- BBC News World
An image projected on an imposing building in the center of the Chilean capital, Santiago, caught the attention of its inhabitants on Tuesday night, May 18.
“Save Palestine”, said the message that could be observed from different points of the city.
At the same time, extensive caravans of cars honking their horns and various groups holding flags and banners made visible the strong support for the Palestinian people that was given in Chile during the 11 days of clashes between this State and Israel.
The conflict broke out on May 10 with dozens of Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, which left a balance of 248 dead, including 66 children, and almost 2,000 injured, in addition to numerous areas reduced to rubble. Hamas rockets left 12 dead in Israeli territory.
At 13,000 kilometers away, the Palestinian community in Chile was closely following the dispute, many of them dismayed by their own relatives who had to be rescued from among bombed buildings.
It is not the first time that the South American country has produced such massive support for Palestine as was seen in those days.
The explanation? According to various investigations and studies, Chile has the Palestinian community largest – and one of the oldest – outside the Middle East.
Although it is difficult to know exactly how many there really are, the Palestinian Federation of Chile assures that today they exceed the 500 thousand people.
But how did something like this come to be? Why did this community decide to settle in a country so far from the rest of the world?
To understand the phenomenon of Palestinian migration to Chile, we must go back to the end of the 19th century.
The region of Palestine, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, considered sacred to Muslims, Jews and Catholics, belonged to the Ottoman Empire. But a strong Jewish immigration, fostered by Zionist aspirations, was beginning to generate resistance among the communities.
“The departure of Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese occurs in the midst of a situation of economic crisis, decline of the Ottoman Empire and repression of the first Arab nationalist movements in the area,” he explained to BBC Mundo Ricardo Marzuca, academic at the Center for Arab Studies of the University of Chile.
America was seen by this community as a “new world” full of opportunities.
In this way, many young Palestinians followed the route to Europe and by sea to Buenos Aires. But instead of staying in the Argentine capital, richer and more Europeanized, some preferred to cross the Andes and continue towards Chile.
Between 1885 and 1940, the Arabs numbered between 8,000 and 10,000 people in ChileAccording to the book “The Arab World and Latin America”, half of them were Palestinians, most of whom came from only three locations: Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.
But then came a second migratory wave, even more important, after the First and Second World Wars, where the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of Israel, the May 14, 1948.
From that moment, due to the increase in tension in the territory, for the Palestinians began the Nakba, the so-called “destruction” or “catastrophe”: the beginning of the national tragedy. And that’s when, they consider, around 750.000 Palestinians fled to other countries or were expelled by Jewish troops.
Like other young countries, Chile needed immigrants to strengthen its economy and control the territory. And although the Chilean elite always bet on Europeans – to whom since the beginning of the 19th century it offered land and rights – Arabs and Palestinians bet on this South American nation.
“There was a kind of chain effect, where certain groups arrived in Chile and brought their relatives,” explains Marzuca.
“There is a set of factors that drove its settlement: the weatherSince there are certain similarities between the Palestinian territory and the Chilean case; the Liberty, something that was greatly missed by the repression of the Ottoman Empire and later the repression of the British mandate; and the economic prosperity “adds the academic.
Those from the Middle East opted for the trade and textiles, a decision that would be key to the prosperity that the colony would grow.
They followed their tradition, they knew “haggling”, but they also attended a pending lawsuit. They arrived with parcel items in the countryside or in Chilean cities where there was little to buy.
Thus, the first exponents of the family Abumohor—Who today represent one of the largest economic groups in Chile, with businesses in commerce, the financial sector and even soccer — traveled the country offering wholesale merchandise.
In the city of Talca, in the 50s, the company was inaugurated Saieh House, also from a family of Palestinian origin. His heirs would later become renowned businessmen: Alvaro Saieh, owner and president of the business group CorpGroup, It currently has investments in the financial sector, in retail and even media such as the newspaper La Tercera.
