In 1947, Cuba was one of the few countries opposing the UN Partition Plan, which laid the groundwork for Israel’s colonisation of Palestine. At the time, the Cuban envoy to the UN Dr Ernesto Dihigo spoke out against Zionist settler colonialism and, with clarity, pointed out the UN’s incompetence and refusal to implement its rhetoric regarding the free determination of people.
Decades later, and at a time when Palestinians are risking the loss of what remains of their land, Cuba must rethink its strategy which runs the risk of normalising Israeli colonialism and human rights violations committed against the Palestinian population.
Israeli media has reported that Doron Markel, chief scientist at the Jewish National Fund (JNF), was invited to an international environmental conference held in Havana, Cuba. Needless to say, Israel was given a golden opportunity to present itself as a model to emulate by lauding its scientific expertise, while eliminating the violent narrative of land and water theft to achieve its goals.
There are no formal diplomatic ties between Cuba and Israel. However, inviting a representative of the JNF to Cuba, an organisation which has been at the helm of displacing the Palestinian people, is tantamount to a tacit decision to normalise the violence upon which Israel has been able to build a prosperous image. For every Israeli achievement, there are hidden Palestinian victims.
The forestation which Markel spoke about must be perceived within the context of destroying Palestine’s own environmental heritage. Likewise, Israel’s water strategy requires mentioning how its theft deprives Palestinians of adequate access to water. Markel’s statement that “science can serve as a bridge” between two countries that have not yet established formal diplomatic relations is a demand for Cuba to normalise Israel’s violations against the Palestinian people. Inviting a JNF representative already points towards such a route.
In one of his memorable speeches to the UN, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro stated: “Colonies do not speak. Colonies are not known unless they have the opportunity to express themselves.”
By inviting an Israeli representative, Cuba has departed from this truthful observation by Castro and experienced by the Cubans themselves before their liberation.
Cuban support for Palestine is rooted in the shared experience of anti-colonial struggle. The country should be leading by example, rather than accommodating Israeli narratives that speak about achievements at the expense of the Palestinian population. This normalisation of Israeli violations and its neoliberal endeavours is contrary to the Cuban revolutionary struggle and fails to uphold the internationalist principles upon which Cuba was able to impart support to oppressed people around the world, including Palestinians.
While not representative of people’s sentiment, the Cuban government has made its politics ambiguous as a result of this invitation. It is therefore pertinent to ask where Cuba is heading in terms of its own commitment to supporting the anti-colonial struggle of other oppressed people internationally. The US, the EU and the UN have all normalised Israel. Will Cuba rekindle its commitment to its principles or follow the trend that has discarded the Palestinian people’s legitimate political demands?