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  • Eduardo Galeano was an outspoken critic of the Zionist project and a vigorous supporter of the Palestinian people and their struggle for liberation and self-determination.

    Eduardo Galeano was an outspoken critic of the Zionist project and a vigorous supporter of the Palestinian people and their struggle for liberation and self-determination. | Photo: Wikicommons/Reuters

Published 7 April 2016
How the chronicler of Latin American history stood up for Palestinian rights.

Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano is best remembered for chronicling five centuries of colonialism, genocide, pillage, and structural inequality in the Americas. His pen dug through the bleeding heart of Latin America, unearthing forgotten stories of resistance, exploring the roots of injustice and exploitation, and amplifying the voices of the outcasts and misfits.


Remembering Eduador Galeano

Iconic Latin American freedom fighters like Emiliano Zapata, Simon Bolivar, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara are revered by many Palestinians. But Galeano, hugely popular and admired in Palestine and in the Arab world, also introduced us to the continent’s unsung rebels, inconvenient heroes and heroines, and to the everyday battles of those sentenced to perpetual oblivion.

The protagonists of Galeano’s writings are hardly given room in the footnotes of mainstream historians and journalists. They are the “nobodies,” as he described them: “Those who don’t appear in the universal history books, but rather in the red pages of the local press,” and “the ones who are worth less than the bullet that kills them.”

Not only did Galeano undertake the task of challenging conventional wisdom and destroying clichés, he also urged us not to readily accept the version of history we are taught at classrooms. He presented the sort of history that has long been censored by oppressors, erased from traditional school curricula, and condemned to collective amnesia.

Throughout his lifelong quest for truth and justice, Galeano remained faithful to the cause of the oppressed, without breaching, judging, or patronizing.

“Eduardo Galeano travelled the most diverse geographies in Latin America on trains, on the back of a mule and on foot, moving around by the same means as those below. He wasn’t seeking to mimic them, but went beyond that: he tried to sense, underneath his skin, the feelings of others in order to revive them in his texts and to help them depart anonymity,” wrote Raúl Zibechi, another Uruguayan scholar-activist committed to social justice and truth. According to Zibechi, Galeano “encounters those truths far from the mundane noise of the media, in the hungry eyes of the indigenous girl, in the worn feet of the campesinos, in the genuine smile of the female vendors. It is there where the nobodies tell their truths every day, without witnesses.”

Galeano rejected the mantra often associated with him as someone who gives voice to the “voiceless.” He believed that no one is actually voiceless and that voice is an individual unique quality. He was the storyteller who carried the incredibly courageous human voices of the nobodies with him until they resonated among his readers.

Never a man to bask in the safety of neutrality, Galeano was a humanist whose commitment to justice and liberty was universal, transcending ideologies and physical boundaries.

“Justice and liberty, Siamese twins condemned to live apart, shall meet again and be reunited, back to back,” Galeano writes, recognizing the importance of defending those two values everywhere, including in Palestine.

A staunch opponent of all forms of oppression, Galeano was an outspoken critic of the Zionist project and a vigorous supporter of the Palestinian people and their struggle for liberation and self-determination.

“With each of its defensive wars, Israel swallows another piece of Palestine, and the feast goes on.”

In June 2012, Eduardo Galeano presented his book, "Children of the Days," in Bilbao in the Basque region. He dedicated one of the texts to Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak, then on hunger strike to protest his detention without charges or trial in Israeli occupation jails. “Sarsak is being punished for the sole crime of being a Palestinian under Israeli rule,” Galeano said during the presentation.

This was just one example of Galeano’s numerous acts of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

During Israel’s war on Gaza in summer 2014, in which more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed, Galeano penned a powerful piece denouncing Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.

In the column titled, “If I were a Palestinian,” Galeano notes that Israel’s dispossession and repression of Palestinians date back to 1948. Thus he refuses to adopt the liberal Zionist myth that Israel’s occupation of Palestine only began in 1967.

“Since 1948, the Palestinians have been condemned to live in never-ending humiliation,” Galeano opened the piece. “They have lost their homeland, their lands, their water, their freedom, everything, even the right to elect their own government.”

Here Galeano refers to Israel’s collective punishment, siege and wars on Gaza in retaliation for the free and fair election of Hamas into power in 2006.

“Democracy is a luxury deserved by just a few,” Galeano adds, reminding us how the people of El Salvador in Central America have been stripped of this luxury after voting for the Communist Party in 1932. Galeano makes an important link between the plight of Palestinians and the plight the people of Latin America.

In Palestine, Latin America, and throughout the Global South, we are required to follow the script imposed by the hegemons. Our armed (and unarmed) resistance to entrenched state terror and institutional subjugation is criminalized and demonized.

We are expected to stand by idly as the military, settlers or multinational corporations seize our lands, water and natural resources. We are ordered to be grateful when we are uprooted from our ancestral lands under the pretext of growth and development. In reality, however, the slogans of growth and development are a facade employed to sugar-coat land theft and silence the natives as their lands are being swallowed bit by bit.

Under the cloak of growth and development, Israel is justifying its decision to destroy the Palestinian-Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Naqab desert. In the name of modernity and development, thousands of Bedouin residents in the Naqab desert are at risk of yet another expulsion. Similarly, in the name of growth and development, Indigenous peoples in Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, and across Latin America face dispossession and forced eviction to make way for mega-mining and hydropower projects.

As we mark one year since the passing of Eduardo Galeano, the war on land defenders in Latin America, perpetrated by local governments on behalf of transnational capital, escalates. Meanwhile, in Palestine, land grabs and home demolitions are also on the rise.

And as Galeano wrote in the final line of his Gaza column, “With each of its defensive wars, Israel swallows another piece of Palestine, and the feast goes on.”

But as Galeano’s search for truth has shown us, there are always men, women and children putting their lives on the line to defend their people and lands.

In Palestine and Latin America, we not only share a history of ethnic cleansing and massacres, but also a history of defiance and resistance. Chronicling this history of struggle is a debt we owe to the fallen fighters and to Eduardo Galeano, the man who eloquently and honestly narrated their stories.

Budour Youssef Hassan is a Palestinian writer and law graduate based in occupied Jerusalem. Blog: budourhassan.wordpress.com. Twitter: @Budour48

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