On October 25, thousands of people gathered on the outskirts of Santiago de Chile for a concert in solidarity with the people of Palestine. The Comunidad Palestina de Chile organized "Chile Canta Palestina Contra Toda La Violencia" to raise funds for hospitals in besieged Gaza and the occupied West Bank, with popular folk group Illapu and Chilean-French singer Ana Tijoux as well as a traditional Palestinian dabke dance ensemble. Tijoux has long supported Palestinian rights. She closed out the event with a performance of "Somos Sur," which she has said is "about the importance of resistance not only in Chile, but around the world." The original recording features British-Palestinian rapper Shadia Mansour.
The crowd at the event was a sea of Palestinian flags and black and white keffiyeh scarves, a symbol of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and ongoing bombardment. An organizer welcomed the event’s attendees, affirming that the gathering was an initiative by Chilean artists who want to “spread the word [about Palestine] in the eyes of a world that does not want to see or hear.”
Chile is home to the largest Palestinian diaspora outside of the Middle East. The first Palestinian migrants arrived in Chile in the late 1800s, before migrating to Latin America in larger numbers in the early 20th century. Their communities in Chile coalesced around attempts to obtain Palestinian citizenship from the British in the mid-1920s (Britain held a mandate over the territories of Palestine and Transjordan from 1922-1948). The British authorities “regularly denied citizenship to non-Jewish residents” and did not offer it to Palestinians living abroad. The Palestinian community faced pressure to assimilate into Chilean society, as well as restrictions on Arab migration.
The Palestinian diaspora has since become a powerful force in Chilean politics, though one that is divided along class lines. The first middle-class congressman of Palestinian descent was elected in the 1940s. A few years later, Chile would join Honduras and El Salvador—which also have significant Palestinian diasporas—in abstaining from the 1947 United Nations vote to partition Palestine. Many wealthy Chileans of Palestinian descent would then go on to oppose the left-wing government of Salvador Allende in the 1970s, with their affinity for the struggle at home taking a back seat to their financial interests.
Current left-wing president Gabriel Boric has openly supported the Palestinian cause and plans to open an embassy in the occupied territories. He was supported by many working-class Palestinians, and he condemned Israeli violence and occupation in his first address at the United Nations in 2022. The Chilean government had already recognized the Palestinian state in 2011, under the conservative leadership of Sebastián Piñera. Israel called Piñera’s 2019 visit to the Temple Mount—a site held sacred in Judaism, Christianity and Islam—with a group of Palestinian officials a “violation of Israeli sovereignty.”
While the involvement of a large Palestinian diaspora has influenced Chilean politics on the left and right, Israel’s suspected cooperation with the Pinochet regime, which ousted democratically-elected President Allende in 1973, also looms large. Evidence shows Israel supplied the regime with arms and reportedly helped train members of the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), Chile’s dictatorship-era secret service, which has been accused of executing or forcibly disappearing more than 3,000 people and torturing thousands of others.
Latin America Responds
In recent weeks, many places in the world have erupted in popular displays of solidarity with the people of Gaza, with demonstrators in major cities from Istanbul to Mexico City demanding a ceasefire.
The day after Hamas carried out a surprise attack against Israel on October 7, the Israeli government formally declared war on the militant Palestinian group, which operates in Gaza. In practice, this has meant an Israeli military assault on the besieged enclave, which is home to about 2.2 million people, almost half of whom are children.
While many governments in North America and Europe have voiced support for Israel, official responses across Latin America have been more varied. Argentina is home to one of Latin America’s largest Jewish communities. President Alberto Fernández condemned Hamas’s attack and offered humanitarian aid to Israel.
In Central America, El Salvador’s far-right president Nayib Bukele, who has Palestinian ancestry, took to X to call Hamas “savage beasts” and compared them to Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), a Salvadoran criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles. (Bukele’s government has been accused of “systematic human rights violations” over the handling of its war on gangs.)
Some Latin American states took a more pro-Palestine stance. Belize and Mexico called for a political solution to the conflict, with the former demanding the right of return for displaced Palestinians. Colombian President Gustavo Petro took a markedly different stance in his statement in the wake of Israel’s attacks on Gaza’s civilians.
“If I had lived in the Germany of 1933, I would have fought on the side of the Jewish people,” wrote Petro on X. “[A]nd if I had lived in Palestine in 1948, I would have fought on the Palestinian side.” Petro’s statement prompted Israel to halt defense exports to Colombia.
In Chile, Boric’s government has made statements in favor of Palestinian rights and decried Israel's “indiscriminate attacks against civilians.”
The Palestinian Community of Chile itself issued a statement the day Hamas launched its attack, tying it to Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ human rights: “We make an emphatic call to the international community to take concrete measures to guarantee compliance with international law.”
