The keffiyeh is a traditional scarf in the Arab world. The distinctive black and white Palestinian version has become one of the most iconic symbols of the struggle and resistance against Israeli occupation. For one Brazilian of Lebanese descent, the keffiyeh is part of his identity and lifestyle; a kind of official uniform for every occasion. Indeed, since 1986, people have only seen Mohamad El-Kadri wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh at Palestine solidarity events, educational seminars, official meetings and even on social occasions. El-Kadri is known as Mohammad Al-Filastini ("The Palestinian") to his friends, even though he was born in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo to Lebanese parents.
I asked him why he always wears the keffiyeh. He told me that he followed the news about Palestine regularly, and was influenced by Yasser Arafat, who always wore the keffiyeh. "Ever since that moment in 1986, I started wearing it. In doing so, I represent the Palestinian cause and the people's rights to my fellow Brazilians."
El-Kadri believes that the keffiyeh is not only Palestinian clothing, but it is also a way to introduce Palestine, the Palestinian cause and the ongoing crimes of the Israeli occupation. "I give every Brazilian figure who takes the lead in supporting Palestine a keffiyeh to consolidate the culture of defending the Palestinian people. I have gifted keffiyehs to many people, including Brazilian President Lula da Silva."
Mohamad El-Kadri joined the Brazilian Workers' Party in 1980 and was influenced to support the Palestinian cause as part of the party's values and principles. The party nominated him to be one of its candidates in the 2018 Brazilian parliamentary election. " I agreed, of course, because I wanted to be the voice of Palestine and its people in parliament. I have never hesitated to support the Palestinian people in the face of the Israeli occupation's crimes against them." He did not win a seat on that occasion, but he still works hard to get as many deputies as possible to rally around the Palestinian cause.
He was then involved in the establishment the first Front in Defence of the Rights of the Palestinian People, backed by parliamentarians including senators and federal deputies. The front aimed to mobilise more national forces, parliamentarians and influential figures in Brazilian society to support the Palestinian cause. The intention was to show the world that the Brazilian government and its people have always defended Palestinian rights, even in international forums.
"We established the front 14 years ago, and we succeeded in attracting many influential people, as well as Brazilian and Palestinian institutions," explained El-Kadri. "We wanted to present a different image of Palestine to the Brazilian people."
He is now one of a number of Brazilian activists who have opened the world's eyes to the crimes of the Israeli occupation, and this has made him a target for Israel and its supporters. He was banned from entering occupied Palestine in 2011 during his trip to take part in a Nakba commemoration programme in neighbouring Jordan. The ban was repeated in 2015 when he tried to visit Palestine with a delegation of Brazilian journalists and personalities.
"It was heart-breaking when Israel stopped me from entering," he said. "However, I told them that I do not need permission to enter Palestine, and that Palestine will be free one day and we will not need any permission to enter our land. I still hope to visit Palestine and pray in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque."
With the re-election of Lula as president of Brazil, El-Kadri knew that there would be a diplomatic shift towards the Palestinian cause after the pro-Israel years of Jair Bolsonaro. "President Lula has always supported Palestine. Under Bolsonaro, we didn't have the same kind of freedom for pro-Palestine activism. That has changed now."
Mohammed "Al-Filastini" El-Kadri has made the Palestinian keffiyeh his identity to reflect his deep affiliation with Palestine and its cause. He is convinced that Palestine will be free from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, and that the struggle will continue until that is achieved.
"There is no path but the path of victory and freedom for Palestine," he concluded. "O people of Palestine, keep up your revolution, steadfastness and struggle until victory is yours."
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