Palestinian-Brazilian activist speaks after detention by Panama

By Nathália Urban

The president of the Brazil Palestine Institute (Ibraspal) was detained and tortured in Panama, just over a week ago. Dr. Ahmad Shehada was catching a connection flight at Tocumen International Airport, on his way to Bogotá, to participate in a UPAL (The Palestinian union in Latin America) summit, when without any reason he was detained by Panamanian authorities, who took his passport and took him to a room where he was detained.

Dr. Ahmad Shehada, a dual national, was born in Palestine, and has lived in Brazil since 1986. In his first interview on the matter for Brasil 247, Shehada said: “I was kept incommunicado; the Panamanian Palestine groups and the Brazilian embassy were all looking for me in the airport yet they couldn’t find me. They kept moving me to different rooms”.

Dr. Shehada said that during his interrogation, Panamanian agents took instructions in different languages, and he believes they were talking with US and Israeli agents. “If we had Bolsonaro as our president I would have been sold to the Israelis.”

Shehada believes that the only reason he was able to return to Brazil, was the pressure from Brasilia for his release. He says that Panamanian authorities were questioning him for his connections within Brazilian politics and with government ministers.

Brazilian diplomats pressed authorities in Panama for the reasons behind his detention to no response, due to the fact that no crime was committed. “My detention was political, they were cooperating with the terrorist policies of the US and Israel”, said Ahmad.

The questions asked during the interrogation, and the photos they showed to Shehada, makes him suspect that Mossad was involved as well. During his interview, Dr. Shehada thanked the Brazilian government several times, saying “I believe if we still had the other government (Bolsonaro‘s) they would have sold me out”.

He said that government officials including the Minister of Social Communications, Paulo Pimenta, and the Minister of Institutional Relations, Alexandre Padilha, were vital for his release. Paulo Pimenta phoned him saying “the government is doing everything we can to bring you home”.

Dr. Shehada also received support in the form of pressure from Brazilian activists internationally for his release. He thanked all the Palestinian collectives which stood in solidarity with him, but said that the situation is abhorrent. “A third country tried to deliver an innocent Brazilian citizen to a fourth country, they could have had me deported, but no, they were holding me there without any reason or accusation, probably trying to find an excuse to send me to Israel, there were lots of flights to Brazil for them to deport me, or even to Colombia so I could continue my trip, instead their choice was to hold me there for 2 days”.

This wasn’t the first time. In 2019 he was also escorted by police officers in Peru, for trying to attend a Palestinian solidarity conference.

Human rights violations

The Brazilian diplomatic authority was concerned with Dr. Shehada’s welfare, and with good reason, for he is currently undergoing cancer treatment. He said the Brazilian government had warned the Panamanian authorities about it, and that even though they were aware of his health issues, he was still denied access to medication and food. “After 32 hours, they gave me a piece of bread with sausage, they knew I’m a Muslim and still tried to fed me pork”.

Ahmed considers what Panama did to him to be a form of kidnapping, and said “They knew that if they sent me to Israel that they would be sending me to my death, I would have been tortured and killed there”.

Request for Brazil

The Brazil-Palestine Institute has been working to make Brazil part of the peace talks in Palestine again. Shehada said, “on behalf of all Palestinians, I call on this government, which is home to the people we love and trust. We, Palestinians saw that Brazil seemed interested in mediating peace between Ukraine and Russia. But why not mediate the talks between the Palestinians and the Israeli. We want Brazil as an active mediator. The main Palestinian resistance groups want Brazil there. The country doesn’t need to wait, Palestinians are giving us the opportunity to act on behalf of peace on the biggest political conflict within the Middle East. We are inviting Brazil to help resolve that situation”.

Shehada has expressed on numerous occasions, the trust and love Palestinians have for the current Brazilian government, saying that Lula has proven to be a true ally of the Palestinian cause. In 2010 during a visit to the occupied West Bank, the president refused to visit the grave of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionist ideology. Instead, he visited Yasser Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah. Lula also supported the Ramallah’s bid to become a UN member.

Lula and the Workers’ Party have a public commitment to the Palestinian cause, and diplomatically speaking, Brazil as a country has always been supportive of the cause and territorial integrity. Jair Bolsonaro, who openly cheered for Zionism and who was endorsed by Netanyahu, was an exception to this tradition.

During his first two terms (2003-2010), President Lula maintained a line of defense for the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people and a two-state solution, with the internationally recognized 1967 borders. Lula demanded a greater participation of the international community – of the UN in particular – in finding a solution to the occupation and the constant violations of the rights of the Palestinian people.

Ahmed Shehada, returned to Brazil on following the two day ordeal. He says he will continue to fight for his homeland from the safety of Brazil and work with Ibraspal to strengthen the relationship between the two nations.

The full interview with Dr. Shehada on Brasil 247 can be watched here in Portuguese.

By Nathália Urban for Kawsachun News

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