FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

‘A Policeman, A Pastor and A Palestinian’: The ‘Chilestinians’ as a Model for Palestinian Unity

I was only introduced to the term ‘Chilestinians’ last February at a conference in Istanbul, during a presentation by the Director of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, Anuar Majluf.

When Majluf referred to the well-rooted Palestinian community in Chile, who number between 450,000 and half a million, using that unfamiliar and peculiar phrase, I smiled. Others did, too.

It is quite rare that a conference on Palestine, anywhere, would include such an upbeat atmosphere as that introduced by the Chilean-Palestinian leader, as the current discourse on Palestine is one that is saturated with a deepening sense of political failure, disunity and betrayal.

I say ‘Chilean-Palestinian’ for the sake of convenience because, later on, I realized that the term ‘Chilestinians’ was not coined haphazardly, or jokingly.

Dr. Lina Meruane, a Chilean scholar of Palestinian descent, told Bahira Amin of the ‘Scene Arabia’ online magazine, that the term ‘Chilestinians’ is different from ‘Chilean-Palestinians’ in the sense that it is a demarcation of a unique identity.

“It’s not a hyphenated identity, but the fusion of two identities that belong together and have no issues belonging together,” Meruane said. Amin refers to this as a ‘third space’ which was created in diaspora, over the course of 150 years.

It might come as a surprise for those of us not familiar with the Palestinian experience in Chile to learn of the old adage, “for every village in Chile you will find three things: a policeman, a pastor, and a Palestinian.” But the saying, indeed, expresses a historical bond between Palestine and a country that is located on the extreme south-western coast of South America.

The immense distance – over 13,000 kilometers – between Jerusalem and Santiago, might in part, explain the reason why Chile and its large ‘Chilestinian’ population did not occupy its deserved status in the collective imagination of Palestinians everywhere.

But there are other reasons too, leading among them the fact that successive Palestinian leaderships have failed to fully appreciate the immense potential of Palestinian communities in diaspora, especially the Palestinians of Chile. The latter’s story is not only that of struggle and perseverance, but also of great success and vital contributions to their own society and to the Palestinian cause.

Starting in the late 1970s, the Palestinian leadership labored to politically engage with Washington and other Western capitals, culminating in the pervading sense that, without US political validation, Palestinians would always remain marginal and irrelevant.

Palestinian calculation proved disastrous. After decades of catering to Washington expectations and diktats, the Palestinian leadership returned empty-handed as the Donald Trump administration’s ‘Deal of the Century’ has finally proven.

Political decisions have their cultural repercussions as well. For at least three decades, Palestinians have re-oriented themselves politically and culturally, disowning their historical allies in the southern hemisphere, as a whole. Worse, the new thinking widened the chasms between Palestinians in Palestine and their own brethren, like Palestinian communities in South America who held even tighter to their identity, language, music and love for their ancestral homeland.

What is so unique about Palestinians in Chile and other Palestinian communities in South America, is that their roots go back decades before the destruction of Palestine and the establishment of Israel on its ruins in 1948.

Israel often claims that its Palestinian victims lacked a national identity in the modern sense. Some scholars, at times well-intentioned ones, concur, claiming that a modern Palestinian identity was largely articulated after the Nakba – the ‘Catastrophic’ destruction of historic Palestine.

Those who are still stuck at this historical distortion must introduce themselves to Palestinian historians like Nur Mashala and his must-read book ‘Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History’.

‘Chilestinians’ offer a real living example of the true strength of the collective Palestinian identity that existed before Israel itself was violently imposed on the Palestinian map.

‘Deportivo Palestino’, a prominent football club that plays in Chile’s Primera division, was unofficially established in 1916 and, officially, four years later. I learned from the ‘Chilestinian’ delegation to Istanbul that the founders of the Palestinian community in that country established ‘Palestino’ to ensure their children never forget the name, and that they continue to chant the name of Palestine for many years to come.

The football club – known as Palestine’s ‘second national football team’ – will soon celebrate its one hundred year anniversary, a celebration that is likely to take place amid the predominant chant of ‘Gaza resists; Palestine exists’.

Palestino’s La Cisterna stadium in Santiago, a towering edifice adorned with Palestinian flags, is not only a testament of the tenacity of Palestinian identity, but the generosity of Palestinian culture as well, as the stadium is one of the city’s largest communal hubs bringing people from all backgrounds together in an ongoing celebration of everything that we have in common.

To avoid any reductionist understanding of the Palestinian experience in Chile, and all of South America, we must accept that, like any other society, Palestinians there have their own divisions, which are often governed by wealth, class and politics.

This division reached its height during the US-backed coup of Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in 1973. But the rift did not last long, as the ‘Chilestinians’ united once more following the Israeli engineered massacre of Sabra and Shatila, in South Lebanon, in 1982.

Since then, the Palestinian community of Chile learned to accept their political differences, while agreeing that their rapport with Palestine must be their unifying common ground. For years now, the ‘Chilestinians’ are working hand in hand with other Palestinian communities in South America to accentuate the need for unity, distancing themselves from the political disharmony and factionalism that has wrought havoc on the Palestinian political identity in Palestine itself.

Slowly, Palestinians of South America are merging back to occupy a center stage in the larger Palestinian stream, not only as part and parcel of the collective Palestinian identity, but also as a role model that must be fully understood and even emulated.

Not a day goes by without me checking my sports app to follow the progress of ‘Deportivo Palestino’. I know that many Palestinians in other parts of the world do the same, because despite the distance, language, and time difference, ultimately, we will always remain one people.

More articles by:

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail