Palestinian flags are displayed on lampposts and warehouse doors above canvas awnings in the bustling commercial area of Patronato, located in Chile’s capital city.
Bakeries offer a variety of Middle Eastern treats, such as baklava, pita, and falafel. The shelves are filled with imported products from the region, with their ingredients hastily labeled in Spanish.
In Santiago, which is 8,000 miles away from Gaza, the cause and culture of Palestine are strongly present. Chile is home to the largest Palestinian diaspora outside of the Middle East, with approximately 500,000 individuals.
“I wish to express that our support stems from a natural empathy for human suffering,” stated 28-year-old Dalal Marzuca, a third-generation Chilean of Palestinian descent. “However, it’s probably more due to the fact that everyone here has a friend, coworker, or classmate with Palestinian roots.”
Marzuca is employed at a coffee shop located in the city center of Palestine. While she is busy making and serving rich, dark coffee and delicious knafeh, she also stays updated on the current events in Gaza through the use of WhatsApp and Instagram.
Marzuca stated that being both Chilean and Palestinian is a one-of-a-kind experience. They do not fully identify with either culture, but they are deeply affected by the events in Gaza.
Last month, Marzuca joined a large group of individuals carrying Palestinian flags as they marched towards La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago. The diaspora added their influential voice to the international call for a ceasefire.
Kristal Kassis, a 39-year-old Chilean-born protester whose grandparents came from Bethlehem, stated, “This is a matter of humanity, not just one nation.” Kassis also observed that there were many individuals without ties to Palestine who have joined the demonstration to demand justice.
Protesters in keffiyehs carried placards decrying the Israeli bombardment of Gaza City, and were led in chants imploring Chile to cut all ties with Israel by the throbbing beat of kettle drums.
In the later part of the march, Mirvat Quesieh Abu-Gosh, 57, stood in front of La Moneda with the flag of Palestine, which featured black, white, green, and red, hanging over her shoulder.
She trembled as she said, “We are all enduring the consequences of this, it was inevitable.” She expressed her frustration that no action is being taken. However, she also acknowledged that Chile provides a comforting refuge, comparing it to Palestine.
Quesieh Abu-Gosh was born in Beit Jala but her family fled the town after the six-day war in 1967. They were unable to return, and so she moved to Santiago where her mother’s family were already living, and had a daughter whose father is Chilean.
At minimum, 6 million Palestinians reside in foreign countries due to being either refugees or migrants from their home nation.
The largest community of people living outside the Middle East is in Chile, but there are also significant populations in Central American countries such as Honduras and El Salvador.
In 1947, all three nations did not participate in the United Nations general assembly vote regarding the division of Palestine. However, since 2011, Chile has officially acknowledged Palestine as an independent state.
Chile also maintains full diplomatic ties with Israel. However, the two countries’ embassies in Chile have no communication with each other.
The ambassador of Palestine in Santiago, Vera Baboun, stated that their relationship with the government is positive. Before her current position, she was the mayor of Bethlehem and visited Santiago to strengthen ties with the diaspora.
Lately, time seems to drag on at the embassy as concerned individuals anxiously watch Palestinian news channels in every room.
“We aimed to foster a dynamic and vibrant connection between Palestine and Chile,” stated Baboun. “In Chile, the president is resolute in advocating for his beliefs on human and global rights.”
Last year, President Gabriel Boric’s foreign ministry declared its intention to establish an embassy in Palestine, but did not specify when this would happen.
In the current month, Boric withdrew Chile’s ambassador from Tel Aviv, stating that Israel was not complying with international law. Boric has denounced the 7 October attacks by Hamas, resulting in the deaths of over 1,200 individuals. However, he has also characterized the Israeli retaliation, which caused the deaths of 13,000 to 15,000 Palestinians, as “excessive”.
In the month of October, his administration contributed $200,000 to a UN fund for humanitarian aid in Gaza. He also reached out to Palestinian National Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, to reaffirm his dedication to promoting peace and ensuring safety.
The dispute in the Middle East holds a significant position in the life and politics of Chile.
Chilean leaders often engage in heated debates about the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, which stirs strong emotions not only within the diaspora but also in student political circles.
In 2016, the law school at the University of Chile, which is Boric’s former school, made a decision to not participate in events that involve individuals who are either government officials of Israel or receive funding from the Israeli embassy.
In the late 1800s, the initial immigrants from Palestine came to Chile using Turkish passports. They had left the declining Ottoman Empire and were able to establish textile companies and thrive in the commercial industry.
As the 20th century began, a fresh influx of people traveled from European ports to Buenos Aires, enduring a difficult voyage lasting up to three months. From there, they would continue their journey over the Andes into Chile on muleback.
The majority of individuals were members of the Orthodox Christian faith from the towns of Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahour. By the second generation, a significant number had become part of Catholic churches.
In 1912, Murshid, the first Arabic-language newspaper in Chile, was established. This sparked the creation of 20 additional newspapers, forming a cultural hub.
Mauricio Amar, a scholar at the University of Chile’s Eugenio Chahuán Arabic Studies Centre, described Chilean Palestinian culture as a “time capsule.” He noted that their identity exists in a liminal space and the traditions they uphold have been inherited from the initial generation of immigrants in each family.
During their study trips to Bethlehem, a few young Palestinians from Chile were told by their Palestinian peers that their names were considered outdated by several generations.
In the southern suburb of Santiago, La Cisterna, a crowded stadium is home to Club Deportivo Palestino. This football club, established by Palestinian immigrants over 100 years ago, competes in Chile’s premier league while sporting the Palestinian flag’s colors.
The left sleeve features a map of Palestine from 75 years ago, before the establishment of Israel.
Marzuca emphasized the significance of these spaces for the community, as they serve as a meeting place for Chilean Palestinians. He stressed the importance of maintaining a connection to their roots, despite the distance from their ancestral land that their families were forced to leave behind.