By: Raed Qaddoura
The Palestinian community in Chile is the largest of its kind in Latin America and the second largest presence of Palestinians abroad after Jordan. The story of the Palestinian emigration to Chile began at an early age, compared to their emigration after the Nakba in 1948.
The Migration at the beginning of the nineteenth century was a demand for the Palestinians fleeing from the political and economic conditions that followed the First World War. According to Palestinian sources, the number of Palestinians in Chile is almost 450,000 people.
“For every village in Chile, you will find three things: a policeman, a shepherd, and a Palestinian.” This is a saying that Chileans tell you when you arrive in Chile, expressing the sociological features within their society as well as the historical relationship between Palestine and Chile.
The distance between Jerusalem and Santiago is 13,000 km, a long distance that did not prevent the Chilistinians, the Palestinians of Chile, from communicating with their homeland of Palestine, nor did it stand in the way of preserving their identity and rights and defending their cause.
The distance was a reason to integrate into the new society and explore its depths, with Chileans tolerating the indigenous people pushed them to form a special and distinct identity that combines both, their homeland and their temporary homeland.
The Chilistinians can be considered as the wealthiest class in the country where many of them have held high positions in Chile. Palestinians work in Chile in all economic sectors, and at all levels. They control 70% of the economy and there are the ten largest banks in Chile: six of them are owned by Palestinians. In addition, there are ministers and members of parliament of Palestinian origin.
Also, there are many institutions affiliated with the Palestinian community in Chile, the most important of which are: Palestino Club, which was founded by the first Palestinian immigrants to Chile. It is one of the oldest clubs in Chile, and most of its fans are from the Palestinian community and Chilean citizens.
The Chilean sports club was founded in 1920, and won the Chilean Club Championship in 1975 and 1977, the League championship in 1952 and 1978, and the first international match in 1955.
The Chilean Palestino Club has become the most prominent non-Arab voice in support of the Palestinian narrative against the Israeli apartheid state in the Latin American continent for a century. The club, founded by a number of Palestinian refugees nearly 100 years ago, currently represents the voice of more than half a million Palestinian refugees in Chile. Palestino Club has become a national and popular non-Palestinian symbol in Chile, as all its players carry the map of Palestine in their t-shirts, which made the club face numerous sanctions from the Chilean Football Association.
One of the club’s main aims is to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians and their suffering in the occupied territories and continue seeking freedom, justice, and peace. Nadia Silhi Chahin, lawyer and human rights activist, said that “the Palestino club represents that Palestine, the Palestinians, and the Palestinian identity existed long before the State of Israel was created, as Palestino was founded in 1920.”
For Chilinistinians, the club forms a real bond for them and brings them together wherever they are in Chile, and they all fought to defend the club in the face of Israeli campaigns when the club’s management decided to add the map of Palestine to the players’ shirts. This was considered by the head of the Israeli community in Chile as a violation of FIFA laws and an attempt by the club to import the Middle East conflict using football as a political propaganda tool for lies and hate.
“For Chilinistinians, Palestino Club represents the memory of the Nakba, the dispossession of our parents’ or grandfathers’ lands that emigrated to Chile in different moments of the past century.” Said Rodrigo Bolton, Professor at the Center of Arab Studies in the University of Chili. That´s why Palestino club, which has been founded before the Nakba, is linked to the Palestinian identity, he added.
On August 20, 2020, Palestino celebrated its 100th anniversary, a faithful reflection of the Palestinian presence in Chile that in its early years considered football a way not only to integrate into local society but also to prove that Palestinians are capable of using their unique Palestinian identity as a force for good and positivity wherever they reside. On such a special occasion, a commemorative club jersey was produced with a special legend, “More than a team, it is an entire people” written on it.
In May 2022, the club’s players raised a picture of the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was killed by the Israeli army in early May 2022. The picture, shared on Instagram, showed Shireen’s dates of her birth and assassination by the Israeli forces.
Also, in May 2021, the club’s players entered the stadium wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh to support the people of Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in occupied Jerusalem.
In October 2021, Palestino Club announced opening its new football training academy for children in the Gaza Strip, to be its second branch in Palestine after its academy in Ramallah.
Palestino Club is considered the voice of Palestine in Chile, and this is demonstrated through its role in promoting Palestinian existence and identity for generations of Palestinians who know nothing about Palestine except its map, its capital, and the occupation that kills and steals daily.
Dr. Raed Qaddoura
Political analyst specializing in Palestinian-Israeli affairs
PhD, Strategy and International Relations, UKM Malaysia