Guatemala Street in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood serves as an eternal expression of Israel’s appreciation to the Latin American country for voting in favor of the United Nations Partition Plan in November 1947. That vote was the beginning of a special friendship between these two countries.
In May 1948, Guatemala was the second country, after the United States, to officially recognize Israel following David Ben Gurion’s declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel. Seventy years later, Guatemala was the second country - again following in the footsteps of the US - to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and moved its embassy to Jerusalem.
Guatemala values its bond with Israel and has shown its commitment in numerous ways. Four cities in Guatemala have renamed streets and squares "Jerusalem the Capital of Israel" in support of their country’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Furthermore, Puerto Barrios, a city with over 55,000 citizens, passed a bill in 2018 to name all of the city’s streets after Israeli cities and communities. The mayor of Puerto Barrios explained: “We believe that everyone who helps the State of Israel will be blessed by God. We are great supporters of the State of Israel, we love the citizens of Israel and are interested in deep cooperation between our countries.”
This relationship is reciprocal. For example, on June 3, 2018, thousands of Guatemalans lost their homes to a series of deadly volcanic explosions in which almost two hundred people were killed, and another 250 people were declared missing. Five months before the deadly volcanic eruptions, Israeli officials from the search-and-rescue and victim-identification organization ZAKA came to Guatemala to train a crew of 45 volunteers - comprised of Jewish community members and emergency services representatives - in performing search and rescue. Due to this training, the crew was prepared to immediately help when disaster struck. In addition, IsraAID, an Israeli-based humanitarian aid agency, and the Israeli government sent emergency medical teams to treat injured victims of the volcano.
One hundred new houses are now being built in the district that was devastated by the volcano, thanks to a charitable initiative spearheaded by ZAKA. This neighborhood has been renamed “Jerusalem” in honor of the Israeli volunteers who have worked tirelessly to help rebuild the region.
With a predominantly Catholic country of about seventeen million citizens and a tiny Jewish population of only one thousand people, what is the source of the longstanding friendship between Guatemala and Israel?
One motive may be to appease the Unites States, due to Guatemala’s reliance on US funding to improve security, as their country suffers from some of the highest levels of drug-related violence in the region. In addition, Guatemala feels indebted to Israel for security assistance. In 1977, the US cut off military aid to Guatemala, and for a number of years, Israel became the largest supplier of weapons, military training, and surveillance technology to the Guatemalan government. Furthermore, many Guatemalans were fascinated by the story of Israel, a young nation building their homeland in a hostile region in the aftermath of the Holocaust. And finally, 40% of the country’s citizens are evangelical Christians and feel a religious attachment to Israel. They truly view Israel as a “light unto the nations” that brings salvation to the entire world.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at email@example.com.