The Daily Life of Kawther Salam

..: What are Israeli Army Reconnaisance Teams doing in Patagonia ? :..

April 16, 2004


   Version en Castellano del Articulo aqui

Update 27.04.2004  
Update 02.05.2004

Glacier seen during the flight to Villa O

Glacier seen during the flight to Villa O"higgins

 In January I went for vacations to the Chilean Patagonia, expecting some time far away from the bad news in the media. I found a Land of a wild beauty almost impossible to describe, but I also found my old acquaintances from Hebron, the IDF soldiers. It was as if the same people occupying my city had been transplanted to Patagonia after their genocidal rampages. The second rather strange thing which called my attention in Patagonia is that "foreigners" are buying up large swathts of land in Chile and in Argentina.

By far the most controversial figure among the "foreigners" is Douglas Tompkins; a conservationist who bought approx. 330.000 hectares north of Chaiten, and who also owns land at other locations in Chile and Argentina through his Conservation Land Trust. But there are also others, rich persons and corporations, buying land throughout Patagonia. The controversy around the many foreigners who buy land is almost always a conversation topic with the locals: "Have you heared about the gringo?" ("Gringo" is a slang word for "American" widely used in Latin America) was a recurring question from locals between Chaiten and Villa O"Higgins.

Rio Baker near Cochrane
Rio Baker near Cochrane

In a Land where the only growth industry is Tourism, I heard several Chileans commenting that foreigners always seem to receive more leniency from the government than they themselves. Others comment the buyout of Patagonia by foreigners as the prelude to the foundation of a new state. No wonder, they see Israeli military exploring their country since the early 1980"s and even before.

I saw the IDFs myself: first on the ship from Puerto Montt to Chaiten, and then everywhere until Candelario Mansilla, 1.200 Km. to the south. They always travel in groups of 5-7 persons, always one or two women among them, every group has an officer, and they reduce contact with locals and others to the necessary minimum. A Chilean with some knowledge in these matters told us that they travel in configurations which would correspond to missions of "reconnaisance and insertion" in military terminology. This person confirmed to us that the exploration of the Patagonia under guise of tourism has been going on since 1976, intensifying after about 1982.

While the incessant incursion by the IDF has piqued the curiosity of the Chileans, it remembers me of what happened in my Homeland Palestine since the late 1920s and early 1930s, when massive waves of Jews immigrated as "farmers". Jews began buying large extensions of land in Palestine through frontmen and front companies. At that time the Palestinians were the majority and owned most land in Palestine. I asked myself if the future of Patagonia will look like the history of Palestine.

IDF Soldiers arresting a Palestinian Farmer for entering his Land
IDF Soldiers arresting a Palestinian Farmer for entering his Land (Credit: AFP)

Before these massive Jewish immigration waves, the British Lord Balfour issued the fraudulent "Balfour Declaration"  in which the dying British Empire handed over the Land of Palestine to the Zionists and "allowed" the Jews to take over the Arab lands, probably in a misguided effort to get rid of the Jews from Europe. Before Balfour, one of the last acts of the Ottoman Empire before its demise was to hand over Palestine, which it had occupied for a long time, to the British. This charade of infamy reminds one more of a couple of beggars sitting at the entrance of a church, one of them selling the church to the other one, than of honest partners doing a deal in good faith.

In 1947, the UN passed a Resolution calling for the division of Palestine into two states, Israel "the minority" was now to to control 56 percent of the land (at this point in time, Jews owned only about 6% of the land), the Palestinian majority was to control 44 percent of their Homeland. Soon after came the war of 1948, in which the Jews declared their independence and establishment of a Jewish state, Israel, on 78 percent of the Palestinian land. At that time the West Bank and East Jerusalem came under the Jordanian rule, while the Gaza Strip fell under the Egyptian rule.

In 1948 my family became refugees in our homeland. My mother told me that she was a young girl when she left her village in what is now called Israel. My mother said "My family left everything in the village; we were scared of what the Jewish Haganah did to the Palestinians in the other villages nearby. They destroyed those villages and commited collective massacres against the people who had lived there".

The Arab army (composed of troops from all countries which now have borders with Israel) collected the private weapons from the Palestinians at that time. They convinced us that they were strong enough to protect us and to fight Israel, and that we should trust them and hand them over our weapons. The Arab soldiers told the Palestinians that they should leave their homes for couple of days until the war ended, "there is no need to take your personal thingd with you". This same Arab Army was provided only with broken weapons to defend Palestine. They had only cork plugs and blank rounds instead of real bullets. This is the third treachery of Arabs against Palestines after the Ottoman Turks had sold Palestine to the British before.

 The results of this treachery culminated in 1967 with the occupation by the Jews of the remaining Palestinian lands and parts of Arab countries around them. From this time it is that I remember a fleeing Jordanian soldier asking my mother for a dress to put on instead of his uniform. I also remember the Jordanian tanks pulling out of Hebron without a fight. I was 5 years old.

Since then, the Jewish occupiers arrogated themselves the right to confiscate our agricultural lands, to demolish our homes for the purpose of building Jewish settlement wherever it pleased them. The Jewish immigration from all over the world to Palestine, which was called now "State of Israel", increased sharply. The phenomenon of foreigners buying some of the Palestinian lands did not stop after the occupation the West Bank and Gaza in1967. In fact, foreign front companies buying Palestinian property sharply increased their activities. Some people who left Palestine due to the 1967 war sold their houses in the old cities of Jerusalem and Hebron. After a while it was clear that these foreigners were fronts serving the interests of the Jewish occupation and the settlers.

The American millionair Shlomo Moskovitch bought in Ras al Amod in East Jerusalem, since by now it was forbidden by law to sell property to Jews. Other foreigners bought some old houses in the old city of Hebron. These foreigners were all serving the Israeli occupation. The conclusion is: "Who gave the Zionist Jews the right to build a state in Palestine, will give them the right to do the same to other peoples in their Homeland".

The activities of the Jewish "tourists" and the foreigners who buy whatever available property is clearly seen by the Chilean people and these subjects are matter of much controverse and discussion, but what is not clear for the Chileans from Patagonia is the future. What will happen later? What will happen to them if the Jews become the majority in Patagonia and start talking about building a new Jewish state there?

Nobody knows for sure why the Israeli military headquarter is sending their soldiers on exploration missions to Patagonia. The Israeli government is obviously interested in Patagonia and they are spending money to serve this interest. Several "Hayalim" (Hayalim: Hebrew, the plural of "Hayal", soldier) told my friend that the IDF finances their trip after they complete military service, and the people with whom he could speak had all had a role in intelligence, be it doing unspecified "office work" or running around with a video camera filming the shootings in southern Lebanon and the West Bank

Most Jews believe that there is no safe future in Israel and Palestine. The war will break down between both peoples at any time even if they have peace agreements. Lots of Jews have already left Israel and even asked for foreign Passports. Lots of Jews have bought lands in Europe and the States. Interestingly, the cases of corruption against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon involve the attempted acquisition of a Greek island.

The last time I stayed at the house of my friend Anat Even in Tel Aviv while we were working together she bought a new lock for the entrance of her house. She was scared and talking about a new Holocaust in the making. She said Israel was not a safe country for Jews, that in her opinion the practices of the government were preparing the Jews for new Holocaust, and it was important to find a safe place to live. She was talking with a deep pain, just as if a new Holocaust was happening right then. Anat told me that lots of Jews felt in the same way.

In Patagonia, I saw lots of Israelis, in Coffee Shops and restaurants, in Internet Cafes where they would often represent 90% of the clientele, in the streets, on the ship and the bus, in the field and the forest, they were all from the IDF units, soldiers and officers, the same like I used to see in occupied territories but without weapons and military uniform. For a while I thought that I was not in Patagonia, but back in the streets of Hebron or in Israel.

On the ship between Puerto Montt and Chaiten I was with a group of Israeli military, four soldiers and a woman. They were all talking in English on the ship during the trip. When the ship arrived at Chaiten in the middle of the night, there was another group of Jews waiting for them, and then they all started talking in Hebrew. They identified me as a Palestinian when I made a phone call. I was talking with my friend, telling him there was a group of Israeli soldiers walking behind me. Suddenly one of them shouted at me and asked where I was going to stay. I remember I answered him "In the Hell made by Israel".

