John Tofik Karam, "On the Trail and Trial of a Palestinian Diaspora: Mapping South America in the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 1967–1972." Journal of Latin American Studies 45.5 (November 2013).
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this article?
John Tofik Karam (JTK): I didn’t set out to do the kind of research that resulted in this article. I was on leave in 2008-9, during which time I worked in some archives in Asunción, Paraguay for my current book project on Arab diasporic networks at the trinational border where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. Gathering sources from different archives in Asunción, I began following the chain of events recounted in the article, which are only tangentially related to my book project. I ended up spending time with one of the Palestinian refugees and his lawyer, who is of Syrian-Lebanese origin; when I returned to Chicago in late 2009, I began writing the article out of a sense of responsibility to the Palestinians who were transferred from Gaza to Paraguay.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the article address?
JTK: Centered around a May 1970 shooting at the Israeli embassy in Asunción, this article traces a chain of actions and reactions that began with Israel’s victory in June 1967 and ended after the June 1972 verdict of a Paraguayan court regarding two Palestinians. In these five years, I suggest that both victor and vanquished in the 1967 war were accommodated by South America’s most enduring authoritarian regime, Paraguay’s stronato, the military government of General Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989). Situated among Israeli officials, Palestinian refugees, and Stroessner supporters of Syrian-Lebanese origin, authoritarian Paraguay was not only encompassed by, but also domesticated, the post-1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, revealing how South America and the Middle East were connected through ideas about relocating Palestinians and their actual displacement.
This intertwined history of the Middle East and South America pushes us beyond the Americas as the unit of analysis that has dominated Latin American and Latino Studies. Moreover, by tracing how Israeli diplomats and Palestinian refugees interacted with Paraguayans of Syrian-Lebanese and European Jewish origin, this study shows that the relations between regions seldom associated with one another bring to light relations of difference within a given region.
J: How does this article connect to and/or depart from your previous research?
JTK: I want all of my intellectual work to contribute to a novel area and ethnic studies paradigm that makes South America a point of reference for the study of Middle Easternness and Muslimness. This article falls within that agenda, perhaps even more so than my book, Another Arabesque, on Syrian-Lebanese ethnicity in neoliberal Brazil. By focusing on the transformation of Arab Brazilians from shrewd peddlers to export promoters, from nouveau riche to upscale consumers, that book endeavored to put Brazil on the map of an ethnic studies that is still far too US-centric. My current book project, tentatively entitled Surrogate Sovereigns: An Arab Diaspora at the Tri-Border and the Rise of Brazil, asks how Lebanese and Palestinian migrants have helped redraw a once US-dominated Americas since the mid-twentieth century to today. The larger goal in all of these works is to reject the historically subordinate positions that area and ethnic studies have been allotted by the social sciences and to think of new spatial units of analysis through the movement of Middle Easterners across South America.
J: Who do you hope will read this article, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
JTK: Edward Said once wrote that “there is an underlying assumption…that outside the fateful circle of Palestinians and Israelis stands a group of people less involved and less affected than the main parties by the conflict’s depredations and diminishments, able to legislate, inform, and perhaps even achieve a totally distinct and other point of view.” I hope that this article shows that no part of this world—indeed, none of us anywhere—are outside the question of Palestine. Along these lines, I want academic, lay, and policy-making readers to keep in mind that this article is first and foremost about a Palestinian diaspora. I fear that this article will be viewed as primarily about an Israeli transfer scheme, but I hope that readers—whatever political stripes they wear—remember that this is about the people who suffered because of that project: the Palestinians.
What I can comment on now is the difficulty of publishing this piece, the first draft of which was completed in late spring 2010. For the next two years, I sent it to at least four academic journals. After three to six months, each respective journal sent me an email rejecting the manuscript with no comments and no external reviews. I was frustrated. The low point came at a MESA meeting, when my brief mention of it was met by a raised eyebrow and the silence of a senior and well-accomplished colleague who I had just been introduced to. I felt humiliated. Indeed, I was confronting what Timothy Mitchell and others have called “the liberal, managerial style of knowing” of area specialists, whose claim to being politically detached is intellectually limiting.