After the attack on Al Ahli hospital which killed hundreds of people on October 17, the group also protested at the Israeli embassy in Santiago, calling for an end to what it called the genocide of Palestinians and demanding an end to relations with Israel. Gaza officials have said Israel was responsible for the attack while the United States, France, and other Western countries have backed Israel's claim that the blast was a result of a misfired rocket launched by another militant group in Gaza, Islamic Jihad. The definitive cause of the attack has not been determined.
At the time of this article's publication, Israel's bombardment has killed more than 7,000 Palestinians. The Hamas attack killed about 1,400 Israelis.
Indigenous-Palestinian Solidarity: "We are annihilated even if we don't resist"
Critical geographer and popular educator of Maya Indigenous roots, Linda Quiquivix notes the difficulties of bargaining from “below,” as subjugated, colonized or oppressed peoples, with what she calls the “above”—the systems and people in power.
Quiquivix sees international law as something that does not apply to non-Europeans, and certainly not in Palestine, as “modern Europe was created as a safe space for peace, and the rest of our territories, our land, us—we are the realm for war.” She says Palestinians are experiencing "betrayal after betrayal” and “facing litmus tests from white folks, assimilated folks, wannabe white folks… to condemn their own resistance.”
Those who are standing up for Palestine today “have been fighting a really long time.” For Quiquivix, “It’s not just [Palestinian] identity. It’s really the ‘below' that understands itself as dignified, and so they don’t want to crush others.”
Though not of Palestinian descent, activist Ankatu, who refrained from sharing his last name, planned to attend the concert on the outskirts of Santiago. He echoed the sentiment expressed by Quiquivix.
“I’m Chilean, but I’m always for the people who suffer and who are fighters, for the poor people, but not the ‘poor little things.’ We all know that Palestine has been looted by Israel,” Ankatu said. “I only do what I feel, but everything that is happening in the world hurts me.”
Two days after the Hamas attack, Indigenous groups held a resistance march in the capital Santiago, days before Chile was set to commemorate Día de la Raza marking first contact between Spanish colonizers and the original peoples of the Americas. Demonstrators waved the Mapuche Wenufoye and Ancient Mapuche flags alongside Palestinian flags, next to a banner that read: “Our resistance has no limits.”
“Mark my words, October 7, 2023 is a rupture, it’s one of those great events like 1492. I have no doubt,” said Quiquivix. She argued Palestinians have removed the veneer of empire, the veneer “that we’ve allowed it to have by trying to be included in it.”
The leader of the militant Mapuche group Coordinator Arauco-Malleco (CAM) Héctor Llaitul Carrillanca issued a statement on the violence in Gaza and Israel on October 12. A member of the Mapuche community, Llaitul was detained in August 2022 on charges including usurpation and attacks against authority. He is being held under preventative detention, which does not impose a maximum detention period. The testimony that could land Llaitul a 25-year sentence comes from anonymous witnesses against him, in accordance with an anti-terror law often used to persecute Indigenous people and other activists.
The system is eerily similar to Israel’s so-called administrative detention, which allows for “incarceration without trial or charge.” As the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories describes, administrative detention “has no time limit and the evidence on which it is based is not disclosed.”
Llaitul draws a clear line between the Mapuche struggle to reclaim their lands from extractive industry, and the Palestinian struggle to re-establish a permanent homeland.
“[T]he norms of criminal law the Zionist state of Israel has implemented… which have brought acts of genocide by Zionism and dignified resistance by the heroic Palestinian people,” Llaitul wrote, “are norms of an authoritarian State, of an occupation regime that imposes apartheid measures, which is precisely what they want to build in Chile against our people.”
Given the many parallels, Quiquivix, who also focuses on Black and Indigenous land movements in Latin America and the Middle East, sees the affinity between the Indigenous and Palestinian resistance movements as logical.
“We just saw [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu at the UN [in September], presenting a map of Israel that has zero Palestine on it, none,” Quiquivix said. Erasure on maps, Quiquivix says, is one of the threads that connect the Palestinian resistance and Indigenous struggles in the Americas.
“[W]e have had a world imposed on us that wants to destroy our ways of being, our world. And if we resist, we are annihilated. And we are annihilated even if we don’t resist.”
But Quiquivix warns against solidarity that “relates to others as lacking” and discounts the lessons the Palestinian movement within Palestine has to teach broader movements for justice and equity.
“For me, Palestinians were my first teachers of dignity… and after that, I was able to see it in other struggles, including my own ancestral struggle. And I think a lot of people all over the world are getting that lesson as well, en masse,” she said.
It’s critical that others do something with and care for “these seeds that they’re leaving behind … to harvest and share more seeds from those harvests.”
Editor's note: This article was updated November 1, 2023 to add the death toll of Palestinians and Israelis as of the original date of publishing on October 27, 2023.
Nyki Duda is a Chicago-based writer, editor, and researcher.
Folil Pueller is a freelance photographer based in Santiago, Chile. She is dedicated to documentary photography focusing on human rights issues. Folil's name means "root" in the Mapuche language and pays homage to her ancestors, many of whom were photographers. Find more of her work on Instagram (@folilpueller) and on her professional website.