The Palestinian Football Club in Chile: Club Deportivo Palestino

On this January 4, 2014 picture taken in Santiago, players of the CD Palestino first division football club wear new jerseys, in which the number one was replaced with a 1948 Palestine map. This map, which therefore includes the current state of Israel without specifying its borders, caused controversy in the Jewish community in Chile. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

With the logo for the Bank of Palestine printed across the chest, the immediately recognisable colours of the Palestinian flag striped across the jersey, and for a time even the number one replaced on the back of the jersey with a map of Palestine, you’d be excused for mistaking the football jersey for Palestine’s national team. However, Club Deportivo Palestino despite its name and appearance, can be found 13,000 kilometres away from Palestine in the South American nation of Chile.

In the Chilean capital of Santiago, over a hundred years ago in 1920, a group of Palestinian immigrants founded the club, which soon grew and gained the support of Chile’s sizeable Palestinian community. With the largest population of Palestinians outside the Arab world, at roughly half a million people and making up roughly 2.6% of Chile’s total population, they are affectionately referred to as “Chilestinians” and are an important part of the Chilean social fabric. While some Chilestinians can trace back their families moving to the South American country all the way back to the nineteenth century, many came to seek refuge following the Nakba of 1948, which led to the displacement of roughly half of the Palestinian population. As a community forcibly separated from their ancestral home, Club Deportivo Palestino understandably became a focal point for Chilestinians to express their national pride and celebrate Palestinian culture.

From humble beginnings in the 1920s, to quickly ascending to the Primera Division in 1952 after the league’s creation, the team won its first national title in 1955. After winning their second league title in 1978, the team has remained in Chile’s premier league and is favoured by football bookies, despite ups and downs in the team’s performance at times threatening to relegate them to the second division. However, despite the team not maintaining its dominant presence on the pitch as it used to, the team is still considered Chile’s second national team due to its history and political significance in the country that has earned the team a great deal of affection from Chileans.

Supporters are famous for their chants in support of Palestine and unfurling huge Palestinian flags during matches. Reflecting the team’s motto, “more than a team, it is an entire people”, which is written on every jersey in both Spanish and Arabic, the team has understandably gained supporters worldwide with pro-Palestinian sympathies. The football team likewise is active in raising awareness about Palestinian issues and previously visited the occupied West Bank to compete against Palestine’s national team in a show of solidarity and kinship.

However, in 2014, the team’s vocal support for Palestine found them in trouble with the country’s football federation. The team was fined for replacing the one on their team’s jersey with an image of historic Palestine before 1948, with the federation alleging that this amounted to a form of discrimination. However, the team remained steadfast and opposed the ruling outright by making a public statement that “For us, free Palestine will always be historical Palestine, nothing less”.

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