Palestinian struggles in maintaining a strong national identity have been affected by the emergence of three similar yet distinct groups: internally displaced persons; refugees in exile; and Palestinians who have emigrated from their homeland to countries outside of the Middle East. This third group includes descendants born outside of their ancestral homeland.
Narratives of Palestinians living in Latin America, falling in the third group, have been largely neglected in scholarly discourses. They do not fit well into a national narrative that has been exclusive to the refugee experience. Therefore, they have not had much space in Palestinian historiography and often do not meet the category of “Palestinian-ness” as defined by a nationalist discourse centered on statelessness and dispossession. This list of essential readings for those interested in the topic surveys the existing literature (in English, Spanish, and Arabic) on questions scholars have raised regarding Arabs, and more specifically, Palestinians living in Latin America and their relationships to both their homeland and their new communities. It describes their arrival in Latin America from the Levant and Palestine; their integration into Latin American society; the factors behind their considerable success; and the consequences of discrimination. Furthermore, it incorporates scholarship on the inter-regional links between Latin America and the Middle East and the impact of Latin American policy on the Middle East, as demonstrated in relations with Israel and the Arab states, as well as Latin America’s involvement in partitioning Palestine.
Palestinian immigration from the Middle East is largely conflated with two events: the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948, when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their homes following the creation of Israel, and the Six-Day War of 1967. In fact, four waves of Palestinian immigration from the Middle East are responsible for the makeup of the global Palestinian community. The first wave of immigration came in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during the rule of the Ottoman Empire (1860-1916). The second wave occurred under the British Mandate between 1918 and 1948. Finally, the last two waves were a direct result of the previously mentioned events.
The existing literature offers very cursory scholarship on the experiences of Arab women and the roles they played in both cultural preservation and socioeconomic integration into Latin American society. Here, the literature suffers from scarce archival documentation, neglecting the position of women in oral family histories and their role in the preservation of family remembrance. There is also very little documentation of the migratory experiences of women. Moreover, the challenges Arab women faced in advocating for gender integration in the socioeconomic and political discourse are largely absent from the literature.
Given the dearth of scholarship concerning Arab women in Latin America, this survey incorporates recent scholarly works directly dealing with this topic, suggesting emerging perspectives in the field. This literature has largely developed along the paths of two themes. The first has to do with the effects of the clash of Palestinian and Latin American patriarchal values on the Arab woman’s experience in Latin America. The second involves the influence of nationalist self-definitions on Arab women’s experiences, and how they ultimately affected the role of women in facilitating their families’ integration into their new societies.
The following readings have connected the history of the dispossession of the Palestinian people from their homes and their emigration to Latin America, as well as examined how the process of the Palestinian diaspora in Latin America has constructed the identities of both genders in their new societies.
Nancie Gonzalez, Dollar, Dove, and Eagle: One Hundred Years of Palestinian Migration to Honduras. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1992.
Gonzalez examines San Pedro Sula, Honduras—a city in which people of Palestinian descent have dominated the commercial and industrial sector. She conducts comprehensive historical and ethnographic research in Honduras, Israel, and the West Bank, largely focusing on how Palestinians came to settle in Honduras since the nineteenth century. She unpacks what she calls “conflict migration” by analyzing the conflicts in the Middle East (specifically the aftermath of 1948) and its influence on Palestinian emigration to the Americas. She states that the loss of citizenship for Palestinian refugees, as a result of the Nakba, has created new migration patterns, such as diaspora. Gonzalez addresses Palestinians, since 1948, as a “true diaspora,” defining a true diaspora as “people who have become dispersed to many different parts of the world, who sometimes cut themselves off from (or were preventing of returning to), their homelands.” In later chapters, she demonstrates how Palestinians shared the commercial and industrial sectors (including agricultural land grants) with both Hondurans and other foreigners and how they have acculturated in their host societies. She provides a meticulous description of how their goods and services (okra, figs, and grape leaves), which were previously unavailable in their host societies, are used in Honduran markets today.
