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The Brazilian Contribution
As a Brazilian geographer, I have been seeking ways for the international community in general and Brazil in particular, to help in resolving the political stalemate in the Middle East.
Having studied the territories currently held by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, I have come to the conclusion that the region's natural resources are insufficient for properly sustaining its ever-growing population. Palestinian rural settlements that rely mainly on agriculture have suffered major setbacks. The shrinking quantity of drinking water from springs, rain, wells and the national network has dangerously affected its quality. There must be a reduction in irrigated agriculture in order to meet the growing needs of domestic consumption. Drilling new wells can only provide more water for domestic needs and for ventures that require less water than irrigated agriculture. Prioritisation of water usage is a difficult political judgement to make. This is particularly the case for the Palestinian Water Authority, which has very limited control over supply and distribution from the deep wells. These are is currently limited and unreliable, thus cannot supply the needs of the Palestinian population (Scarpa David J., The Quality and Sustainability of Water Resources Available to Arab Villages to the West of the Divide in the Southern West Bank).
The international community can assist in relieving the population pressures on the region's environmental conditions through providing all communities with opportunities to immigrate to other countries. Brazil is particularly suitable for this task due to its similarities to Palestine, its natural potential for agribusiness and its experience in agriculture in arid and semi-arid areas.
Clearly, geography does not offer a complete answer to the aspirations of both nations. Psychological, cultural, religious and historical dimensions are sometimes more critical than common sense and objective, rational analysis. Both Palestinians and Israelis see the country as their ancestral home and each will argue that they are a nation, defined by its territory and not only ethnic communities with cultural needs.
However, both Jewish and Palestinian populations are currently dispersed in many countries and it would be impossible to settle all of them in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Both nations regard the land as their national centre, but their branches in their respective Diasporas flourish and share their national destinies.
Israel is already considered by its 5 million Jewish citizens as the centre of the entire Jewish nation with its 12 or 13 million people. The State of Israel serves as the symbolic Jewish national home despite its inability to offer shelter for all Jews. Similarly, the Palestinians are currently dispersed in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and in many other countries, including communities all over the Western World. Their community in Palestine may serve as their national centre with the full participation of the Diaspora communities.
Brazil can offer a new base for Jewish and Palestinian communities, particularly those who currently live in appalling conditions. Brazil has a long tradition of tolerance and full religious freedom. States like São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, Paranã and Mato Grosso do Sul, welcome religious organisations that coexist side by side, including mosques and churches of many denominations, as well as animistic African religions. São Paulo, where I live, has one the largest Arab communities in the world. Its metropolitan area has 19 million people and in 2005, it will be the second largest city in the world. So Brazil could perfectly absorb great numbers of hard working immigrants like the Palestinians and the Israelis.
I am aware that my proposal may irritate some people. But it should be clear that it is not meant to deny either Israelis or Palestinians their right to their homeland. Their common country should serve as both sides' national centre.
One of the great Jewish thinkers, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, wrote that the main contribution Jews made to humankind was the emphasis on the dimension of time, rather than space. Jews began as nomads, free of geographical limitations. When they eventually settled in their land, their existence remained based on time beyond physical constraints.
Modern people may be seen as creatures who live in urban deserts that keep reminding them of the limits of space. Rabbi Heschel writes: "Technical civilization is man's conquest of space. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time, where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord... life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern".
Therefore, the national and cultural identity of Israelis and Palestinians can remain intact, regardless of their physical location of residence. Receiving a Brazilian permanent residency visa will not require individuals to give up their current citizenship, nor their national aspirations. Offering new opportunities in Brazil is intended to serve as a humanitarian measure on an individual basis, and can help to complement the final political solution in the Middle East.
Claudia G. S. Martins, 11/November/2004
Environmental Analyst and Urban Geographer
This article also appears in our 'Peace Voices' section. Click here to open it.