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Jun 26, 2018

Protesters Descends on Belmopan to Object to Israeli Training of Police

Artists converged in Belmopan today for a protest against the state of Israel. It was prompted by the decision of the government to allow for the Israeli police to offer training to the local police department. First a letter was delivered to the office of the Prime Minister explaining why the training ought not to happen. Next stop was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the protesters met with Minister Wilfred Elrington.  The protesters then headed to the Police Academy where the Israelis were to carry out the programme. Among the artists was author and Ambassador, Assad Shoman, who is of Palestinian descent. He spoke of the killing of Palestinians by the Israelis as well as that country’s special relationship with Guatemala. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

On the seventieth anniversary of Israel’s independence, its celebration in Belize has been met with protest. That’s because a goodwill gesture to provide training to local law enforcement in community policing has raised the ire of a handful of Belizeans. Led by Yasser Musa, an avant-garde in the artistic community, a group of men and women, including teachers and students, assembled in front of the Sir Edney Cain Building in Belmopan where Musa delivered the first of three signed letters at the Office of the Prime Minister.

 

Yasser Musa

Yasser Musa, Protest Organizers

“Well we are out here as we said we would be, it’s three o’clock and we just came, Katie Usher and I, the artist, just went inside to ask the police officers that are the security in the building if we could go and deliver the letter to the prime minister.  They informed us that the prime minister is not in the country and so we were given access to the secretary which we presented the letter that we have written and we’ve been petitioning the Belizeans to sign on to.  On my way out the police stopped me and asked if I had a permit or if there is a permit because they saw the crowd of people out here.  I said yes, I showed them the permit and it was smooth and so now we’re out here on our way to the NEMO Building to present the letter to the foreign minister and then the National Assembly and then after that we are going to go over to the police training academy.”

 

Joining the demonstration at the Assembly Building was Assad Shoman. The outspoken and often frank former ambassador shared a perspective on the issue, stating that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians should not be countenanced by the Government of Belize.

 

Assad Shoman

Assad Shoman, Protester

“We have all seen on television how the Israelis treat the community that they have usurped in Palestine.  So I don’t know if we are expecting them to train snipers, that’s what they do when there is a protest of Palestinians, they have snipers from afar killing or maiming these people, by the dozens, by the hundreds.  Israel is right now recognize by some Israelis themselves as a racist, apartheid state and I don’t think that it is right for a country like Belize to support apartheid, to ask the terrorist to come and train our police. What do you expect to come out of that?”

 

The uproar, from the point of view of those not in agreement with the training opportunity being provided to the Belize Police Department, is about Israel, a very close ally of Guatemala, gaining direct access to our country’s law enforcement apparatus. Minister of State Elodio Aragon Junior rejected that notion.

 

Elodio Aragon Jr.

Elodio Aragon Jr., Minister of State, Police

“Well I don’t know about the controversy. I guess you will have to ask them out there. What is happening here today is that today is the launch of a course from today up to the fourth of July. It’s about a two week course roughly that has to do about the police and community training. It’s about community policing in essence. It is about imparting the knowledge for police officers to be better oriented in dealing with the community; that is what it is about. It is going to be training fifteen police officers from countrywide and it is also going to touch on fifteen other personnel from other agencies: people from NDACC, people from the Special Constable part of the police and also some media personnel are in there likewise. So it all has to do with community policing.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“While you will not acknowledging it as such, the controversy—at least on the part of those who are outside protesting—is the fact that you are proceeding with a government that has been considered to be very tyrannical, for lack of a better word, in terms of the way it is dealing with the Palestinians and of course, its allegiance to Guatemala.”

 

Elodio Aragon Jr.

“We deal with a lot of countries. We deal with the United States; we deal with all kinds of countries who have relations with Belize. and when it comes to training, this is community policing training that we are talking about it is something to improve our police department. It is something that will improve relationship between the police and the community and that is what is important to us.”

 

Notwithstanding government’s position, Shoman offered historical context for why the offer should not have been accepted.

 

Assad Shoman

“Israel never supported the resolution that we put every year from 1975 to 1980 in support of our independence. In 1982 at last we got the United States of America to support us, but still Israel which usually does what United States said and vice versa still Israel refused to support us and they still did not and never did support any resolution for Belize’s independence. And there is a reason for that, it is because of Israel that the regime of Guatemala, the government, the military was able to survive because in 1977 when Carter put up a ban against selling arms to Guatemala because of the human rights record as well as the situation with Belize, the government had nowhere to go and would have lost the war against the guerilla who supported us by the way, who supported our independence and would have been unable to threaten Belize. But Israel stepped in and gave them all the weapons and training and everything they need. So that the close relationship between those two countries and it remains until today as you can see that Guatemala defied international law and moved its embassy to Jerusalem to please Israel.”

 

Government has, nonetheless, proceeded with training of officers.

 

Elodio Aragon Jr.

“This issue in making a big issue in regards to community policing training that we are getting; we must understand Belize is a small nation. We get training from the Americans, we get training from the Mexicans, we get training from all aspects, all countries that are willing to offer and we believe we can gain certain knowledge from that is what we do. I don’t think see it as a major issue of concern. I think there are greater issues like I told you that they should be concerned about, but this is Belize. This is a democratic country and everybody has their right to protest and things like that and that is why you can hear them out there.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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