Ignacio Klich, “The Chimera of Palestinian Resettlement in Argentina in the Early Aftermath of the First Arab Israeli War and Other Similarly Fantastic Notions.” The Americas, 53 (1996): 15-43.
In this article, Klich asserts that Argentina became the potential site for resettling Palestinian Arabs in the aftermath of the first 1948 Arab-Israeli war. However, he states that Palestinian immigration to Latin America predated the war and suggests that Zionists had already realized that Palestinians have immigrated to Latin America even before the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Klich lays out three reasons for Israeli interest in Argentina. First, this had long been a favorite destination for Arabic-speaking immigrants. Second, the Peron Government was perceived as courting the Arab states, while simultaneously showing desire to develop cordial relations with Israel, especially after the creation of the Jewish State. Finally, during Peron’s first year of rule, the pro-Arab Santiago Peralta was in charge of navigating Argentina’s immigration, with his writings of that period praising Arab immigration and promoting colonization schemes by Arabic speakers, largely from the peasant sector from the Middle East. As a result, Klich states that Yitzhak Navon, future president of the State of Israel, examined the possibility of resettling Palestinian refugees in Argentina. Ignacio gathers primary source material such as recorded interviews with Navon and the younger Weitz, the son of Yosef Weitz, (director of the Lands Department of Israel’s Jewish National Fund) as well as the diary of Yosef Weitz himself, confirming that Weitz went to Argentina to see the possibility of implementing the proposed transfer of the Palestinian population to “Judaize” the territory.
Xavier Abu Eid, “Al-Lajiun (Al-Falasteen-ioun fi Amrika Al-Lataniyah wa Al-bahith Ain Al- A’tiraf”[Palestinian Refugees in Latin America and the Search for Recognition]. Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, 21-22 (2010): 1.
Abu Eid focuses largely on Palestinian refugees immigrating to Latin America after the Nakba (1948). He asserts that many countries in the region gave citizenship to refugees; therefore, it is difficult to present an estimate number of Palestinian refugees and the number of Palestinian communities in Latin America. He uses official statistics from the Palestinian Central Bureau as evidence to demonstrate that there are no accurate statistical figures of the number of Palestinian refugees living in Latin America. Furthermore, although Article V of the Palestinian National Charter states “as patriots, Arabs who lived in Palestine until 1947, regardless of whether they had been displaced, or remained there, and anyone born after that date to Palestinian parents, both within Palestine or outside, is also a Palestinian,” Abu Eid states that the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics does not admit that most of the Palestinians who live there are part of the Palestinian people. That said, this essay examines some of the reasons why Palestinians living in Latin America are not considered Palestinians by the Palestinian Central Bureau.
Roberto Guzman-Marin and Zidane Zeraoui, Arab Immigration in Mexico in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Assimilation and Arab Heritage. Monterrey, Mexico and Austin, Texas: Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey and Augustine Press, 2003.
Guzman-Marin and Zeraoui offer groundbreaking scholarship in the fields of Latin America and the Middle East in their analysis of Arab and Palestinian migration to Mexico and Central America. Their monograph is divided into eight chapters, aiming to “explain the Arab immigration in Mexico and to describe the economic, political and cultural contributions of the Arab immigrants in Mexico.” The book aims to cover various topics in just a little over one hundred pages. It provides an overview of Arab immigration to Mexico in the nineteenth into the twenty-first century with sections on economic contributions of Lebanese immigrants in Mexico, religions of Arab immigrations, Arab social, religious, and cultural organizations in Mexico, and reflections on the integration of Arabs into Mexican society. This book includes appendixes covering Guzman-Marin’s and Zeraoui’s quantitative analysis conducted at the Mexican national archives.
Roberto Guzman-Marin, A Century of Palestinian Immigration into Central America: A Study of Their Economic and Cultural Contributions. San Jose: University of Costa Rica, 2000.