After another rejection, I decided to send the manuscript to the Journal of Latin American Studies, based at the University of Cambridge. The journal editors and anonymous reviewers there took the manuscript seriously, made vitally important interventions, and sharpened it into an article.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
JTK: I have a few pots on the stove right now, one of which is the solo project that I mentioned above, based on fifteen months of research about Lebanese and Palestinians at the so-called tri-border where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. Trading goods and publicizing Arab or Islamic liberationist causes since the 1950s, Arabs at the tri-border were accused of terrorism after unresolved attacks in Buenos Aires in the 1990s, and especially following the US declaration of war on terror in 2001. I argue that Arabs helped spur Brazil’s influence over Paraguay for the previous decades and drew on this authority in responding to the more recent Argentine- and US-derived terrorist accusations. As surrogates of both Brazilian sovereignty and challenges to it, Arabs at the tri-border reveal the reordering of this hemisphere.
Together with María del Mar Logroño-Narbona and Paulo Gabriel Hilu da Rocha Pinto, I am also coediting the volume Crescent of Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA (Austin: University of Texas Press). The thirteen chapters of this volume position Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA within the Islamic world, and at the same time, situate Muslims within this hemisphere. Our point is that Islam helped define Latin America, the Caribbean, and US Latinos. Bringing together the study of Iberian colonists, enslaved Africans, indentured South Asians, Arab migrants, as well as Latino and Latin American converts, this volume reveals the indelible role of Islam in the making of these Americas.
Together with Akram Khater and Andrew Arsan, I am also co-editing another volume, A Middle East in Movement: Arab Migrations in the Modern World. Examining the population movements from, to, and across the Eastern Mediterranean, this volume’s thirteen chapters reveal that mobility is not an incidental aspect of the Middle East; it lies at the center of its past and present. Postcolonial scholarship has deconstructed the boundedness of so-called world areas, but in the case of Middle Eastern studies, the region’s entanglements with the world beyond are still understood as largely born of Western imperialism. The lens of the field rarely shifts to migrants moving back and forth across the boundaries of this putatively “exceptional” world area. By tracking Arab men and women in the world, and the effects on the lands of their birth, our volume will arrive at a new, diasporic understanding of the Middle East and its multifaceted interplay with the rest of the world.
This co-edited volume draws upon some work that has been published by Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East Migration Studies. Together with Akram Khater and Andrew Arsan, I co-founded and co-edit this electronic journal. Its primary focus is on the Eastern Mediterranean. However, its scope also extends to Iran, Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, Egypt, and the Arabian Peninsula, and to all parts of the world affected by Middle Eastern migration, from the Americas and Africa to Australia and South-East Asia. The journal welcomes submissions on all aspects of human movement and the circulation of ideas, cultural artifacts, and commodities, from the disciplinary perspectives of history, anthropology, economics, political science, sociology, art history, literary studies, and comparative religion.
J: How do you see this piece as engaging with and/or departing from contemporary research on the Palestinian diaspora?
JTK: I am taking my cue here from a friend, Mezna Qato, who recently told me that this article will fit into a piece that she is writing on the need to de-territorialize Palestinian studies a bit. This aim to transnationalize the study of Palestine and Palestinians has also been voiced by another friend, Cecília Baeza, who works on Palestinian collectivities in Central and South America. Also, a graduate student of anthropology, Hadeel Assali, recently contacted me and told me of her plans to study this coerced migration of Palestinians from Gaza to Paraguay after the 1967 war. My sense is that the article I wrote generally reflects the transnational turn in history and the social sciences, and there will be much more of this kind of work in Palestinian studies in the years to come.
Excerpts from "On the Trail and Trial of a Palestinian Diaspora: Mapping South America in the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 1967–1972"
This article…[focuses] on Palestinians as key actors that connected South America to the Middle East under circumstances not of their own choosing. On 4 May 1970, two Palestinian young men from Gaza entered the Israeli diplomatic office in Paraguay’s capital of Asunción. Local newspapers reported that they had intended to kill the ambassador, but instead shot at an Israeli diplomatic secretary, Edna Peer, and a Jewish-Paraguayan clerk, Diana Zawluk, killing the former and wounding the latter. Decades later in the Tel-Aviv-based Ma’ariv newspaper, the secretary’s widower, Moshe Peer, revealed that Israel had encouraged the emigration of the two assailants. As Israel’s consul and first secretary at the time, Peer explained that the Palestinians “were promised they will be land-owners” in exchange for their departure from Gaza with Paraguayan passports. “At the time,” Peer recalled, “you could buy a Paraguayan passport for US$50.” He stated that Israelis brought Palestinian youth to rural Paraguay and promised further support. After a month without remuneration or assistance, two Palestinians returned to the embassy in Asunción with tragic consequences. In contrast to US media that, at the time, portrayed the shooting as the Arab-Israeli conflict spilling-over into an irrelevant corner of the world, I ask “what does this moment say about South America as an active location of post-1967 Middle East politics?”
