On February 14, 1896, one of the most consequential pamphlets in modern history was published. It is a pamphlet that is not well known across Latin America, but has impacted the region in tremendous ways.
Theodor Herzl, a 35-year-old journalist living in France, published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). In his magnum opus, he spoke out against the rampant antisemitism that existed in Europe at the time. Across the continent, Jewish people were regularly discriminated against and killed.
Herzl, who was born into a secular Jewish family in Hungary, called for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. He argued that Jewish people living in Europe should pack their bags and settle in the area, which was ruled by the Ottoman Empire at the time. In the conclusion of Der Judenstaat, Herzl wrote: “We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes.” A year later, in 1897, Herzl co-founded the World Zionist Organization, which would transform his vision of a “Jewish State” into reality.
“Zion” is used as a synonym in the Hebrew Bible for Palestine, which it refers to as “The Land of Israel.” Palestinians, who are referred to as “Philistines” in the religious text, have lived in the area since the 12th century BC. However, a group of settlers referred to as “Israelites” (who were said to be descendants of Jacob, a Hebrew Biblical figure) took over the region and established the “Kingdom of Israel.” The Kingdom lasted from 1047 BC to 930 BC, eventually splitting in two and being annexed by the Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian empires. Thus, Zionism calls for the re-occupation of Indigenous Palestinian lands to establish a new “Jewish State.”
Despite passing away in 1904, Herzl’s ideology of Zionism gained traction across Europe. Amid rising anti-semitic violence during both world wars, Jewish people fled Europe in droves, with many resettling in Palestine. After World War I, the Ottomans lost control of the region and the British took over. After World War II, following the fascist atrocities of the Holocaust, the zionists lobbied for Britain to grant them control over Palestinian lands.
Although the Soviet Union helped liberate thousands of Jewish people enslaved by the Nazis and welcomed them with open arms, the zionists rejected their offer. Not only were many leading zionists against socialism and communism. They were also intent on gaining control over the Middle East, a region of growing geopolitical importance. In March of 1908, British geologist George Bernard Reynolds discovered huge amounts of oil in the area, at a time when it became widely used for transportation and heating. By May 14, 1948 — just 52 years after Herzl published Der Judenstaat — David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel. Herzl’s dream of a “Jewish State” became a reality, and Zionism became its ruling ideology.
David Ben-Gurion pronouncing Israel’s Declaration of Independence, May 14, 1948. | Source: Wikimedia Commons
Since then, the State of Israel has weaponized Herzl’s zionist ideology against the Indigenous Palestinian people. Claiming to have rightful ownership over Palestine, the State of Israel regularly exploits, displaces and kills them, constructing settlements over their lands. Today, many Israelis believe they are living as “free men on our own soil,” as Herzl put it. However, they fail to recognize that their so-called “Jewish State” replicates the same discrimination and violence used against Jewish people in Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries. Neturei Karta, an organization that represents Haredi Jews, correctly points out that Zionism and the State of Israel do not represent Jewish people as a whole. There is a clear difference between Judaism and Zionism, and any attempt to equate the two is intellectually dishonest. Furthermore, many leading supporters of Zionism are not even Jewish. In fact, most of them are right-wing evangelical Christians based in the United States.
Since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, much has been publicized about zionist crimes against the Palestinian people. Not only are the native peoples of Palestine being kicked out of their own lands. They are also forced to live under horrible conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, which have essentially become open-air prisons. In Gaza, the most densely-populated Palestinian territory, 53 percent of people live in poverty, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, 54 percent of Gazans are food insecure, over 75 percent are entirely dependent on foreign aid and over 90 percent of water in the area is undrinkable, according to the United Nations. To top it off, because the State of Israel has imposed sea, air and border blockades on Gaza, the Palestinian people living there are not free to leave their own lands. This is made worse by the fact that the Israeli Defense Forces, IDF, regularly shoot and kill Palestinian protesters while branding them as “terrorists.”
However, not much has been publicized about zionist crimes against other Indigenous peoples around the world. In the conclusion of Der Judenstaat, the foundational text of Zionism, Herzl also wrote: “The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, and magnified by our greatness.” The expansionist and chauvinist implications of this excerpt have also become a reality following the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Zionists sought to expand the State of Israel’s power overseas, including a distant region thousands of miles away: Latin America.
Within Latin America, the State of Israel established its first stronghold in Guatemala, a majority-Indigenous country that was once home to the great Maya civilization. Zionism has a little-known but bloody history of genocide against the Indigenous peoples of Guatemala. The State of Israel has also committed crimes against humanity in other countries of the region, including Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Chile, among others. However, some of its earliest and most despicable crimes were carried out in Guatemala. Many of these crimes were committed under the guise of bringing “liberty,” “wealth” and “greatness” to Indigenous peoples they viewed as inferior and dangerous, just like the Palestinians.
