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Palestino Club, the flag bearer of the Palestinians in Chilean football


In the beginning of the twentieth century, Christian Arabs arrived from the cities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour to distant Chile, and established a community in South America that today has a population of about half a million people, which is their largest gathering outside the Arab world.

Thousands of miles away from conflict in the Middle East, the Palestinian flag flies on a cold autumn night on a soccer field in the Chilean capital, Santiago.

Hundreds of fans turned out to support their team, the Palestinian Sports Club, a professional soccer club that plays in the green, black, red and white colors of the Palestinian flag.

The left sleeve of the team’s shirt bears the map of Palestine as it was before the establishment of Israel exactly 75 years ago. Politics is never far away at the club, which was founded by Palestinian expatriates in the 1920s.

The club’s motto is “More than a team, a whole people”. “We even have the songs: Gaza resists, Palestine exists,” says businessman Rafael Milad, 29. He adds that “Palestino (the club’s nickname) is 100 years old, older than the State of Israel.”

Palestino is Palestine

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Christian Arabs from the cities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour arrived in faraway Chile and established a community in South America that today has a population of nearly half a million people, the largest of them outside the Arab world. These became successful textile merchants, and their descendants entered the political arena: 35 of them were ministers or parliamentarians.

Three decades after its founding in the year 1920, the club appeared for the first time at the professional level. “Palestino is Palestine and vice versa. We are always very interested in the cause,” says former club player Roberto Bishara.

The team won two national titles in 1955 and then in 1978, and reached the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores in 1979.

In 2014, the team changed the number 1 on the back of its shirt to the shape of a map of the Palestinian territories before 1948, but was fined and banned from wearing it by the Chilean Football Association after filing a complaint.

Once upon a time, players also caused controversy when they wore the Palestinian keffiyeh on the field. In 2019, the club arranged for the installation of giant screens for fans in Ramallah to watch an international match against Argentine River Plate.

Today, the team no longer includes players of Palestinian origin. The last of them was Nicholas Zidane, who left the club in 2021.

But the team continues to represent “all those Palestinians who are out there who are having a hard time. Every victory for Palestino (…) is a little joy amidst the suffering they face every day,” says Miguel Cordero, a 49-year-old lawyer of Palestinian origin. to AFP.

Women too

When not on the field, fans gather to watch the matches at one of the league’s gatherings in Santiago, which has around 4,600 members. The venue boasts a historical Palestinian map, a mural of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and Arabic music in the background.

Francisco Muños, 48, is perhaps the team’s most colorful fan. He often goes to the stadium wearing the Arab “Sheikh” uniform, and his house is a shrine for the team.

“I was at a conference (…) where I saw the Israelis take people out of their homes without warning and kill them. There I began to sympathize,” he told AFP.

But the vice-president of the Ballestino Club, Sabas Shahwan, says that in Chile in general, “there is no confrontation (with society), except with very extremist sectors.”

In contrast to the situation faced by women in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where according to the United Nations they can face pushback due to their activism against gender discrimination, Palestino’s team is actively strengthening its women’s team.

“I’m here in football, which used to be for men only, and I’m thinking of Palestinian women,” says Isabelle Barrios, coordinator of the women’s team that was founded almost 25 years ago and won the league title in 2015. “It would be great if they had the freedom to express what they feel.”

The Chilean club funds football schools for boys and girls in the Palestinian territories.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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