Through an initiative to provide 1,000 Palestinians with a free college education, Venezuela is doing what others are not: addressing the long-term needs of Palestinians to create a future for the victims of settler-colonialism.
In keeping with the late Hugo Chavez’s legacy for Palestinians, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced a scholarship program for Palestinian students that reflects internationalist solidarity, as well as the success of the Cuban model of education and health care.
Maduro announced the initiative to train 1,000 doctors through the Yasser Arafat Scholarship Program, with the aim of later providing education in other areas, as well.
“It is a hard goal but we can’t fail on this, we have no excuses. It will be difficult but we will train at least 1,000 Palestinian students. I just ordered the Ministry of Education to expand the program not just in medicine, we also will enable them to study engineering, architecture and every field of knowledge,” Maduro told a new delegation of Palestinian students in Caracas last week.
Palestine’s Ambassador to Venezuela Linda Sabeh Ali expressed her gratitude to Maduro for the initiative, saying, “You are creating our future, our doctors.”
She also acknowledged Chavez’s role in creating staunch support for Palestine: “My gratitude to comandante Chavez who started the foundations for the scholarship which you have continued.”
Venezuela’s support for Palestine, already evident during Hugo Chavez’s presidency, has consolidated itself through the upholding of accords pertaining to trade, education, economy and agriculture agreed upon prior to his death last year. Following Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, Chavez also waived visa requirements for Palestinians traveling to Venezuela.
The provision of a free college education for Palestinian students is the latest in a series of gestures offered by Venezuela in the aftermath of Israel’s genocidal Operation Protective Edge, at a time when tangible support for Palestine is being compromised by international organizations, such as the United Nations, that have already pledged their allegiance to Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated his intention of garnering the support of countries in the region. Meanwhile, Colombia and Guatemala have been supportive of the settler-colonial state, while Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has also expressed support for Zionism in a video which regurgitated early claims upon which the settler-colonial state of Israel was established in 1948 on Palestinian land. In the video, Correa declares that “Israel is an example that we should follow to emancipate Latin America.”
Meanwhile, other countries, including Brazil and Chile, fluctuate between rhetorical support for Palestinians and military agreements with Israel — especially with regard to buying Israeli-made drones for Orwellian surveillance purposes.
Venezuela, on the other hand, has tenaciously upheld the foundations of the Bolivarian Revolution initiated by Chavez. In 1960, Fidel Castro assertively addressed the U.N., speaking against colonial and imperialist dominance: “Colonies do not speak. Colonies are not known unless they have the opportunity to express themselves.” Like Fidel, Chavez’s support for Palestine had also been based upon the importance of liberation from oppression.
Unlike the U.N.’s rhetoric on decolonization – a double standard in which the alleged acceleration of decolonization is juxtaposed against Israel’s freedom to colonize Palestinian land, Chavez insisted upon the importance of recognizing the contemporary realities of colonialism. A 2011 letter from Chavez to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon explicitly holds Zionism and the U.S. responsible for the deterioration of Palestinian territory and rights, asserting that the unconditional allegiance between Israel and the U.S. “is clearly observed by the fact that Israeli directs and sets U.S. international policy for the Middle East.” The usurpation of Palestine, Chavez declared, has “a colonial and imperialist stamp.”
Combating the colonial and imperialist stance — a strategy implemented by Cuba — was cemented by the emphasis which the Cuban Revolution placed upon education and health care. Both aspects were reinforced regionally and internationally as Cuba expanded its internationalist stance away from the restrictions dictated by international organizations.
In an interview with Yassin Kaoud, president of the Palestinian Federation of Peru, Cuba’s internationalist stance with regard to Palestine was asserted: “Cuba’s support of Palestine was always important – not only politically but also in accordance with international law. Education was free so thousands of Palestinian professionals graduated in Cuba in various branches of science.”
Agreements between Cuba and Venezuela on education and health care have been implemented in a way that also benefits Palestinians at a crucial moment. Following the destruction of Gaza and the reluctance of the U.N. to provide adequate and immediate aid to Palestinian civilians, Venezuela’s scholarship program reflects an immediate move to address the long-term needs of Palestinians. This notion becomes especially clear when one examines the range of disciplines Maduro intends to offer Palestinian students — medicine, engineering and architecture, among others.
International aid for Palestinians has been mired in contradictions and acquiescence to Israeli demands, as implied in the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreement that sidelined the resistance movement Hamas. U.N. Special Coordinator Robert Serry also implemented a mechanism that would entrust supervision of construction materials and reconstruction of Gaza to the U.N., thus facilitating surveillance processes and foreign intervention in Palestine.
Meanwhile, as Israel continues to assert its dominance over the process through that U.N. mechanism, Palestinians in Gaza are facing humanitarian consequences which the U.N. attempts to divert attention from by repeated assurances about humanitarian aid. Thus, the U.N. is addressing neither urgent needs, nor the importance of allowing Palestinians a tangible decision-making and involvement process in the reconstruction process.
A magnificent assertion of anti-imperialist solidarity
Taken within the context of previous agreements between Venezuela and Palestine, the internationalism consolidated by Maduro is a magnificent assertion of anti-imperialist solidarity that challenges the narrative disseminated by Israel and the U.S. The allied oppressors, through decades of negotiations aimed at bringing about the total elimination of Palestine, have regularly attempted to impart a semblance of concern through discourse that dictated the parameters of legitimacy for Palestinians. Any form of compromised concessions brought about severe retaliation by Israel — retaliation, it should be noted, that is sanctioned by the U.S. and the U.N.
Conversely, Venezuela’s upholding of Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution, as well as the values of the Cuban Revolution as articulated by Fidel, will serve to strengthen the foundations of education for Palestinians by taking into consideration the needs of Palestinian society rather than the demands of their acquiescing leaders whose concept of aid contradicts the basics of liberation.