The next day in the morning I met more Israelis at the transportation office. I decided to ignore them. My friend had recommended me not to talk with the Israelis. He said "Patagonia is full of Israeli soldiers; better avoid troubles and don"t talk with them".

Further to the south, on the ship between Villa O"Higgins (slow link) and Candelario Mansilla, an Israeli officer was talking with a group of tourist. When told them he was from Israel, a Scottish man replied in a strange way, "O, we have never seen an Israeli travelling alone, they are always in groups, probably there is somebody waiting for you on the other side" (this turned out to be true). The officer promptly stopped talking with the Europeans. When this Israeli asked me if I was a Jew or if I could speak Hebrew, I replied that I was a Palestinian, but my friend cut off our talking. During the rest of the trip, this officer was visibly preoccupied with his backpack, never leaving it out of sight. He would not let anybody touch it, not even the ships crew when stowing it away. If somebody else went below deck to get something, the officer would go down and ensure that his own backpack would not be touched or moved from its place.

Lago O
Lago O'higgins seen from the Ship

At the boat ramp at Candelario Mansilla, there were two units of Israeli military heading in the opposite direction, apparently waiting for the officer on the ship. They all surrounded him and exchanged information between each other, the three officers apparently exchanging information on handheld devices they had with them. Later the officers would retire to a private place in the woods nearby, leaving the soldiers of their units to themselves at the ramp. I have seen the IDF intelligence units behave in the same way in the West Bank.

The boatramp at Candelario Mansilla
The boatramp at Candelario Mansilla

I tried to ignore these IDF units, but we all were sitting in the same place waiting for the ship back. One of the IDFs recognized me from my film "Hebron: City without Mercy" which he had seen, and he informed his friends that I am a Palestinian journalist.

A Jewish woman offered me to sit next to the fire where the group of IDFs were cooking. She asked me from where you come? I said from Austria. The woman laughed loudly and asked again from where are you? From Palestine I said, and you from where are you? She answered from Palestine. My friend said "that"s bullshit!" I said you are from Israel. The Hayalet (Hebrew, a female soldier) was wearing a Palestinian Koffiya. Her boyfriend spoke a bit of Arabic. He said: "We are yahood, the Kuffar!" and continued raving insults in his rather limited Arabic. 

A picture with Israeli soldiers in Villa O
A picture with Israeli soldiers in Villa O"higgins

 Of the soldiers who serve in the occupied territories, only the intelligence officers learn Arabic. My friend realized the insolent way in which they were talking to me and urged me to stop talking with the IDFs. This made them angry. The woman started arguing about that with my friend, but he decided to cut the contact because of the obviously aggressive posture of the soldiers.

I was enjoying sitting on the lake side playing with the water by myself, remembering my homeland when the Jewish army who caused me trauma and threw me out of my country, when I was surprised by the Jewish woman who brought me a cup of mint to drink. She started conversation telling me that one man from her group had identified me. He had seen my film "Hebron: City without Mercy". She sat next to me, we start talking. She asked if I would return home, if I felt comfortable, and she answered herself. She said that did not look happy, sure this was because I didn"t see my mother "

I told her I would return but after raising a complaint against Israel at the European Court of Human Rights. I will never forget what the IDF soldiers did to me. I asked her if she had served in the West Bank. She answered yes. I asked what kind of work she had done there. She answered "Stupid work, that"s all they teach us to do there". I told her some of what the IDF soldiers, men and women, had done in the West Bank and I offered her to read my website. I asked her what missions the IDF sent them to do in Chile? I left her confused and I went to my friend.

I went for a walk around the Mountain. I met the Hayalet again. We talked again, I was talking about the missions which some strange foreigners are doing in Patagonia under the guise of tourism. She became angry and said "that is a lie". I talked about the importance of developing Patagonia and closing the way for these strange foreigners to build their own greediness. I talked about constructing good roads between the north and the south, and how the rich people should help the government to do that " I remember her nervous answer she asked "Why you don"t write for the government to do something about that?" I said, "Yes, I will, indeed" and I continued talking about the importance of developing the area and cutting the way in front of foreigners to think about occupying this land. She looked rather unhappy about what she was hearing. She said that I was a city woman and charged me with thinking of destroying the nature. All the while she was crushing the gadflies with her fingers. We parted ways.

