Representatives of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, the official host of the eight day visit by the Chilean miners who survived a record 69 days underground following an August 2010 cave-in at the San Jose copper-gold mine, refused entry to to Connie Hackbarth, Executive Director of the Alternative Information Center (AIC). Officials told her that only journalists formally recognized by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) were permitted to attend the press conference, and then only if they had received invitations via the GPO and confirmed their attendance. Hackbarth’s comments about the crucial importance of independent journalists, as clearly seen recently in Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya, were ignored and she was told not to be “ideological” and “to stop wasting (our) time”.
Despite Israeli government assurances that the visit by the Chilean miners would not be a “circus”, the massive presence of “official” journalists at the press conference and the planned conduct of a private party for Castellano-language journalists on 24 February clearly demonstrate Israeli intentions: to derive the maximum public relations benefit from the visit.
Chile is home to the largest Palestinian community outside of the Middle East, numbered at some 300,000.
Numerous Palestinian civil society organizations requested the miners not to accept Israel’s invitation to visit, or to combine it with a visit to the occupied Palestinian Territory with Palestinian guides.
Kairos Palestine, the Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a call for support in opposing it, issued a letter to the miners in November saying that “we also write with concern regarding your recent invitation from the Israeli government to visit the Holy Land. Of course, we would be honored by your presence in our home – this is not what we object to! But we question the motives of Israel in issuing this invitation, spotlighting what you have suffered and endured, while Israel continues to damage, degrade, and suppress Palestinians under military occupation.”
The letter from Kairos continued that given Israel’s attacks on Palestinian human rights and international law, “it is understandable that Israel would invest in a skillful public relations campaign. Inviting you to visit is one example of such a campaign: it permits Israel to show how much they care about your ordeal, while also permitting them to ignore their own crimes against Palestinians. This is an injustice both to us and to you."
Radio Muqawama, the weekly Castellano radio programme by the AIC, has written to the private firm organizing the aforementioned 24 February meeting with Spanish-language press asking to attend, but to date has received no reply. Radio Muqawama provides grassroots information on socio-political developments in Palestinian and Israeli societies to communities in Latin America and the Spanish state, working primarily with grassroots community radio stations and solidarity organisations.
The AIC joins Kairos Palestine in saying to the Chilean miners: “we urge you to remember that Israel is skilled and experienced at exploiting other people’s suffering. We hope you will not permit them to exploit yours.”