Unlike other Asian teams,a look at Palestine’s lineup would reveal to you a Roberto,Pablo and Bruno among other Spanish names.Where did these names come from? Is Palestine employing a nationalization strategy like that of Qatar’s? Nope.
In 2002 a man who goes by the name of Nicola Shahwan pioneered the process of getting players of Palestinian descent from Chile to represent Palestine.He,himself a descendant of Palestinian immigrants,coordinated with the Palestine FA and brought forward the likes of Roberto Kettlun,Pablo Abdulla and Roberto Bishara to compete in international football in Palestinian colours,taking advantage of the FIFA grandparents rule in which a player can represent the country of his grandparents.
These aren’t recent immigrants,nor are they diaspora brought about by the 1948 war.In fact,they are descendents of Palestinian Christians who immigrated to Chile at the turn of the last century.The Ottomans weren’t an easy bunch to deal with at that time.
Chile has the largest population of diaspora Palestinians outside the Middle East.These Palestinians haven’t lost their identity.In 1920 they formed Club Deportivo Palestino,a football club that competes in the Chilean Premier division.Attending a match in the Cisterna Municipality Stadium,with Palestinian flags waving and kouffiyehs all around you’d think you were in Ramallah rather than Santiago.They aren’t too shabby either,winning the league twice in their history.
Nicola Shahwan and the FA put together a plan to incorporate the Chilean-born players into the national team in time for the 2002 Pan Arab Cup in Kuwait.Players included in the tournament line-up were Roberto Kettlun,Roberto Bishara,Fabian Bishara,Edgardo Abdullah,Fransico Alam and Pablo Abdullah(thats as far as I can remember).
The first match was vs Jordan.The man with the plan,Nicola Shahwan,was the head coach in that tournament.Coincidentally,this was the first match I would actually watch for the national team.I only heard about the Palestine National Team before that in the FIFA 2001 computer game,that was as far as my knowledge went.Game time.I didn’t know what to expect.
You can imagine my surprise upon seeing Pablo Abdulla’s frizzy blonde hair.I heard the commentator saying the names Roberto and Fransico alongside the names of Ahmed and Ziad.I was confused for a minute but the commentator cleared things up.
Roberto Kettlun with a touch of genious chipped the ball over the Jordanian defense to Ziad Al Kord who slammed the ball in and we were in the lead.The Jordanians equalized later and the game ended in a draw.Homeside Kuwait were put on the backfoot and struggled to draw the surprisingly energetic Palestinians.Other results included a draw with Sudan and a 3-1 loss to a powerful Morrocan side.Even though Palestine didn’t get far,Nicola’s formula proved successful as the Palestinians arguably played the most beautiful free-flowing football in the tournament gaining the praise of Arab commentators and press.As Roberto Kettlun put it,the Chile-based players brought with them South American techinical flare and the Palestine-based players brought an aggressive physical style of play.It was a West Asian-South American hybrid which was to be the new face of the Palestinian National Team.