In Brazil’s favelas, activists find common ground with Palestinians in Gaza

In Brazil’s favelas, activists find common ground with Palestinians in Gaza

Cosme Felippsen’s nephew was killed by Brazilian military police in a Rio de Janeiro alley known as the Gaza Strip when he was 17 years old.

Felippsen pointed to the bullet holes along the alley walls and said, “Almost every favela in Rio has an area residents call Gaza.” He continued, “The name has been used by locals for at least 15 years.” It designates the location where the majority of the gunfire is concentrated.

Morro da Providência is the name of the neighborhood where Felippsen’s nephew José Vieira passed away in 2017. There are hundreds of favelas, or impoverished communities, scattered throughout the city.

Residents and activists claim that the violence they witnessed in the favelas has given them a special perspective on the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza’s current urban conflict. Additionally, they are inspired to act by the parallels they see.

According to Felippsen, a local politician and tour guide who specializes in Black history, Rio de Janeiro’s favelas experience many of the same things that occur in Palestine, including militarization and the execution of locals.

Residents of Rio de Janeiro’s Morro da Providência favela have given an alley the nickname “Gaza Strip” because of gunfire there. [Apolline Guillerot-Malick/Al Jazeera]

Since the Israel-Hamas war started on October 7, leftist organizations, some of which have ties to Brazil’s favelas, have organized protests across the nation.

Since then, a blockade that cut off vital supplies to the heavily populated region and an Israeli bombing campaign have resulted in the deaths of more than 13, 000 Palestinians in Gaza. The Hamas attacks that sparked the war claimed the lives of about 1,200 Israelis.

The Palestinian people are “gravely at risk of genocide,” according to UN experts.

Adriana Odara Martins, a resident of Rio’s Baixada Fluminense neighborhood, was one of the protesters calling for an end to the American consulate there in October.

She explained that police frequently targeted her community and that recent media coverage of Gaza reflected her experiences.

We have empathy, which is why we are here in solidarity. Martins, a coordinator for the Unified Black Movement and member of the feminist organization Articulation of Brazilian Women, said, “We know what it’s like to live under violence.”

According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, more than 6,400 people were killed by police in Brazil last year, with 83 percent of those deaths occurring to Black people.

Favoritas, crowded urban areas with a predominately Black or mixed-race population, are where the violence is at its worst.

According to Bruno Huberman, a professor of international relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo, Palestinians and favela residents are frequently viewed as “racially subaltern populations.”

He told Al Jazeera that they have a history of&nbsp, systematic repression, home expulsion, confinement in segregated areas, subjugation, and exploitation.

According to Huberman, “Both populations are engaged in endless wars: the favela populations and the Palestinians in the war against terrorism.”

A woman who wears a yellow banner tucked into the front of her shirt raises a fist in solidarity at a pro-Palestinian protest in Rio de Janeiro.
On October 31, Adriana Odara Martins, the Unified Black Movement’s coordinator, performs a demonstration in front of the US consulate in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Fatima Ouassak, a French political scientist, author, and activist, said she had also noticed similarities in how Palestinians and favela residents were treated in their respective homelands, though she was hesitant to compare the two groups’ levels of violence, oppression, or affliction.

She told Al Jazeera that “these populations are made to feel out of place where they live, as if they weren’t welcome or at home.” Ouassak continued by saying that other Arab and African diaspora communities in nations like France shared this sentiment.

Some favela social movements have explicitly identified with the Palestinian struggle as a result of the perceived similarities.

Since 2016, Rio activists have organized “Black July,” a celebration that brings together groups of people who are experiencing racism and militarism for activities and discussions.

These events frequently center on the subject of Palestinian rights. Two Brazilian activists, Thais Siqueira and Gizele Martins, gave a webinar as part of this year’s Black July. They had just returned from an occupation of the West Bank.

During the webinar, Martins remarked, “I thought we were the only ones suffering in the favelas.” She moved to Rio’s Maré favela in 2017 and made her first trip to the West Bank. “I noticed that everything was very similar, but much more tense, as soon as I arrived.”

She cited the security wall Israel built through Palestinian communities in the West Bank as one of the parallels. Claudio Castro, the governor of Rio de Janeiro, announced in August that a wall would be built around some favelas for security purposes as well.

“Shame’s wall!” Following the announcement, Martins referred to Rio’s apartheid wall on Instagram, referencing the West Bank wall.

A hillside packed with houses, under a grey sky.
Morro da Providência, which was established at the end of the 19th century and is situated in the heart of Rio de Janeiro, is regarded as Brazil’s first favela.

However, there are restrictions on how the two groups can be identified. In the favela where he lives, Barreira do Vasco, there was more talk in favor of Israel than Palestine, according to &nbsp Mike, a pro-Palestinian protester who refused to give his last name.

At the protest in front of the US consulate in Rio de Janeiro, Mike admitted to Al Jazeera that he occasionally feels a little alone in supporting Palestine.

Evangelical Christianity, a faith that strongly identifies with Israel, has grown in popularity in favelas in recent years.

