A letter from a Brazilian Palestinian to a Brazilian Jew

One of these days, I read the letter that was written by Mohamad Jehad Ali Tayeh, a Brazilian Palestinian. It was written to Michel Gherman who is Jewish and had asked his Palestinian friends to write what they thought about anti-semitism. He said that he had many answers and posted this letter on Facebook. It is in Portuguese, so after I read it, I decided to write to Mohamad to ask whether I could translate it to English, so that I could send it to my Israeli and Palestinian friends. He told me I could. So, here is my attempt to translate what it is there.

“I studied in the middle of the 80’s in a public school in Sao Leopoldo. Though it was a public school, because it was located in the centre of town, the school was attended by traditional families that were mainly from German origin. I believe that at the time there was not such a gap in standards between the quality of public and private schools, as exists today in Brazil. In a certain year, the Federal Government gave us the usual books but also a notebook, with the following slogan: “Education for all”. I remember that one day, when I came back to my desk I found all my notebooks completely scratched in red. On the top of that slogan, someone had written: “Not for Turks!”. I was about twelve or thirteen and I did not have the maturity to raise my hands and voice to protest against it. At the time, I believed I was condemned to be forever simply the son of the Turq, who owned a shop in the centre of the town. That was simply what I would be. This and some other unpleasant experiences happened. Some were not cruel while others were more profound and serious. These experiences became part of my daily life and have shaped who I have become. Most of the time I remained silent, and the price of this silence was high.

My Palestinian father raised me with the belief that on top of being persecuted in our homeland we were not accepted in many other places and even when they seemed to accept us, we were at best, simply tolerated.

There were subliminal messages like hanging a catholic rosary in the doorknob of our house, which my naive Syrian catholic mother believed it to be a gift. There were even rules against us attending the clubs of the countryside of the state. Because of all of these experiences, I have developed a profound repulsion for racism. This degrading feeling that flagellates humanity persists even while it is always fought against it.

As a result of these experiences, I see myself in the obligation, as a Palestinian, to show my repulsion in relationship to how some political sectors have been treating the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Beyond everything, I want to make it clear that I am a harsh critic of the Israeli colonial expansionism. I have seen closely the ills that this politics had and have created among the Palestinian people. But I have used my profound knowledge as a Palestinian to become more knowledgeable of the real situation in order to be able to have a more humanistic reading of this conflict.

It does not matter who oppresses the Palestinian people. What matters is that we cannot fall in the trap of judging a whole population because of the political decisions of a State. If Israel is an oppressive state against the Palestinian people, Israeli citizens have the obligation to change that, but they cannot be blamed for it.

I say this because I am very concerned about the rise of anti-semitism as I am concerned about the growth of Islamophobia. There are today inside of Israel several organisations that fight for Palestinian human rights. These organisations are without a question, fundamental for the search of a peaceful resolution to this secular conflict.

In Brazil, specifically in the Rio Grande do Sul, there are large Brazilian Jewish and Palestinian communities. These communities have worked honestly and hardly for decades to develop a harmonious and civilised relationship between these two communities. We cannot allow the harming of this relationship because of inflamed, incoherent, irresponsible and many times criminal discourses. We cannot be silenced in the face of injustice. We cannot omit ourselves when we see people being stolen from their basic human rights. We cannot ignore when violence intends to give answers to just demands. We cannot in any way endorse the judging of a whole people. There should be Education, peace, freedom and justice to all.

For that reason I affirm and scream from the top of my lungs that we should fight against all the forms of discrimination. Therefore simplistic perspectives that use anti-semitic and anti-judaism colours should be denounced just like Orientalist and Islamophobic discourses that are used to refer to Arabs and Muslims as common and similar groups.

As a Palestinian, I affirm that the anti semitic is my enemy like it is the enemy of the Jew. Anti Semitism should not be used, in no way, in my name. It demoralises and brings shame to my cause. It cannot happen under my name.

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