Guzman-Marin uses thirty-five interviews conducted in San Jose, Costa Rica, between 1993 and 1996 to describe the “reconstruction” of Palestinian immigration in Central America and to analyze the various activities Palestinian immigrants and their descendants were involved in their new societies. He bases his reconstruction on oral history of Palestinian immigrants, as well as letters from his informants, and covers one hundred years and six Central American countries (Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Belize) in a little over one hundred and fifty pages. He centers his book on Palestinian migration beginning in the late nineteenth century until the 1967 Israeli occupation, contributing to the emerging scholarship on non-European immigration into Latin America.
Hebat El Attar, “Una Intifada Literaria. Mahfud Massis: El Poeta Palestino-Chileno”[A Literary Intifada. Mahfud Massis: The Palestinian-Chilean Poet]. E.I.A., 21 (2010): 77-95.
El Attar discusses the work of the Palestinian-Chilean poet Mahfud Massis. She describes his work as one that embodies a kind of literary resistance. El Attar also gives a brief explanation on etymology of the term intifada and its emergence in political discourse. Although the work of Mahfud Massis was written decades before the Palestinian intifada, El Attar considers his work to be a method of resistance to the socio-political situation in Palestine and the challenges faced by first generation Arabs in Latin America.
Juan Abugattas, “The Perception of the Palestinian Question in Latin America.” Journal of Palestine Studies, 11 (1982): 117-128.
Abugattas discusses the history of the perception of the Palestinian Question in Latin America by placing a large focus on the discussions which have occurred (and were still occurring during the 1980s) in the media and in political conferences, as well as the public statements made by political parties and by social, cultural, and human rights organizations. Abugattas asserts that Latin America’s interest in the Palestinian Question has grown significantly. In regards to the real identity of the Palestinian immigrants to Latin America in the beginning stages of the migration process, Abugattas posits that it remained blurred or hidden by a legal or historical accident: that they arrived carrying Turkish passports, and for this reason, they became everywhere known as “the Turks.” He provides detailed examples of geopolitical events that stimulated the emergence of the Palestinian political identity in Latin America in later years. Zionist propaganda and agents in Latin America projected an image of “Israel” with myths and fantasies, essentially producing anti-Palestinian statements. Nonetheless, with the emergence of progressive political organizations, and debates within political circles (for example, around Yasser Arafat’s visit to the UN 1974), the Palestinian people and their resistance movement were taken seriously in Latin America, overcoming the impressions created by Zionist propaganda.
Edward B. Glick, “Latin America and the Palestine Partition Resolution.” Journal of Inter-American Studies, 1 (April 1959): 211-222.
Glick discusses the substantive role Latin America played in the Palestine Partition Resolution of 1947 and suggests that the thirteen affirmative Latin American votes made partition achievable. Glick uses editorials from the Spanish-language journal of the Jewish Agency for Palestine in 1949 to demonstrate that the Latin American republics “played a singular role in the political battle that preceded the establishment of Israel. Without their votes that battle could not have been won.” He lays out three crucial questions for understanding Latin America’s influence on the passage of the Palestine partition resolution: Did the Zionists, the Arabs, or the United States seek to pressure Latin America to vote for or against partition? Are there reasons other than those given officially for the positions taken by individual Latin American delegations? Why did the majority of Latin American countries accept and support the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine? To answer these questions, Glick examines the attitudes of the chief delegates of individual Latin American countries.
Bruce Hoffman. The PLO and Israel in Central America: The Geopolitical Dimension. Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 1988.
Hoffman traces the origins of the PLO-Sandinista relationship back to 1966, thoroughly analyzing the geopolitical elements of this relationship and how the conflict between the PLO and Israel became of interest in Central America. He claims that the PLO’s support to the Sandinistas and other revolutionary movements in neighboring countries acted to offset Israeli support and arms sales to Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica in Central America. However, Hoffman argues that the PLO’s involvement in the region was much less significant than Israel’s. Israel’s support to Somoza, provision of aid to the Contras, and supply of arms to Nicaragua’s neighbors appear to have facilitated the PLO in gaining a grip in Nicaragua and in constructing relations with leftist groups in other Central American countries.
Ignacio Klich. “Latin America, the United States and the Birth of Israel: The Case of Somoza’s Nicaragua.” Journal of Latin American Studies, 20 (1988): 389-432.