IDF soldiers beat up a Palestinian man in the West Bank. | Reuters
In 1951, Jacobo Árbenz was elected President of Guatemala amid a democratic uprising against a U.S.-backed military dictatorship. Árbenz, a former military officer who participated in the uprising, instituted a number of progressive reforms. Among these reforms was Decree 900, a nationwide program that redistributed unused lands to poor and predominantly Indigenous campesinos. Close to half of a million people benefited from the decree, granting them over 1.4 million acres of arable land. The progressive president also provided technical and financial assistance to Indigenous farmers, allowing them to grow and sell coffee and bananas independently. The land reform program was so groundbreaking that it even caught the attention of Argentine communist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who moved to Guatemala in 1953 to witness the process.
However, in 1954, Árbenz was overthrown in a military coup orchestrated by the U.S. Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency. The United Fruit Company staunchly opposed his land reform program because it hurt their corporate profits. Thus, the company pushed Washington to oust Árbenz, replacing him with Carlos Castillo Armas, another U.S.-backed military dictator. Between 1954 and 1960, all of Árbenz’s progressive reforms were rolled back and more military coups took place, plunging Guatemala further into poverty and violence. In 1956, two years after the right-wing coup, Guatemala became the first country to open an embassy in occupied Al Quds (Jerusalem). The State of Israel established a strong relationship with the Guatemalan Right that exists to this day.
By 1960, the Movimiento Revolucionario 13 Noviembre (November 13th Revolutionary Movement) and the Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes (Rebel Armed Forces) launched a people’s war against the military dictatorship. Both were Marxist-Leninist guerrilla movements that included workers, campesinos, Indigenous peoples and military defectors among their ranks. During the 1970s, the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres (Guerrilla Army of the Poor), the Organización del Pueblo en Armas (Organization of People in Arms) and the Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo (Guatemalan Party of Labor) also joined the revolutionary alliance. Together, the five revolutionary organizations formed the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity), which fought against the U.S.-backed military dictatorship in a united front.
Indigenous guerrilleras in Guatemala. | Source: Iniciativa Debate
In 1977, the United States temporarily cut off military aid to Guatemala’s dictatorship after the human rights violations it was committing came to the public eye. The imperialists in Washington, under the presidency of Jimmy Carter, realized that their support for the dictatorship was unpopular and unfruitful. The U.S. had already suffered a humiliating defeat in Vietnam against another communist insurgency and was not looking for another loss. Meanwhile, Guatemala’s Indigenous communist movement was getting stronger by the day, building solidarity with other revolutionary movements abroad. As a result, Guatemala’s government turned to the State of Israel — a key U.S. ally in the Cold War against communism — for military aid.
That same year, in 1977, Menachem Begin was elected Prime Minister of the State of Israel. Begin was a member of Likud, a far-right zionist party that despises socialism and promotes Israeli supremacy. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a member of Likud. Begin was also a leader of Irgun, a zionist paramilitary organization that is responsible for killing thousands of Arab people during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Moshe Dayan, Begin’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, immediately began setting up huge arms deals with the Guatemalan military dictatorship.
By the 1980s, the State of Israel became the largest supplier of weapons, military training and surveillance technology to Guatemala, according to historian Rosa De Ferrari. Between January and November of that year, over 3,000 people described by the dictatorship as “subversives” were murdered, according to Amnesty International. These so-called “subversives,” most of whom were Indigenous campesinos and leftist activists, were killed with Israeli weapons. A year later, in 1981, Israeli Economic Coordination Minister Ya’aeov Merider told a gathering of Israeli businessmen: “Israel coveted the job of top Washington proxy in Central America,” according to NACLA. That same year, Ronald Reagan, a right-wing zionist Christian, was elected President of the United States.
By 1982, the Zionist war on Guatemala’s leftists and Indigenous peoples went into high gear. On February 13, Guatemala’s dictatorship murdered at least 200 civilians in the village of Chisis, which they claimed was harboring leftist guerrillas. They were also killed with Israeli weapons. On March 23, General Efraín Ríos Montt came to power in another military coup, immediately establishing martial law and suspending the constitution. Montt was a member of the Gospel Outreach Church, a far-right evangelical sect that fanatically supported Zionism and the State of Israel. He was also close friends with U.S. evangelical leaders Jerry Falwell Sr. and Pat Robertson, both of whom also supported Zionism and the State of Israel.
Efraín Ríos Montt (L) and Ronald Reagan (R). | Source: Portside
On the day Ríos Montt came to power, his troops murdered 96 suspected guerrillas in front of their families in the village of Ilom. The following month, in April of 1982, two more massacres took place: one in the village of Chel, where 95 people were murdered, and another in the village of Acul, where 17 people were murdered. All of these massacres took place in the department of Quiché, where Indigenous Mayans account for over 88 percent of the population, according to census data. Amnesty International reported in 1982 that at least 10,000 Indigenous peoples and campesinos were killed from March to July within that year alone. Furthermore, over 100,000 Indigenous villagers were forced to leave their lands, where their people have been living for thousands of years.