Evangelicalism is thought to be Brazil’s fastest-growing religious group, despite having the largest Catholic population in the world. About 30% of people consider themselves to be evangelical.

Particularly in Favelas, where religious leaders provide poor residents with social services like employment and education, the church is seen as flourishing.

Evangelicals are more likely to sympathize with Israel because they believe it to be a holy place that should be protected, according to political scientist Guilherme Casares of the Think Tank and University Getulio Vargas Foundation.

According to Casares, Jesus Christ won’t come back to Earth to save humanity until the people of Jerusalem have accepted his teachings.

Casares continued by saying that this viewpoint has resulted in “unconditional alignment with Israel” on a political level.

He asserted that Israel has the right to defend itself in this conflict between good and evil, despite some criticism of the killing of innocent Palestinians in Gaza.

A protester, whose face is wrapped in a black-and-white keffiyeh scarf, joins a protest in front of a Palestinian flag.
[Apolline Guillerot-Malick/Al Jazeera] Demonstrators gather in front of the US consulate in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to demand a ceasefire in Gaza and support Palestinians.

That point of view conflicts with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s current left-wing stance.

Lula has criticized Israel’s ongoing bombardment of the Gaza Strip over the past month, calling for an end to the Palestinian bloodshed.

It’s not a war, I say. On October 25, Lula informed reporters that this was a genocide at the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia. On Tuesday, he also referred to Israel’s actions as being “equivalent to terrorism” in a social media address.

Lula was a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights during his previous two terms in office, from 2003 to 2010.

A two-state solution to the conflict that would enable the establishment of a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel has long been demanded by Latin America’s largest democracy.

By recognizing Palestine as an independent state with 1967 borders, Lula made progress toward that objective in 2010. In a statement, the Israeli government expressed its “sadness and disappointment” over the choice.

Lula’s rhetoric, according to experts, is similar to that of other left-leaning Latin American leaders. Chile and Colombia have called back their ambassadors to Tel Aviv for consultations, while Bolivia severed diplomatic ties with Israel over the Gaza conflict.

Contrarily, Casares claims that right-wing Latin American leaders have expressed more overt support for Israel. Additionally, they frequently have more evangelical backing.

Former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro did make public statements denying Palestine was a country, but he refrained from altering Brazil’s long-standing support for the two-state solution.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva places one hand on the head of a little boy and another on the arm of the woman who carries him, as a form of greeting.
On November 13, Brazilian citizens who have been repatriated from Gaza are greeted by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at a military installation in Brasilia. [Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

Given how close the margins were between Bolsonaro and Lula when they faced off in the 2022 presidential election, the favela vote was crucial.

Favorite residents make up a sizable portion of the voting population. In Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 25% of the population resides in favelas, which are poorly resourced urban areas with an estimated population of 16 million.

In the end, Lula narrowly defeated Bolsonaro. In the weeks leading up to the election, the nonprofit G10 Favelas/Fabela Diz discovered that Lula had a seven-point advantage over Bolsonaro among favela voters, with the far-right leader receiving 31% of the vote.

It is unclear whether Lula’s foreign policy stance will have an impact on that support. However, Huberman, a professor of international relations, claimed that the vote was largely influenced by Brazil’s economy and standard of living.

However, some proponents of Palestinian rights want Lula to take more action against the ongoing conflict.

The Right to Memory and Racial Justice Initiative’s coordinator in Rio de Janeiro, Francisco Goulart, claimed to have noticed Lula losing favor with his fellow activists. Additionally, they believed that the president of the left-wing was not opposing Israel’s military offensive strongly enough.

Goulart remarked, “Lula ought to position himself against Israel, but he hasn’t.”

Protesters gather outside the US consulate in Rio de Janeiro. One speaks into a microphone and lifts up a sign. Others hold up Palestinian flags.
Palestinian rights activists have urged Brazil’s government to further distance itself from Israel. [Apolline Guillerot-Malick/Al Jazeera]

The ongoing ties between Brazil and Israel’s defense sector are a part of the problem. Israel has long provided Brazil with armored vehicles and weapons to improve its own security.

For instance, Rio de Janeiro purchased armored vehicles for its military police in 2013 as part of a deal it made with Global Shield, an Israeli company, according to local newspaper Estado.

According to Ponte, a local news source, Sao Paulo’s military police displayed 7.62mm calibre Light Negev machine guns that they had purchased from Israel Weapon Industries Ltd in 2020.

In the favelas, this type of weaponry has been employed to stop gang violence.

Goulart referenced efforts to combat gangs in the favelas prior to significant sporting events in an article published in March of the &nbsp. “For years, military technologies tested on Palestinians have been used in Brazil.”

According to Huberman, when Lula’s Workers’ Party was in power, particularly in the area of security cooperation, ties between Israel and Brazil actually grew stronger.

For instance, the Workers’ Party supported Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies in their decision to renew three cooperation agreements with Israel last month, including one to combat organized crime.

According to Huberman, this causes Lula’s support of Israel as a partner country for domestic security to conflict with his position on Israeli military incursions.

Source: Aljazeera


234Radio is Africa's Premium Internet Radio that seeks to export Africa to the rest of the world.

Leave a Reply