Back north I heard lots of funny stories about the Israeli "tourists". Here is one: some time ago in Puerto Tranquilo a couple of Israelis rented a room for a night. In order to save money, they stood up early, sneaked out from the window, and even pushed their car for about 200 meters so that the owner would not hear them getting away. The owner called the police and they got caught any way. In all of the Chilean Patagonia, between Chaiten and Candelario Mansilla there are only about 60.000 inhabitants, the roads are few, and despite the large distances everybody knows everybody. It is very difficult to get away with "stupid" deeds here. Major crime is almost unheard of. I was told that exactly two cases were brought before the Justice Courtin Cochrane (a province capital) in a span of seven years. The Judge supposedly resigned out of boredom.

Puerto Tranquilo is a small town near Lago General Carrera. Despite the above incident related to me, the village receives lots of visitors from Israel and the tourism has even partly specialized in these visitors. Signs in Hebrew can be seen on some houses and stores, many villagers are supposedly learning Hebrew. One boarding house has specialized its service towards the Israeli visitors: low prices, clean rooms, the owner first spoke to us in broken Hebrew. In the street many Israelis can be seen, I heard Hebrew a couple of times. I was remembered of the settlements in the West Bank.

Signs in Hebrew in a shop in Puerto Tranquilo
Signs in Hebrew in a shop in Puerto Tranquilo

The Chilean people are generally very friendly to foreigners and welcome visitors to their country, which they look at with interest and curiosity. What counts with the Patagonians are the small details in personal conduct. Nice people are remembered for a long time just because of that, and the same can be said about those who manage to upset somebody. From my interactions with Patagonians it was clear that they know nothing about what history of what happened to Palestine (but they are very well aware of the present developments) and the parallels which seem to be developing in their country. Outside of a tiny elite, Patagonians seem not to be interested in politics beyond their local issues, and when they talk about politics they do it in a very polite way.

The constant presence of IDF groups in Patagonia is being registered by the Chileans of the region, not in a political sense, but based on their experience. There are lots of stories like the one with the guys sneaking out from a window making their rounds in the region. I was asked several times if I was from Israel before renting a room. At most lodges where I lived I was told that they would not take the IDFs ("Israelitas"). This seems to have made a market for those who specialize in them possible.

It"s painful to talk about this, but for the sake of peace I can only hope that the Patagonian people from Chile (and Argentina), will not have to experience what the Palestinians experienced, that none of them will have painful memories like my memories from the Israeli occupation. This is my wish for Patagonia, for these nice people which I met, for this beautiful piece of art made by the nature. I hope that both people and land will never know the occupation which destroys humanity, beauty and the nature. I hope that never a settlement will be implanted into this beautiful end of the world. In the same way, I do not wish a new Holocaust for my friend Anat and our peoples. I hope that peace will soon come to our country and that the occupation will end.

Sunset in Chaiten

Sunset in Chaiten

Update 27.04.2004

Various readers have sent me Emails with comments on this article. Thank you very much for your interest. Several readers referred me to the following links which have material related to my article:

The persons who wrote advanced different opinions about the purpose of the activities of the IDF in Patagonia: a) They would be on training tours for missions on mountainous terrain and in a colder climate than Israel itself. One reader stated that this could be related to an Army Base which Israel supposedly has in Azerbaijan, on the border to Iran; and b) They would be on missions to collect low-level intelligence for various purposes, probably of interest to third parties.

Here are some of the websites who have linked to or commented upon this article

Jeff Rense
Indymedia San Francisco
Friends of an Independent Palestina MSN Group
London Morning Paper edition of 19.04.2004
Canadian Committee To Combat Crimes Against Humanity (in English)
Canadian Committee To Combat Crimes Against Humanity (Spanish translation)
The site translated this article to Spanish.
The Truth Seeker

(I do expressly disavow any responsibility for the contents on these external websites, as they do not reflect my opinion).

M. S., the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland until 2002, who I know and have met personally, sent me an Email stating that my article is "nonsense". I think that rather than being nonsense, my article has aroused the curiosity of a very unusual readership. To illustrate the point, here is a partial list of the domains or institutions from which this article has been visited:

ALSTOM Transportation - Washington DC - ARAMCO - Houston, Texas
ARCOR Munich
Bank of America
Boeing Computing Services
CROSCO Integrated Drilling Services - INA Group - Zagreb
CUNY - City University of New York
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
David Broder (AEI/WaPo) (His PC is called "DAVID BRODER")
Defence Research Establishment DRE2 - Ottawa
ECLAC-UNITED NATIONS - Comision Economica para America Latina
Energis UK
General Motors Corporation
Gwynedd City Council - UK
Harrisburg Area Community College
IBM Almaden Research Lab
IIR - Institute for International Research
Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad y Telecom /
Lexmark France
Malaysian Rubber Research & Dev'mt Board
Microsoft Corp
Ministry of Environment of the Czech Republic
Motorola Desktop Services OK
NOAA/ERL Space Environment Laboratory
Northrop Grumman
Royal Aeronautical Society GB
SBI.COM - Smith Barney Citigroup (ex Salomon Smith Barney)
SDP-Sociedade Distribuicao de Papel, S.A. - Portugal
Sandhills Center for Mental Health
State of Ohio Network
Stentor National Integrated Communications Network - Canada
Technion Israel
UMW - United Motor Works - Malaysia
UN-DPKO-UNLB-IT - UN Logistics Base in Brindisi - Aeroporto Militare O. Pierozzi
Universidad de Chile
University of Warwick - Coventry - UK
Various visitors from UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia
Various visitors via - Sage Clearing, L.P. (Merrill Lynch Professional Clearing Corp.) - DIRECTORATE OF LOGISTICS - Ft. Rucker - Information Management Directorate IMD2 - Natick - American Bar Association - The Company of James Baker III - Govt. of British Columbia - Banco de Comercio e Inversiones -  Chile - Business Education Council of Niagara - Banco Hipotecario de Inversiones y Finanzas - Chile - Govt. of the State of California - American Cancer Society - Cipherkey Exchange Corporation - Dole Chile S.A. -  Electronic Data Systems Corporation - Law Company Foley & Lardner LLP - Government of Canada / Gouvernement du Canada - Government of Australia - Government of Israel - Government of the United Kingdom - The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. - U.S. House of Representatives - Hebrew University Jerusalem Israel - Kenneth Copeland Ministries - BOCES Southern Westchester Lower Hudson Regional Information Center - Maricopa County Community College - US Unified Court System NY -  Shell International Petroleum Company Limited - Siemens Austria - Law company Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal of Chicago - Southern Technology Group S.A. (Farmacias Ahumada / Sodimac / ...)
The University of Malta

Update 02.05.2004

Some more Websites linking to this article or using it, some more interesting visitors.

American Intifada
Indymedia Vancouver
GuevaraHome from Sao Paolo / Brasil
Organizacion Islamica Argentina
Patagonia Argentina has insightful articles and commentaries (in Spanish) about Israeli activities in Patagonia.

(I do expressly disavow any responsibility for the contents on these external websites, as they do not reflect my opinion).

And here goes another selection of the rather unusual domains visiting my site:

Banmedica - Chile
CVGS.NET - CONVERGYS (CVGS2-DOM) - Convergys Corporation
Caruso Cia. Arg. de Seguros S.A. - Cordoba/Argentina
Chester College of Higher Education - UK
Fairfax County Government - VA/US
Litton Precision Products International Inc. - AUSTRIA
Sumitomo Corporation (chile) Limitada
Sun Health Corporation - AZ/US
Unisys Canada Inc.
Universidad de Concepcion - Concepcion/Chile - Johansson & Langlois - AT&T Chile/Telmex - Booz, Allen, and Hamilton - Canadian Depository for Securities - European Organization for Nuclear Research - Ericsson Business Communications, Inc. EBC 3 - Oficina de Estudios y Politicas Agrarias - U.S. General Services Administration - Hoffer Flow Controls Inc - National Association of Head Teachers - PONTIFICIA UNIVERSIDAD CATOLICA DE CHILE -  F.Hoffmann-La Roche AG - Basel/CH - SITA-Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques/EQUANT - University of Southampton - THYSSEN ACEROS Y SERVICIOS S A - United Nations International School, NY - Wayne State University -  Western Digital Corporation

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