginning of their migration to Latin America were subjected to a lot of persecution. They were called "Turku", with reference to the passports they carried when they came to this continent before the First World War. The purpose of this label was to disrespect and marginalise them, but with the passage of time, these communities were able to strongly prove their worth, and the Palestinian community was able to deliver two presidents of the Salvadoran Republic. Both of them are of Palestinian origin from the city of Bethlehem.
READ: Israel: ex-soldier's self-immolation after trauma of 2014 military offensive
As for relations between Palestine and Latin American countries, they are good now, but they vary from one state to another, according to the political orientation of each country, whether right-wing or left-wing. In our relations with countries in Latin America, we are moving away from partisanship because the Palestinian cause is a just human issue, a cause of right and legitimacy. This is what any political system, whether right-wing or left-wing, should know. However, it is necessary to point out that the right is hostile to the Palestinian cause and the Palestinians. We find good political support from the left-wing parties and governments.
The Palestinian scene is on the verge of a new turn, represented by the Palestinian elections. What is the position of the Palestinian communities abroad in these elections?
Indeed, we, as Palestinians, need these elections because they will inject new blood into the Palestinian scene, also into the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). But in my opinion, these elections should have started with the Palestinian Council because it represents all Palestinians inside and outside Palestine, and then the legislative and presidential elections.
We, as Palestinians from abroad, are concerned with the elections for the National Council and the Palestinian presidential elections. As for the Palestinian Authority (PA) elections within the borders of 1967, we have nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, the Palestinian people dispersed in Lebanon, Jordan, Europe, America and the rest of the continents will be deprived of the right to vote. They represent 51 per cent of the Palestinian people, in addition to the Palestinians in the 1948 lands. This is what Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is responsible for. We are part of the Palestinian people, and our voice must be heard, and the PA cannot strip us of our right, which is affirmed in the constitution and the Palestinian National Charter.
Is there still hope that Palestinians abroad will not be excluded from participating in the elections?
The PLO is the legitimate representative of the Palestinians. As for the authority, it cannot prevent us or investigate us in choosing our representatives in the diaspora to participate in our self-determination. Also, we reject that, and we have the capabilities to confront this exclusion, and we will find the best way to increase unity and gatherings on a global Palestinian level. We represent 51 per cent of the Palestinian people and we number more than 7 million. The authority must know that we have the right to vote, and it has no right to prevent us from choosing who represents us, especially because it has been illegal for more than 15 years.
Also, I would like to emphasise the Palestinian document issued by a number of leaders of the Palestinian people outside Palestine, which affirms that Palestinians abroad cannot be marginalised, and which calls for the start of preparations for the elections for the Palestinian National Council through approved Central Committee elections with the participation of Palestinians abroad to oversee the making of arrangements. It also calls for the initiation of the preparation of the legal, institutional, professional and technical infrastructure necessary to build an electoral registry for Palestinians abroad. It is based on everyone who believes in the necessity of representation and participation in decision-making and influencing the path of the Palestine issue and preparing the necessary perceptions to overcome possible political and technical obstacles, including electronic mechanisms.
Is there a final word that you would say to the Palestinians in Latin America, in general, and in Brazil in particular?
I greet all Palestinians on your site in Latin America, and I call upon every Palestinian to preserve their Palestinian constants, such as the right to return to Palestine, and to do everything they can to reach the highest ranks in their country in order to contribute to its reconstruction and progress. We, as Palestinians, have made historical achievements in building states and helping to establish and advance them.
I also greet all citizens in Latin America, and Brazil in particular, and I thank the Brazilian people for their permanent support for the Palestinian cause. I also invite them to maintain this support because the question of Palestine is a humanitarian and just cause, and the Brazilian people can only stand for justice.