Around the same time, in the summer of 1982, the IDF invaded and occupied southern Lebanon, murdering thousands of Arabs fighting for Palestinian liberation. Between September 16 and 18 of the same year, Israel-backed death squads in occupied Lebanon killed up to 3,500 civilians, in what has now come to be known as the Sabra and Chatila Massacre. George Black, a U.S. journalist based in Guatemala at the time, reported that Guatemalan army planners “looked hard at Israeli agricultural settlements as a model for reworking the devastated rural economy.” According to his report, these officers “spoke openly of the ‘Palestinianization’ of the nation’s rebellious Mayan Indians.” Also in 1982, the right-wing Contras (counter-revolutionaries) in Nicaragua began murdering members of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front). They did so with weapons and training from the State of Israel and the United States.
By December 5, 1982, Reagan traveled to Guatemala to meet with Ríos Montt, where he praised the military dictator as “a man of great personal integrity and commitment.” Months before Reagan’s visit, Ríos Montt told ABC News that his success in fighting the guerrillas was due to the fact that “our soldiers were trained by Israelis.” That same month, over 300 residents of the Dos Erres village in the Petén department were murdered by the Guatemalan military’s Kaibil Unit. Over 100 of those murdered were children under the age of 14, according to the Guatemala Human Rights Commission. The soldiers killed babies by dropping them down wells. Some of the babies reportedly had their heads smashed with sledgehammers. Then, women and children were rounded up in nearby churches, where the women were raped and the children were beaten. After that, the men were beaten to death and their bodies were also thrown down wells.
The year 1982 exemplifies the violent and bloody nature of Zionism, which has the blood of thousands of Indigenous peoples on its hands, from Guatemala and Nicaragua to Palestine and Lebanon.
A Guatemalan soldier patrols an Indigenous village. | Source: Central American Voices
In March of 1983, Israeli-trained Guatemalan soldiers captured and burned alive at least eight people in the village of Sumal in the Quiché department. On August 8, 1983, 32 displaced Mayan refugees (including 14 children) were murdered at a camp in the Alta Verapaz department. On that same day, Ríos Montt was forced out as President of Guatemala as he was becoming increasingly unpopular. Still, massacres continued in the years that followed, as the Central American country was still being armed and aided by the State of Israel. On May 29, 1984, for example, Guatemalan soldiers murdered 25 people in the village of Xeuvicalvitz. The following year, on January 18, 1965, they tortured and killed eight people in Xeatzan Bajo. A year and a half later, on July 28, 1986, another 33 campesinos were murdered in Xeucalvitz.
All of these crimes against humanity are documented in the Commission for Historical Clarification, which was published in 1999. K’iche’ activist Rigoberta Menchú and other brave Indigenous leaders (especially women) are responsible for compiling information about these massacres and bringing them to the public eye. Not only was the State of Israel aware of all of these crimes. They were also arming and training those who were carrying them out.
On January 14, 1986, Vinicio Cerezo was elected President of Guatemala in a “democratic” election, bringing an end to overt military rule in the country. Although Cerezo initiated reforms, such as establishing the National Commission for Reconciliation to end the civil war, he still supported Zionism and the State of Israel. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Cerezo once compared “Guatemala’s struggle for survival, peace and democracy with Israel’s formative years.” Cerezo added that he was “inspired by the strong defense of human rights emanating from a nation that had a special awareness about human suffering.” Cerezo’s praise for Zionism couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
After Cerezo’s term came to an end in 1991, two more right-wing presidents came to power, with the civil war officially coming to an end in 1996. Since then, right-wing and pro-zionist presidents have continued to rule the country, maintaining diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. In November of 2009, the Congress of Guatemala bestowed honors to the State of Israel for its “contribution to the nation’s agriculture, education, medicine and security.” To celebrate the occasion, the legislative body hung an Israeli flag at the center of its hall, with a band playing the Israeli national anthem in the background. On July 30, 2017, former Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales decorated Israeli Ambassador Moshe Bachar with the Order of Quetzal, the country’s highest honor. A year later, on May 16, 2018, Morales opened an embassy in occupied Al Quds (Jerusalem), two days after the United States inaugurated its new site. To this day, the Guatemalan government continues to be influenced by the State of Israel. Across Guatemala, thousands of zionist evangelical churches backed by the U.S. and the State of Israel are being propped up in poor areas.
With all of this in mind, it is important for us to support and internationalize the Palestinian struggle against Zionism, especially in Latin America. As our comrade Nicholas Ayala wrote in a previous ANTICONQUISTA article: “The oppression of the Palestinian people is intimately linked to the oppression faced in Latin America by campesinos, workers, Indigenous people, Black people, women and other marginalized groups.” Guatemala is a clear example of this. We must continue to speak out against Zionism’s bloody history, not just in Guatemala and Latin America, but the world as a whole. While Herzl’s vision of a “Jewish State” may have begun with good intentions, it’s historical execution has been a disaster for Indigenous peoples around the world.