In this article, Klich states that after the downfall of the Somoza regime and the establishment of Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), Israeli-Nicaraguan relations declined in 1979 (they were eventually cut off completely three years later). Based on Israeli, US, and Arab archival material, he discusses the early Zionist-Nicaraguan relationship, and he also focuses on Zionist efforts to secure Latin American, mostly Nicaraguan, support for its sovereignty. Furthermore, it shows that Israel did not have unsettled debts with Somoza Garcia, and hence that the early relationship with him is insufficient to provide a persuasive explanation for Israel’s entanglement with his son more than three decades later.
Regina Sharif. “Latin America and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.” Journal of Palestine Studies, 7 (1977): 98-122.
Similar to Glick’s assertion of Latin America’s support for partitioning Palestine and for the establishment of the state of Israel, Sharif also suggests that what tilted the balance was overwhelming Latin American support in 1947. However, analogous to Edward Glick’s claim, Sharif states that after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, there was a shift in Latin American attitudes towards the Middle East conflict. Her article examines the impact of the new situation on Latin American policy towards the Middle East, as reflected by Israel and the Arab states, as well as in voting behavior on resolutions related to the Palestine problem in the United Nations. Sharif states that Israel has played a significant role in its relations with the Latin American subcontinent on three levels: the political/diplomatic, the economic, and the demographic (as a source of Jewish immigration) since the 1947 United Nation Partition of Palestine. She elaborates more on these three levels and explains how Israel has kept close ties with Latin American countries. One example she provides is Israel’s military support to Latin America (Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, and General Pinochet in Chile) and Israeli exports and imports to Latin America. Further into the paper, Sharif suggests that Latin American countries with more democratic forms of government (and fewer extensive violations of human rights at home) were more likely to condemn Israeli violations of human rights in the Occupied Territories.
Cecilia Baeza, “Women in Arab-Palestinian Associations in Chile: Long Distance Nationalism and Gender Mixing.” Al-Raida, 133-134 (2011): 18-32.
Baeza examines women in the Palestinian community in Chile from 1920 to 2010. She focuses on the transformation of gender roles in their involvement in political activity, specifically in their support for the Palestinian cause. She begins with the reasons behind this transatlantic migration that started in the early nineteenth century from Palestine to Chile. She asserts that women’s migration was dependent on men’s. Women travelled either as daughters with their parents (especially their fathers), or as wives with their husbands. She discusses three case studies of women during the late nineteenth early and twentieth century and states that the first motive behind women’s migration was marriage. Baeza goes on to further analyze women’s involvement in association movements and asserts that there was a shift in the role of women in community associations from the 1970s onward. These associations started questioning the gender segregation of the organizations’ work. FRELIPA (Palestinian Liberation Front), a leftist Chilean organization founded by Mahfud Massis and Fuad Habash, accomplished the first public action in Latin America in support of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, featuring twenty-five persons—four of whom were women. Baeza also discusses the role of Nancy Lolas Silva, one of the first women of Palestinian origin to have played a political role in supporting long distance nationalism, later opening the Palestinian Information Bureau inside the Palestinian Club in Chile, becoming more openly committed to the Palestinian cause.
Pilar A. Varagas and Luz Marina V. Suaza, Mujeres árabes de Colombia [Arab Women from Colombia]. Bogotá: Planeta, 2011.
This text is comprised of twenty-four personal narratives of Colombian-Arab women of diverse religious and national origins, descendants or first generation immigrants from the Levant. It gives voice to the undocumented experience of Arab women in Colombia and offers readers insight into personal histories of Arab women’s experiences, highlighting their challenges, successes, and negotiation of cultural identity as Arab diasporic individuals in their new society. Nazmia Ambra de Nofal, one of many Palestinian women whose narratives are included, retells her experience between Colombia and the West Bank, claiming lost Palestinian traditions of embroidery and cuisine back to Colombia. As a series of personal narratives, this book is similar to a standard genre of Latin American writing: the statement of the subaltern subject who has been silenced.