Oct 16th, 2015 – Maurice Khamis – Santiago de Chile

 

“Many of my friends are entrepreneurs, we dream of starting a business in palestine. That could be our way to help and have an impact in our homeland .”

 
My family emigrated from the region of Bethlehem to Chile at the end of the 19th century. At that time, many Palestinians suffered from the Ottoman occupation and started immigrating to Chile.

Maurice Khamis
Maurice Khamis

These were the days of the “White Gold” rush: the economical success of the saltpeter mines in the North of Chile attracted immigrants from all over the World. Most of the Palestinians in Chile developed activities in the textile business though. Palestine always had a strong tradition in textile.

I run an import business for construction materials. My role in the Palestinian community in Santiago is centered on the Club Palestino: a social club for Palestinian families. I have been a member since I was a child and was active in the club in different roles. Now I am the president.

In Santiago, social life is organised in family clubs. We are the club of the Palestinian community and have more than 3000 members. Over the years, we built a beautiful infrastructure with tennis courts, soccer fields, a swimming pool and a club house for festivities. We even have a bowling alley. Many of our members have their marriage parties at the club. This is the place where we all grew up as a child. Now we see our children do the same. During the summer months, the swimming pool is a gathering place for hundreds of people: youngsters and families. Membership costs around 20 US$ per month which makes the Club more democratic than it looks.

We support the preservation of our culture and history, mainly by activities that involve music, dance, folklore and food. But we are not closed circle of immigrants. In fact, the Palestinian community in Chile is very well integrated, everybody speaks Spanish and many Palestinians live in mixed marriages. The spirit in the Club is simple: we are all Chilean and Palestinian. Many of us are entrepreneurs with links to other communities in Chile. We are even integrated on a political level: there are several Chilean alcaldes and senators with Palestinian roots. Whether we are Chilean Palestinians or Palestinian Chileans is a non-issue, really.

“in chile, There is saying: In every town, there is a church, a Plaza de Armas and a Palestinian.”

 

There is a Palestinian soccer team in Santiago: Club Deportivo Palestino. You may have heard from us: a few years ago we played in the Latin American Champions League: the Copa Libertadores. There are Palestinian artists in Chile: some of them are activists for the Palestinian cause, others are not. There is saying in Chile that states: “In every town in Chile, there is a church, a Plaza de Armas and a Palestinian”.

Palestinians are in Chile since four generations. More and more live in mixed marriages and our Palestinian culture is shared with other influences. For some of these mixed families, the Club Palestino may feel a bit too focused on Palestine. We evolve with that reality. But at the same time, we notice amongst our youth a growing interest in their Palestinian roots. The Club provides these youngsters a link to Palestine, even if their parents were not born there, even if they do not speak Arabic at home anymore.

You should also see this in the context of the occupation of our homeland. The injustice that our families in Palestine suffer from is omnipresent and ongoing. Everybody who gets the chance to travel to Palestine is confronted with it in a brutal way. The injustice mobilises us and makes us even more determined not to forget our roots. We stay focused on Palestine not only because of our cultural heritage but also because of the ongoing injustice in our other homeland.

Many of us have good relationships with Jewish people in Chile but the Club is not linked to any Jewish organization. That would be impossible, from both sides.

I have visited Palestine for the first time when I was 37. Just like most of the other Palestinians in Santiago, I come from the Bethlehem area. My overwhelming personal memory was the experience to sleep in the family house.

 

“If it took a black President in the united states and a Latin American Pope to drive change in the US-Cuban relations: what will it take to drive changes for Palestine?.”

 

As a businessman, I am more focused on the future. What will it bring for Palestine? What role can the Diaspora play in this problem? Could I live there? What would I do there? Many of my friends in the Club are entrepreneurs, we dream of starting a business there. That could be our way to really have an impact. There is such high unemployment and such potential. Ending the occupation will lead to an economical boost in the region, that is something we believe in very strongly. Many of us are willing to invest when the possibility is there. The immediate future looks dark though. Thinking through what it will take before the situation in our homeland changes is a scary exercise. If it took a black US President and a Latin American Pope to drive change in the US-Cuban relations: what will it take to drive change for Palestine.

My memories of Palestine are dominated by the occupation. It is taking such a heavy toll. The people in Palestine are tired and need our help. That is why we support the BDS campaign against Israel (boycotts, divestments and sanctions, fos). That is how the World can help Palestine: there is no military solution to the conflict and political negotiations have not worked either. But everybody who sees the injustice can decide not to buy Israeli products, everybody can divest and question the ethics of doing business with Israel. We believe this can create a breakthrough and ask to support this campaign. Also, I think there is a bigger role to play for the Palestinians in the Diaspora. The leadership of Palestinian Authority has not evolved for many years now but I am convinced the Diaspora can play a bigger role in the solution of this conflict.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *