Staff members of the Middle East Monitor in Brazil, Ahmad Zoubi and Hani Aldrsani, were received on 22 June by the former senator and governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Pedro Simon, and his wife, Ivete, at the couple's residence in the Rio Grande do Sul city of Xangri-lá.
Simon was gifted with publications on historical aspects of the Palestinian struggle. The former senator reciprocated kindness with his works on issues of the state and Brazilian politics, such as the book, Sobre o Brasil Que Queremos (About the Brazil we want), in which he demonstrates fierce action against corruption and impunity, defending a strong state with social inclusion.
At the age of 91, and with a broad vision of Brazil's recent history, veteran Simon is an experienced politician who has been in opposition to the dictatorship, coordinated the Brazilian national campaign Direjas já (direct elections now), led the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) that resulted in the impeachment of Fernando Collor and, later, the CPI of the Mensalão. Simon, therefore, is familiar with the ups and downs of Brazilian politics, from the resistance to the military coup of 1964, to the democratic period that began with the constitution of 1988 and its recent turbulence.
Simon was an activist in the Youth of the Brazilian Labour Party (PTB) of Rio Grande do Sul (his first party) at the time of the approval by the United Nations (UN), under the presidency of Osvaldo Aranha in 1947, of the creation of the State of Israel. Years later, as a senator, he spoke out in defence of the fulfilment of the promised UN solution of a state for the Palestinian people, independent of the State of Israel and calling for international action to end the violence of occupation.
The Palestinian people had already risen-up twice in the Intifadas of 1987 and 2000. In 2002, under the George Bush administration, the US seemed to condition any support for Palestine to the very departure of Yasser Arafat – then confined to his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli troops. The senator showed his indignation in a statement made on 4 April of that year: "For the first time, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is being threatened with shelling. Then, President George Bush here is also having an attitude that seems absurd to me. By omitting himself, Bush gives the impression that he is waiting for Israel to destroy the Palestinian Authority (PA) first, and then he will see what to do. It is something that really shocks."
In 2004, Simon would speak out again, lamenting the death of Arafat: "I liked him," he tells MEMO, trying to recall the time when the leader of the PA, Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Fatah and co-holder of the Nobel Peace Prize was imprisoned in his office. It lasted more than a month, during the violent Israeli operation called the "Protective Wall" in 2002.
Today, withdrawn from institutional politics, but dissatisfied with the Brazilian situation, he remains an important voice and reference on the country's directions. For him, the Palestinian cause is a matter of international law: "Palestinians are a people that exist, have land, history and the right to live as a free people." The UN, he recalls, made a composition whereby the two would be independent states, which he considers an adequate solution but that was unviable in practice: "Israelis from all over the world went to Palestine and Palestinians were scattered throughout the region." With this, the senator laments, one state became viable, and the other did not.
The son of Lebanese immigrants, Simon is sensitive to the situation of Palestinians who live until today as refugees in the land of their parents. He expressed that the Arab peoples yearn for freedom and democracy like all people of the world, and like everyone else: "The Palestinian people deserve to be free and have their own free state."
Simon received from MEMO the Brazilian edition of Nur Masalha's book, Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of 'Transfer' in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, launched in partnership with publishing house Sundermann and the Latin-Palestinian Forum. The historian shows the continued withdrawal of the Palestinian people since before the Nakba – the violent expulsion for the installation of the State of Israel.
Another publication delivered to the former senator was the new release of MEMO Publishers, Basic Facts on the Palestine Issue, by Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, which summarises the passages of Palestinian history, its progressive occupation and the process of international agreements involving the right to a Palestinian state.
"The UN decision back there is the one that has to be made," asserts Simon, lamenting that the process has been mutilated and abandoned halfway through. However, he also trusts that it is possible to reach a "harmonious" solution between the peoples, as he considers Brazil to be an important demonstration that it is possible for Arabs and Jews to live together well, citing the existing proximity between the children of the immigrants in Porto Alegre and São Paulo, for example.
"I think we will get there, sooner or later," Simon predicts. But at the same time, he regrets the "unfortunate statements" of current President Jair Bolsonaro on his foreign policy. "He speaks and then has to backtrack. That's what he did in relation to Israel. Just as he did with China (referring to the coronavirus pandemic). He backed down, and the minister was removed."