Proud Palestinians of Chile

Article excerpt

AN OLD PROVERB IN CHILE goes that every small village in the country is sure to have three-things--a priest, a policeman, and a Palestinian. Surprisingly, this South American nation, the most distant point on earth from the Middle East, has become home to one of the largest populations of Palestinians outside of their ancestral homeland. Today an estimated 350,000 Chileans out of a population of about 16 million can trace their ancestry to Palestine. Significantly, this community of Christian Palestinians now outnumbers by three times those who have remained in the Middle East.

Evidence of the Palestinian presence is everywhere to be found in the Chilean capital of Santiago. One of the city's most prestigious social clubs is the expansive Club Palestino, where well-heeled Chilean Palestinians gather to play tennis, swim, dine, and engage in social activities in lavish salons decorated with Persian rugs and ornate Middle Eastern furniture and art. The members of one of Chile's professional soccer teams, Palestino, sport jerseys emblazoned with the traditional Palestinian colors--red, green, and white. Restaurants that offer a taste of the Middle East abound, from the ritzy Club Arabe, one of the finest eateries in the seaside resort city of Vina del Mar, to such Santiago establishments as Abu El Kef, Omar Khayyam, and La Turquita. On the narrow streets of Patronato, Santiago's traditional Palestinian neighborhood near the city's historic center, signs in Arabic are as common as those in Spanish, and a steady stream of visitors come to shop in the bazaar-like collection of small shops and arcades. The barrio's San Jorge Cathedral, with its classic orthodox facade, is the Palestinian community's religious focal point.

The initial wave of immigrants came in the 1850s, during the Crimean War. The first to arrive were merchants and farmers who found abundant opportunity to prosper economically in Chile, whose climate and terrain reminded them of their homeland. …


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