The State Parliamentary Council of Communities of Roots and Foreign Cultures (CONSECRE) announced last week that a Palestinian Brazilian citizen has been given a prerstigious award “Honouring Community Personalities” in the State of Sao Paulo, which is home to thousands of Palestinians in exile. Dr Jamal Suleiman was given the award at an official ceremony in the Legislative Assembly of the State of Sao Paulo, for his work in preserving the memory and cultural identity of the Palestinian people and their original country. Palestinian Brazilians are respected for their contributions to the socioeconomic development of Sao Paulo and Brazil. Suleiman is the second member of the Palestinian community honoured in this way since the CONSECRE was created in 2001.
“This award is a great honour! I received the news with great joy and pride as a Palestinian,” Dr Jamal told me. “I understand how important this award is for our Palestinian community who started to come to Brazil at least 130 years ago. Now we all experience the pain of exile and have done ever since the 1948 Nakba.”
He pointed out that one of the most prominent characteristics of the Palestinian community in Brazil is the ability to integrate into society and accept others without forgetting their origin, heritage, culture and motherland.
Jamal Suleiman is a well-known Palestinian Brazilian specialist in infectious diseases. He is from a Palestinian family from Silwad, a town to the north-east of Ramallah. His father was living in Haifa when he was expelled during the 1948 ethnic cleansing by Zionist terror gangs. He ended up in Brazil, where his son Jamal was born in 1959 in the State of Sao Paulo. The doctor graduated from the faculty of medicine in 1983.
Suleiman´s story is similar to that of millions of Palestinians living in exile from the land that their families had farmed for generations. It illustrates the fact that Palestinian refugees are living examples of patience and, in many cases, success in the diaspora. Neither the trauma of exile nor the pain of their loss has broken their spirit. On the contrary, their collective experiences have made them stronger.
Dr Suleiman has had an outstanding medical career since the 1980s. He works as a doctor and researcher at the Emilio Ribas Institute, one of the oldest and most important health institutions in Brazil. He rose to prominence within the wider Brazilian community during the Covid-19 pandemic as one of the most sought-after experts due to his direct work in the fight against the disease. He is currently active in training undergraduate medical students.
“I work in Emilio Ribas Hospital that is considered as a reference point for infectious diseases by the World Health Organisation. In addition, I am a focus for Arab patients in the hospital because I speak Arabic. I know the issues related to our Palestinian culture and how we should reveal it in the wider Brazilian community,” he explained.
As an active member of the Palestinian community in Brazil, Suleiman has worked for years to raise awareness about the situation in Palestine. “I know what it means to be a refugee from 1948; I know the pain and suffering of the people who were torn from their roots by force. Unfortunately, this bad situation continues to this day through the continuous violations of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
In addition to his work in public health sector, Dr Suleiman has followed his passion to make food products from peppers. “Pimento do Jamal” is now a gourmet brand in Brazil. It has been active since 2010 with dozens of products, ranging from pepper jellies and sauces to peppers with an original Palestinian taste.
He now dedicates some of his time to make the brand represent Palestinian culture and identity. He believes that food can spread knowledge and preserve this valuable asset, while making guests talk about typical Palestinian food. Suleiman has appeared on popular TV programmes to promote Palestinian dishes, including the well-known Makluba.
“One of my hobbies is cooking and making Palestinian traditional dishes, which I think is very important because I can present Palestinian culture through serving food. I find that there is great interaction by the wider Brazilian society towards our culture; they taste our food and they want to know more about us.”
He sees this as both a humanitarian mission and a national duty. “I have Palestinian families living here and there in Palestine. We will never give up. We are all together and we will not leave anything behind. My heart and mind are with the Palestinians in that part of the world.”