In Brazil, an illegal settlement is dubbed ‘New Palestine’

Thousands of homeless citizens set up camp in southern Sao Paulo indefinitely in protest over shortage of low-income housing

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Nova Palestina, Brazil (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)
Nova Palestina, Brazil (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)

On the southwestern outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, thousands of homeless workers have established an illegal favela of makeshift canvas tents, dubbing it “Nova Palestina” (New Palestine) in a mark of solidarity with the Palestinians, local Brazilian media reported.

The effort, launched by the Brazilian Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST), protests the lack of low-income public housing for workers in Sao Paulo. The encampment was first erected on November 29, with 2,000 residents, and has since expanded to house over 7,070, with 2,000 more on a waiting list.

MTST is rallying to change the status of the 1-million-square-meter (247-acre) plot of land in the Jardim Ângela of Sao Paulo from its designation as a protected environmental area, which only allows for construction on 10 percent of the land, or roughly 1,000 houses. The organization hopes to get the area approved as a plot designated to advance social welfare, which would allow construction on 30% of its surface area. However, even if the status is changed, it would still not suffice to house all of the thousands of homeless workers seeking permanent, affordable housing.

Inside the camp, the living conditions vary. Some shanties have TVs and beds, while others are scantily furnished. Volunteers from the area organize cleaning, cooking and safety services. However, despite the various efforts, the conditions in the camp are reportedly unsanitary and the heat in the shanties unbearable. The camp is divided into 21 separate “neighborhoods,” each of which shares a communal kitchen and two bathrooms.

Plans to settle the area began nearly six months ago, and daily meetings open to the public are held on one of the more elevated areas in the camp, with occupants gathering to discuss the negotiations with the municipal government for permanent housing and the day-to-day running of the camp. Some 4,000 residents reportedly attend the meetings.

The decision to name the settlement “New Palestine” was arrived at in a vote at one such public meeting. It aims to emulate the Palestinians’ struggle to win the land they claim for their own. Other suggestions that were ultimately voted against included “Chico Mendes,” after the Brazilian social activist and trade union leader who fought for the rights of Brazil’s peasants and indigenous tribes; “Che Guevara,” after the Argentinian icon of the Cuban Revolution; and “Gaza Strip.”

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