Centered around the May 1970 shooting at the Israeli embassy in Asunción, this article traces a dramatic chain of actions and reactions which was set into motion by Israel’s victory in June 1967 and drew to a close after the June 1972 verdict of a Paraguayan court regarding two Palestinians. In these five years, I suggest that both victor and vanquished in the June war were accommodated by South America’s most enduring authoritarian regime, Paraguay’s stronato, the military government of General Alfredo Stroessner (1954–1989). Stroessner’s decision to put the two Palestinians on trial in Paraguay rather than extradite them to Israel was part of a larger story of South America’s connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Based on government documents, news reportage, and oral histories, my article explores this linkage through three sets of relationships: high-ranking Israeli officials who, from June 1967 to May 1970, encouraged the emigration of Palestinians from Gaza to South America; Israel’s ambassador to Paraguay and Paraguayan stronistas (Stroessner supporters) of Syrian-Lebanese descent who came into contact with the two assailants after the shooting; and, from May 1970 to June 1972, two Palestinians prosecuted by the embassy’s Jewish-Paraguayan clerk and defended by a Syrian-Lebanese stronista. Through these overlapping interactions, South America was not only encompassed by but also domestically contained the effects of the June 1967 war, including both the victory of Israel as well as the exacerbation of Palestinian displacement.
…there exists documentation of twenty-one Gazans who arrived in Asunción in August and September 1969, eleven of whom gave declaraciónes indagatórias (sworn statements) to the Paraguayan Dirección de Registro de Extranjeros—Directorate of Foreigner Registry—in late September of the same year. The Directorate’s sub-commissioner asked a series of questions, including whether the Gazans were sponsored to travel to Paraguay. Without exception, the eleven men related that, through word of mouth in Gaza, they heard of “Patra,” a “travel agency” or “organization” that “enrolled” (inscribia) people interested in travelling to work in “Brazil” or “América.” Some men also identified speaking with a certain Gad Greiver, who still today runs an Israeli travel agency of the same name, “Patra,” founded by his Jewish-Polish father in 1937. As indicated earlier, travel agents facilitated Palestinian emigration from Gaza in the context of an Israeli government plan.
This journey was, in fact, a second displacement. In response to the Paraguayan official’s questions about their place of birth and place of departure, half of the men implied that they were 1948 refugees who resettled in Gaza. The aforementioned twenty-eight-year-old Fared Shain was born in “el Magdal,” a coastal Arab village that became the Israeli city of Ashkelon after 1948. Shain resettled in Gaza and worked as a “chauffer-driver” before emigrating. Abderkader el Isardi, a twenty-three-year old painter, related that his birthplace was “Iebna-Palestina” (Yibna), but his place of departure was “un campamento de refugiados en Gaza” (a refugee camp in Gaza). Travelling with his wife and five children, the thirty-one-year old language teacher, Salah Abu Kamal, was born in “Jaffa-Palestina”—overtaken by Haganah and Irgun forces in 1948—and departed from “Sabrah-Gaza.” Ahmed Salahel El Assar, a twenty-two-year old watch repairman born in “Yules-Palestina” (perhaps Yalu, south of Ramlah which became the homonymous Israeli town after 1948), left from the Gazan coastal city of “Deir El Balah.” Likewise, Subhi Yadala, a twenty-two-year old mechanic, was born in “Deir Sneid-Palestina.” When Deir Sneid became the Israeli settlement of Gan Hadarom after 1948, Yadala resided “in the city of Khan Yunes-Gaza” until heading abroad. Other Gazans, such as the twenty-one-year-olds, Ahmed Abdala and Abdala El Abdala, were born and raised in the Gazan city of Khan Yunes. Similarly, Said Saleh, a sixteen-year old mechanic, and Abderahman Abd Rabbuh, a twenty-four-year old carpenter, were born in “Yabalia El Balad-Gaza.” These Palestinians who arrived in Paraguay in late 1969 were part of the so-called “refugee problem” that had troubled Prime Minister Eshkol.
