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Amid massive evangelical support for Israel in Brazil, some Christian voices express solidarity for Palestinians

São Paulo, Brazil

While a large part of the Christian world in Brazil has been expressing support for the Israeli military attacks on Gaza, small Protestant and Catholic movements have decided to publicly declare their solidarity to the Palestinian people over the past weeks.

Major segments of the growing evangelical movement in the South American country have adopted Jewish symbology and strengthened their ties with Israel over the past decades. In most Brazilian cities it’s common to see Israeli flags hanging in front of neo-Pentecostal churches and, since 7th October, when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack in Israel, many evangelical churches in Brazil have promoted prayers for the success of Israel’s war on Gaza.

Mitri Raheb

Bethlehem Pastor Mitri Raheb. PICTURE: Supplied

But minor segments of the Brazilian Christian world have taken a different stance on the conflict in the Middle East.

Among them is the National Council of Christian Churches (known by the Portuguese acronym Conic), which gathers progressive Protestant churches and Catholics. A couple of weeks ago, it organised a virtual meeting between a Palestinian Lutheran pastor and Brazilian Christian ministers.

Conic invited Pastor Mitri Raheb, who lives in Bethlehem and is the president of Dar al-Kalima University, with the idea of raising awareness among Christian leaders on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank and discussing ways how Brazilian Christians could show solidarity to them.

“Pastor Raheb described the reality of persecution and arbitrariness to which Palestinians are subjected in the West Bank, as well as Palestinians who live in Israel and are being arrested for posting messages against the war on social media,” Pastor Romi Bencke, who heads Conic, told Sight.

Raheb said that, although the war is not in the West Bank, the Palestinians who live there are facing growing violence from Israel.

“Historically, everyday one or two Palestinians are killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers. Since October, that number has grown, with up to eight victims each day,” he told Sight earlier this month. 

Palestinian villagers have been receiving threats on a daily basis, Raheb added, and are told by settlers that “it is their last chance to leave the West Bank before being killed”.

Raheb lamented that many churches in Europe and in the United States have been silent about the attacks on Palestinians. At the same time, he said evangelical Zionists all over the Americas are disseminating fake news on the conflict.

“That heretic ideology is highly promoted by media platforms and by tourism operators. Many Christians in countries like Brazil are persuaded to spend a lot of money to visit Israel,” he said.

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Raheb said a Palestinian school of Liberation Theology has flourished over the years, with deep connections with the Latin American Liberation Theology. While in Brazil it has historically dealt with issues like poverty and land disputes, in Palestine it focuses on occupation and settler colonialism.

“At the same time, there is a theology of imperialism. In South Africa it supported the apartheid. In the United States and Australia, it supported the Europeans who defined themselves as the people chosen by God to occupy the land and Christianise the natives,” Raheb argued.

Brazil Jacir de Freitas

Franciscan Father Jacir de Freitas. PICTURE: Supplied.

Conic’s virtual meeting was not the only recent initiative about that theme. Recently, Padres da Caminhada (Priests of the Path, in Portuguese), a group that brings together dozens of progressive priests in Brazil, promoted a virtual conference in late November about the political roots of the conflict in the Middle East and its relation to the region’s religious history.

Franciscan Father Jacir de Freitas, a Bible expert who studied in Israel in the 1990s and visited the country on several occasions with study groups, spoke in the virtual conference.

“Franciscans in the Middle East have a close relationship with Palestinian Christians. I thought I needed to say a word about what is going on there,” de Freitas told Sight earlier this month.

In his lecture, he talked about the foundation of the State of Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s politics.

“For me, Israel is a colonialist state, with a gigantic economic and military power. What is happening now is a genocide. As a church, we cannot stay silent.” 

He also lamented that the Catholic episcopate in Brazil has not issued any statement concerning the killing of Palestinians by Israel.

“The bishops are not talking about it. Only isolated groups in the church have manifested solidarity to Palestine,” he concluded.



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