I am a Chilean with Palestinian roots. My great grandfather came from Bethelehem to Chile in the first half of the 20th century. My mothers mother was Italian. Our family roots are well documented in a book, knowing our history is important in our family.
At this moment, I study economics at the University of Santiago. I hope to be able to use that in a way that is connected to Palestine. Maybe I can continue my studies at the University of Bethlehem. Maybe I become a teacher in Chile. Whatever I do, I hope it connects me with Palestine for the rest of my life.
“Imagine a man whose brother died by a bullet. he studied in prison and his wife gave birth at a check point. What do you make of that?”
As a child, I was always curious about Palestine. We do not speak Arabic at home but I call my grandparents from my father’s side Sidi and Sisi. At the family parties in their house, we always ate Palestinian food and listened to the stories of the adults. When they discussed things that were not for our ears, they would switch to French or Arabic. My grandfather had Parkinson, at the end I would hear him speak a mixture of Spanish, French and Arabic. It was mysterious and it intrigued me. I wondered why we were eating Arabic food at these family meetings and not burgers or pasta, as we did on normal days. When I walked with my dad in town, he would be very focused on the last name of the people we met. If it was an Arabic name, he would be more interested. It was a good thing to have a Palestinian connection. My mother was Italian but we never had the same discussions about Italian last names? It created a sense of belonging: I was part of a group. Being Palestinian was a something to be proud of. My uncle did write a book on the history of Palestine. I did a school assignment on the Naqba. Club Deportivo Palestino was my soccer team. In a way, my interest in Palestine came in a very natural way.
We were not involved in the Palestinian community though. For mixed marriages, it is quite hard to integrate in the Palestinian Club in Santiago. It is a closed environment and for my mother with Italian roots, all this focus on Palestine was not obvious. In Santiago, social life for the middle and upper classes is organised in clubs. These are very important; your membership matters. As both my parents are doctors, being part of the Medical Club was more obvious.
But I was very interested in Palestine and joined the Palestinian Student Union. When that proved hard to combine with my studies, I joined another Palestinian youth organisation at the University where I study economics.
Did you travel to Palestine already?
We just returned from a family trip to Palestine. What started as a father/son bonding initiative turned into a trip with the whole family and included my uncles and aunts. The fact that we travelled with 14 people may have changed the original setup a bit. Where we wanted to focus on the occupation and the injustice, it became more of a tourist trip. But besides visiting too many churches, it was very interesting and nice. We went to Bethelem and Beit Jala of course, and Jerusalem, Nablus and Ramallah. Maybe it was even a good thing to include some tourist destinations. If not, maybe I would have left Palestine with the idea that it was a grim and dark place. Which it is not.
As a Palestinian in the Diaspora, my image of Palestine was heavily influenced by the news. The only thing you get to see on TV are Hamas militants firing rockets, children throwing stones, people who are dying. All Israeli’s seem to be soldiers with guns. It was unreal: the media only talk about Palestine if people die. It is only about the confrontation; nothing else matters.
“we just returned from a family trip to Palestine. What started as a Father/Son bonding initiative turned into a trip with the whole family and included my uncles and aunts.”
When I was there, I could observe daily life and that is a complicated to digest. Imagine a man whose brother died by a bullet, he studied in prison and his wife gave birth at a checkpoint. What do you make of that? Observing normal life in Palestine gave me hope. You see people buy groceries, the children are playing while war is not far away. In the Diaspora, you are at risk of building a perspective that is not in line with reality. You only see part of it or you simplify it: it becomes a movie where the good fight the bad. In Jerusalem, I saw Israeli girls with machine guns eating pizza. They may defend themselves with that gun. Or they may kill innocent people. Or they may die. I learned a bit more what it means to live in a conflict. It is possible to have good times in a horrible reality. Traveling to Palestine has shown me a lot more of the complexity. The conflict maybe be about Zionists against Palestinians but it is more complicated than a story of good against evil.
I also learned a bit about the Muslim reality in my homeland. There are very few Muslim Palestinians in Chile, most of us are Christian. It is hard to compare the religion of the Muslims in Palestine with the way Muslims live religion in other countries of the Middle East. But I did not see burka’s and most man dressed like Palestinians in Chile. That made it easier to identify with them. Anyway, I am not that focused on religion.
Did your trip to Palestine change your commitment to Palestine?
I have always known that the Palestinian Club in Santiago did great work but it felt like a closed group. What I am more attracted to is the idea to gather a broader support for Palestine in Chile. I am Chilean and I want all Chileans to have an opinion about this. I see myself as somebody who informs or teaches. And by doing so, we can make people care. I see myself as an activist who works on a micro level.
In my family, I am the only one who is active for Palestine. My father cares but he never joined the Palestinian Club. For us, that was a different group of people, almost a different social class. Now we start to work with them. Things go slowly, it is a process but it feels like the right way.
When it comes to the soccer team Club Deportivo Palestino, there is no social class issue. The club exists since 1929, it is older than the State of Israel. It is a family and makes all Palestinians proud. It is about soccer but also about resistance and occupation. Carrying the flag of the team is special. When we qualified for the Copa Libertadores last year (your Champions League), we were able to show our flag all over Latin America, in giant stadiums and on TV. That was a victory. Club Deportivo plays to win, of course. But we also play for the people in our homeland. If we win, there may be more joy but if we loose, there can be more anger than what is normal on a soccer field. We play in an old stadium but it feels like ours. In modern stadiums, you movement is restricted. You buy a ticket for a zone. In our stadium, once you are inside, you can move around freely. Maybe one day an Arab sheik with petrodollars will buy us top players and build us a stadium. But I hope it continues to feel as home.
I think this trip connected me more with Palestine than ever before. I am already thinking about finding ways to go back.
Do you think about moving to Palestine on a permanent basis?
If I would be a doctor, that would be easy. There would be work for me right away. As an economist, that is not so obvious. I could become a teacher, that is an option I consider. But I need to finish my studies in Santiago first.
What memories of Palestine do you want to share?
Before I went to Palestine, my memories were defined by our family gatherings and TV news. It was about ancient stories, food and grim TV images.
Now I have different memories. As I study economics, I focused a lot on the poverty and the rural character. There were so many checkpoints and soldiers, more than I expected. There is always the wall; it shapes the landscape on many places. I did not see a lot of olive trees. The settlements are hard to forget: they are like rich gated communities in a landscape filled with poor Palestinian villages. Cars carry color number plates. It is confronting how people are reduced to the color of a number plate. The fact that I physically look like a Palestinian makes me feel that I could fit in there, that they could fit in here. And of course I remember the guns. There are so many guns in Israel.
“In Jerusalem, I saw Israeli girls with machine guns eating pizza. They may defend themselves with that gun. Or they may kill innocent people. Or they may die.”