Saturday, February 1, 2020

Abdel Rahman Al-Jizawi: A 1920s Palestinian Wrestler in Chile

Issam Khalidi

  A major national symbol for Palestine in the ’20s was wrestler Abdel-Rahman al-Jizawi, who left the country for Chili when he was 20 years old. Upon his arrival, he met a leader of the Arab community, who introduced him to Chilean media and coaches. Abel Rahman al-Jizawi, who was famous for wrestling in the Republic of Chile, where he arrived in September 1926 when he was only twenty years old. As soon as he arrived there, he met with an official of the Arab community who enthusiastically took the responsibility to introduce him to [Chilean] officials, sportsmen, newspapers and magazines. This community has set up a special event where this young man did very well, which drew the attention of the audience, especially newspaper reporters.[1]

This article is based on three letters from the Arab community in the Chile published in Filastin in the years 1926, 27 and 28.

    In November 1926 the Palestinian newspaper Filastin (established in 1911) published a letter from Gerges Elias Abu Sabah in Chile under the title “A Wrestler from Jaffa Became Famous in Chile:” 

   Abdel Rahman Al-Jizawi an Arab young man came to this country from Jaffa (Palestine), he is twenty years of age, his profession is wrestling, weightlifting and metal bending. I saw that this young man has an amazing body strength. So, I decided to present him to the media and sport officials. For this purpose, we set up a special athletic event to the public, especially the Arab community. The hall was full of people from Jaffa and the Arab community from Palestine. The young man demonstrated amazing skills, which drew the attention of the attendees, especially the reporters. The most remarkable of these skills was the iron-rails bending with a thicken of 30 mm, they were folded around his head, arms and neck as if they were thin wires. And the most amazing is that he lay on his back on a thick board full of nails. A piano was put on his chest while the national anthem of this country has been played for 10 minutes. This ended with a loud applause. [2]

   He also wrestled an Italian wrestler weighing 95 kilos – 30 kg. heavier than him. He wrestled him on October 3rd on one of the stages in front of a big audience of the Arab community. After a heavy fight the Arab defeated the Italian and threw him twice on the ground, and the judge announced his winning. So, the members of the Arab community ran to the stage lifted him on the shoulders and chanted “Long live Palestine” , “Long live the Arabs”, “Long live Abdul Rahman Al-Jizawi”. Several articles have been published about him here in the newspapers, describing his extraordinary strength, especially since he is still a young man. These days he will meet with several wrestlers. The Arab associations in the capital asked me to invite him to present himself and his skills to the public. [3]

Filastin published another letter from Chile in October 1927:

Dear Editor of Filastin:

   I read a long time ago on the pages of your newspaper something about the victory of the Arab hero Abdul Rahman Al-Jizawi in wrestling with the Italian Diogenite in the city of Valparaiso. Let me write something about his latest wrestling.

  On the 16th of May, Abdel Rahman wrestled a 26-years-old young Russian Jewish engineer named Joseph Talma who was tall, wide-chested, with big strong arms, weighing 98 kg, so we saw Abdul Rahman before him a child, though many attendees mocked the Arab wrestler and considered his wrestling an absurdity. In the first round Abdul Rahman jumped on his opponent and seized him with a strong grip. He lifted him like a ball trying to throw him to the ground, but the Russian defended himself and slipped out of Abdel Rahman’s hands and seized him from his nick which forced Al-Jizawi to lay down on the ground. His opponent struggled to lift him of the ground, however, the bell rang at the end of the round which prevented him from achieving what he was planning to. [4]

  After a minute, in the second round Abdul Rahman was messing with his opponent until the later lost the hope in winning. In the third round, Abdul Rahman lifted his opponent and seized him with the move known as the Nelson hold, then he threw him to the floor, and confirmed his winning.

On July 16th, another wrestler named Albertorbi, the greatest wrestler in this republic, and maybe in South America, a man of moderate stature. His appearance reveals to spectators that he is a real athlete with big experience gained; that he a valuable hero familiar with the details and secrets of wrestling. His weight is not less than a hundred kilos. We were afraid that Abdul Rahman will fail encountering him because Albertorbi had and amazing and scary power. 

  But God gave Abdul Rahman the joy of victory despite his small body and wight, which does not exceed 71 kg. Spectators were stunned during the wrestling and were puzzled by the strength, speed and fitness of Abdel Rahman, whose adversary was tormented by fatigue. In the seventh round, after 35 minutes in violent and tremendous struggle Abdul Rahman managed to win, he over turned him on his back by a movement known as the Nelson hold.   

This is the most important wrestling by Abdel-Rahman because the mentioned Chilean wrestler is an expert in the art of wrestling. He is distinguished with an extraordinary strength. We already saw him lifting Abdel Rahman over his head and turned him around few times intended to make Abdel Rahman feeling dizzy. But it all went in vain. However, despite his opponent’s weight Abdel Rahman met him in the next round with a similar move lifting him as he lifts a toy. In fact, I can’t describe you the joy of the Arab community with the success of Abdel Rahman and his successive winning.

   I am pleased to inform you that the Palestinian Youth Society, which is composed of young people is concerned to help its citizens, and interested in assisting them in order to promote their heroism and bravery. It could not remain silent about these victories, so in recognition his courage, it presented him with a gold medal, engraved and embellished with the inscription “Palestinian Youth Society to the Arab winner Abdul Rahman Al-Jizawi – 1927.”This was the only association in this republic that helped the champion when he came to this country and set up a match in the best theaters of the capital. It introduced him to the people and gave him all the income [of the matches]. I am sure you already published something about this match.

  The news of this young wrestler was reported permanently in Los Tempos, the daily “Times” in Santiago, the capital of Chile. It was the official mouthpiece of the government with more than 120,000 copies a day. In August 1928, Al-Jizawi met with the Chilean foreign Minister, where the latter congratulated him for his courage and asked him if all the citizens of his Arab nation were heroes as he was. Al-Jizawi answered “despite my strength, I am the weakest among my fellow citizens.”[5]


[1] Issam Khalidi, “Body and Ideology: Early Athletics in Palestine: 1900-1948,” Jerusalem Quarterly 27 (2007): 44-58.
The Palestinian community in Chile is one of the most active among other Palestinian communities in the world. Although this community is more than one hundred years old, it has maintained its national and cultural identity. Throughout this period, it has maintained its national ties with Palestine and Palestinians.
[2] Filastin, 23 November 1926.
[3] Filastin, 23 November 1926.
[4] Filastin, 21 October 1927.
[5] Filastin, 9 October 1928.

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