Other immigrants began to manufacture cotton or silks, replacing the local artisanal invoice or expensive European imports. Palestinian-origin surnames such as Hirmas, Said, Yarur and Sumar would become synonymous with a powerful textile industry.
“Initially the Palestinians were dedicated to being street vendors, then they were inserted in small businesses and later, in the 1930s, there was an important contribution of these families to textile development,” says Marzuca.
A) Yes, textiles of Palestinian origin would mark an era economic, political and social in Chile until the end of the 70s.
After the resounding opening of the economy in the 80s and 90s, and in the face of intense Chinese competition, most of the Palestinian fortunes expanded into a variety of businesses: financial, real estate, agriculture, wine, agricultural, food and media.
But it wasn’t all that easy.
Although historians and experts affirm that the Palestinian integration in Chile has been “tremendously successful”, there were also complex moments.
Those from the Arab world had to endure a rejection attitude from the Chileans that lasted for a long time and made their stay difficult, especially during the first years of the migratory flow.
They were called pejoratively “Turks” This hurt the Palestinian colony because not only were they assigned a nationality that did not correspond, but they were identified with their oppressors.
The strong stigmatization of this community was due in part to the fact that in the higher Chilean social spheres there was a preference for European migrants who were even given land for colonization.
“In Latin America, as well as in much of the world, the orientalist civilizational paradigm prevailed and the phenomenon known as the turcophobia. That is to say, the rejection of Arab immigrants due to the race classification made by Europeans; that what came from Europe was a symbol of civilization “, explains Marzuca.
“There was a rejection of certain elites, of Chilean high society, where the Palestinians were frowned upon. It was said that they would not contribute to society, that they were ambitious, licentious from the sexual point of view,” adds the academic.
However, little by little the Palestinians used a set of instruments to make their way into Chilean society.
In addition to their contribution to economic development, they also created institutions of various kinds, from a soccer team — the Palestinian Club — to charities and cultural organizations.
They were also successful in settling in different cities throughout Chile, key to forming ties with various Chilean communities.
And in Santiago, they conquered the famous “neighborhood Patronate “, which to this day feels like a small Palestinian, with restaurants that offer stuffed grape leaves, roast meat or the popular Arab sweets, always to the sound of the music so characteristic of this diaspora.
“There is a saying that is repeated a lot in Chile: that in each province there is a square, a church, a police checkpoint and a civilian. We are stuck everywhere!”, He tells BBC Mundo Maurice Khamis, President of the Palestine Federation of Chile, who arrived in Chile in 1952 with his family from Palestine.
“The fact that in Chile 90% of the Palestinians come from the province of Bethlehem and we are Christians, makes us organized and united. We are all intertwined,” adds Khamis.
“The blood pulls”
And that is how we got to this point, where in Chile some of the great fortunes carry surnames from towns near Jerusalem and are reiterated in the field of justice, politics, culture and business.
The commercial impulse is portrayed in companies such as Parque Arauco, associated with the familia Said, with shopping centers in Chile, Peru and Colombia; or the Banco de Crédito e Inversiones, founded in 1937 by Juan Yarur Lolas and still one of the largest in the square.
The Palestinian community also has important political figures. Party leaders, senators, deputies, mayors and councilors are Palestinians. Without going any further, one of the best positioned presidential candidates in this country today belongs to the community: Daniel Jadue, of the Communist Party.
“We are inserted in all areas of society. My children, for example, are married to Chileans, not to people of Palestinian origin. There is total integration,” says Maurice Khamis.
Still, according to academic Ricardo Marzuca, the Palestinians “They never disconnected from the societies of origin” which would be partly explained by the seriousness of the events that have marked this area in recent decades.
“There was a time when Palestinian sentiment in Chile was not so evident. But that changed. Today what is happening there has become transparent and the problems were made visible,” says Khamis.
“As much as we are assimilated here, the blood does not water. The blood pulls,” he concludes.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.