The Jewish state not only sold weapons to the right-wing Guatemalan government but also provided military advice that contributed to the war crimes it committed against its indigenous population.
The Guatemalan civil war ended in 1996, but its repercussions over the country’s indigenous population, which has suffered more than other ethnic and political groups, continues.
In late 2019, a Jerusalem-based human rights defender, Itay Mack, demanded an inquiry from Israel’s chief prosecutor over the state’s role in the civil war, which killed more than 200,000 people over decades.
But since then, the Israeli prosecutor’s investigation slowed as the country’s defence ministry stalled the disclosure of sensitive documents. This may prove the country’s illicit connections with right-wing Guatemalan generals.
“A citizen who makes a request to a public authority, even if he received a preliminary reply to his request, doesn't need to wait for months on end before receiving an update regarding the status of the handling of the request, certainly when the public authority is aware of the prolonged delay in handling it and the importance of the issues arising from it,” said David Rosen, the ombudsman for the State’s prosecutor office in response to the defence ministry’s delay tactics.
The Israeli military’s scorched earth campaign against the Palestinians inspired the Guatemalan right-wing military to replicate the tactic against the country’s rebellious indigenous Maya population through a brutal process of their "Palestinianisation" with its forced “integrated nationalism”, according to experts.
Enabling a coup and also genocide
In the early 1980s, the Guatemalan military under General Jose Efrain Rios Montt, who came to power via a military coup in 1982, backed by former US President Ronald Reagan, conducted a village massacre in Dos Erres, killing everyone except four.
In 1999, a UN-sanctioned Truth Investigation Committee found that “All ballistic evidence recovered (from the village scene) corresponded to bullet fragments from firearms and pods of Galil rifles, made in Israel”.
Montt was also thankful to the Israel military for its training of Guatemalan soldiers for the success of his military coup, which was central to the conduct of the genocide against the Maya population. Experts have pointed out that “at least 300 Israeli advisers'' were in Guatemala during the coup.
“Israel is known to have intelligence teams, security and communications specialists, and military training personnel in Guatemala,” reported the New York Times at the time.
Montt’s brutal campaign against the country’s Maya also carried remarkably similar themes to some Israeli policies against the Palestinians.
Montt’s “guns and beans” campaign, which offered "If you are with us, we’ll feed you, if not, we’ll kill you”, was almost identical to the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s economic peace plan to the Palestinians under the Deal of the Century, promoted by the former US President Donald Trump.
According to the plan, Palestinians would be offered economic benefits when giving up their claims, many of which are enshrined in international law, over occupied territories.
In 2012, Montt was finally convicted for genocide and crimes against humanity after escaping prosecution over the accounts of parliamentary immunity. But he could not be jailed due to his old age.
The ICC is now seeking to prosecute Netanyahu and his enablers for alleged Israeli war crimes against the Palestinians. The Israel-Guatemala connection shows that not only did Israel allegedly commit war crimes against the Palestinians, but also facilitated other states like Guatemala in carrying out crimes against humanity.
The strong connections between Israel and Guatemala were made clear when the Latin American country declared that it along with a few countries, including the US, would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018.
Before the move, Guatemala’s right-wing President Jimmy Morales, supported by the country’s Evangelical Christians, traditional allies of Israel, explained why it would move its embassy to Jerusalem.
“Guatemala is historically pro-Israeli. In 70 years of relations, Israel has been our ally. We have a Christian way of thinking that, as well as the politics of it, has us believing that Israel is our ally and we must support it,” Morales said.