On 31 March, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visited Jerusalem and announced that a Brazilian commercial office will be opened in the city. He also joined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Western Wall (Al-Buraq) of Al-Aqsa Mosque’s compound, an act considered tantamount to recognition of the Israeli occupation’s control over these holy sites.
Bolsonaro’s visit caused great shock and anger among the Palestinian people, not only because this visit to the Holy City is in flagrant violation of international law, but also because of the long history of close relations between the Palestinian and Brazilian peoples.
Both peoples have held close relations for decades, perhaps even centuries. The first visit of a Brazilian president to Jerusalem was in 1876, when the city formed part of the Ottoman Empire and Brazil had not yet become a republic. Palestine also held a special place in the hearts of millions of Brazilian Christians, who arrived to perform pilgrimage in the Holy Land.
Over the decades since, Brazil has supported the right of the Palestinian people to freedom and independence, both in its capacity as a sovereign state and in regional frameworks such as BRICs or the Latin American Community. Brazil was the first South American country to recognise the State of Palestine in 2010. It has used international forums to vote in support of Palestinians’ rights, and contributed significantly to supporting their steadfastness and well-being by funding UNRWA programs. The Brazilian Representative in Ramallah has also directly contributed to implementing projects which strengthen infrastructure in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).
Moreover, Brazil has a prominent place in the hearts of Palestinians. Brazil boasts a large Palestinian community of over 80,000 people, whose ancestors arrived there at the end of the 19th century. These Palestinians contributed greatly to the construction of their second homeland, Brazil. No better proof of Palestinians’ love for Brazil exists than the fact that most Palestinians cheer for the Brazilian national football team during their matches.
Back in Palestine, we have been living on the land for thousands of years. We have created a civilisation that has contributed to the well-being of humankind. We live under an Israeli occupation that seeks to complete the crime it started in 1948 – the Nakba – by uprooting us from our land completely, stealing it and destroying Islamic and Christian holy sites.
Perhaps nothing better reflects Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinians than the rhetoric employed by Israeli politicians during their electoral campaigns. Many were proud of their achievements, boasting about how many Palestinians they killed, how many houses have been demolished, or demanding the expulsion of Palestinians to neighbouring countries and annexing the West Bank to Israel.
These are not empty election slogans, but are carried out around the clock in occupied Palestine. Perhaps the most recent example of this has been the events in the besieged Gaza Strip in the past year. On the anniversary of Land Day – which falls on 30 March each year – tens of thousands of Palestinians from all segments of society demonstrated peacefully to assert their right to return to the homes from which they were displaced in 1948, in what has become known as the Great March of Return. They also demanded an end to the siege imposed on the Strip since 2007, which has turned Gaza into a large open-air prison, described by some Israelis as concentration camps.
Life has become impossible, so much so that the United Nations believes Gaza will become unliveable by 2020. Thousands of people went to the fence east of the Strip, posing no danger to anyone, as confirmed by a recent UN report and other international human rights institutions. These marches continue today, a year on from the original demonstration.
About 280 demonstrators have been killed by Israeli forces and over 28,000 wounded during the Great March, hundreds of which were women and children and many of which were left with life-changing injuries. Although the United Nations Commission of Inquiry confirmed that Israel committed war crimes against peaceful civilians, Netanyahu considered the killing of about 300 peaceful Palestinians “a wise and correct decision”.
We, as a Palestinian people, struggle for freedom, independence, the right to self-determination, the establishment of our independent state – with Jerusalem as its capital – and to live in peace, like the rest of the world.
In this struggle, we recognise the importance of Brazil at the regional and international level – as an emerging country and the tenth largest economy in the world – and therefore we emphasise our great hope for Brazil’s support for our rights. The current Brazilian policy led by President Bolsonaro, in our view, does not serve the common interests of the Middle East and Brazil; this policy doesn’t just oppose the Palestinians, but more than 400 million Arabs and over 1.7 billion Muslims around the world.
Jerusalem is an occupied city under international law and no one has the right to legitimise its occupation, give the go ahead to violate its Islamic and Christian sanctities, or to demolish Al-Aqsa Mosque to build a Jewish Temple. This reckless policy does not serve stability and peace in the region, but rather reinforces the state of tension, chaos and extremism, further prolonging the conflict.
The Middle East can achieve stability only by removing the most important cause of tension, namely the Israeli occupation. We are sure that Brazil and its great people can play a central role in helping Palestinians to achieve freedom and independence, and the region to achieve stability and prosperity.