Incomplete histories, however, remain of the some twenty or more Gazans after the two most visible among them were sentenced to jail in Paraguay. In January 1979, one of the earlier arrivés mentioned above, Fared Shain, requested to be interviewed by ABC Color. Without mentioning his September 1969 journey to Asunción and his testimony to the Paraguayan Foreigner Registry Directorate, Shain asked ABC Color to publish his open request to the Israeli embassy in Asunción for a visa to return to Gaza, in order to see his dying mother and his six children. A week later, AlRahman and Abu Jalil appeared in Hoy, the Paraguayan newspaper founded by HDD a couple years before. The article, “Do You Remember the Palestinians?” interviewed the two Gazans close to the end of their sentence. They recounted their ordeal that began “after the Six-Day War” when Palestine was occupied and Israel paid for their passage to Paraguay only to abandon them. Reconsidering their actions in the embassy shooting as borne of “desperation” and “without politics,” both expressed the desire to remain in South America because, as one stated, “We Palestinians are men without a country.” Whether seeking to return to Palestine, intending to stay in Paraguay, or heading elsewhere, these Gazans lend urgency to Appadurai’s call to study “how others, in what we still take to be certain areas as we define them, see the rest of the world in regional terms.” These Palestinians saw and experienced what are often assumed to be fixed and separate areas of the world in ways that moved and connected them, forcing us to locate Paraguay within the Arab-Israeli conflict itself. In telling irony, the displacement of Palestinians connects South America and the post-1967 Middle East.
 “Atentado hecho criminal perpetrado esta mañana contra funcionarias de la embajada israelí,” La Tarde, 4 May 1970, 1-2; “Atentaron contra la embajada de Israel en nuestra capital,” ABC Color, 5 May 1970, 1; “Editorial: Agresión a Nuestra Paz,” Patria, 5 May 1970, 3.
 Sara Leibovitch-Dar, “Transfer: The 70’s Version,” Sofshavua Ma’ariv, 13 August 2004, 18-26. The quotes given here are the words of Moshe Peer.
 “Arabs Invade Israeli Embassy in Paraguay, Kill Envoy’s Wife,” Chicago Tribune, 5 May 1970; “Arabs Shoot 2 in Israeli Embassy in Paraguay,” Los Angeles Times, 5 May 1970; “Arabs Kill Wife of Israeli Envoy,” The Blade (Toledo, Ohio), 5 May 1970; “Israeli Slain in Attack at Embassy in Paraguay,” New York Times, 5 May 1970.
 Paul Lewis, Paraguay under Stroessner (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1980); Andrew Nickson, “Tyranny and Longevity: Stroessner’s Paraguay,” Third World Quarterly 10: 1 (1988), 237-259.
 The following are the eleven sworn statements that are referred to in the next several pages: “Declaración Indagatoria del detenido Salah Abu Kamal,” “Declaración Indagatoria del detenido Said Saleh,” “Declaración Indagatoria del detenido Abdel Kader El Isardi,” “Declaración Indagatoria del detenido Subhi Yadala,” “Declaración Indagatoria del detenido Abderahman Abd Rabbuh,” “Declaración Indagatoria del detenido Ahmed Abdalla,” “Declaración Indagatoria del detenido Abdala El Abdala,” “Declaración Indagatoria del detenido Ahmed Salahel El Assar,” “Declaración Indagatoria del detenido Fadel Shaiah,” “Declaración Indagatoria del detenido Fared Shain,” “Declaración Indagatoria del detenido Foud Farwook,” September 1969, Departamento de Investigaciones (DI) LL61-62-63-64, CDyA.
 Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, xix.
 Ibid, 116.
 Ibid, xix.
 ‘‘‘Deseo visa permanente para residir en mi país’: En busca de tranquilidad, un palestino – Fared Shain....,” ABC Color, 21 January 1979, 15.
 “¿Se acuerda usted de Los Palestinos?” Hoy Sunday magazine, 28 January 1979, 11.
 Appadurai, “Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination,” 8.
[Excerpted from John Tofik Karam, "On the Trail and Trial of a Palestinian Diaspora: Mapping South America in the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 1967–1972," Journal of Latin American Studies 45.5 (November 2013), by permission of the author. © Cambridge University Press 2013. For more information, or to view or purchase the complete issue, click here.]