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 NO. 290 (PART 2)

9 APRIL 2015

A Primary Source

Filastin, with its projection of Palestinian nationalism, has become a primary source of 20th century Palestinian history. Since Israel has captured significant Palestinian archives and Palestine’s sports history, historical sources has almost exclusively been written by non-Palestinian scholars and writers, with the exception of the work of Palestinian sports historian Issam Khalidi. Palestinian sports, despite its current political relevance, hardly ever emerges in Zionist or Palestinian collective memory.

The Jewish effort to solidify ties with the British as well as with other nations through soccer was boosted by Palestine’s admission in 1928 to world soccer body FIFA. Within a decade of its founding, the PFA sought FIFA’s permission to play regional teams that were not members of the world body in a bid to strengthen Zionist ties with its non-Palestinian Arab neighbours as well as with British colonial teams in the Arab Middle East. In Khalidi’s words, “to obstruct Arab Palestinian teams, which it had alienated or excluded from the PFA, from competing with teams from other Arab counties.”68 To this end, the PFA in the mid-1930s used its authority as the national association to prevent Palestinian teams from playing neighbouring Arab squads on the grounds that they were not members of the PFA.

Josef Yekutieli, the founder of the PFA and initiator of the Maccabean games, described the PFA’s membership “as a direct result of the Maccabiah Games.”69 The PFA, despite having been established as an organisation that grouped teams regardless of religion and race, projected itself as one of the driving forces of Jewish sports in British-controlled Palestine. Palestine in its view was Jewish and British; Palestinians did not figure in its nationalist calculations. Its mother organisation, the Palestine Sports Federation, adopted Zionism’s blue and white colours while the PFA dropped Arabic as one of its languages within three years of its founding. The Zionist anthem “Ha-Tikva” was played alongside Britain’s “God Save the King” at the start of official matches. The Palestine Olympic Committee followed a similar pattern with its nine members, seven of which were Jewish. “By 1934, the dominance of Zionist officials meant that Arab clubs had no say in the running of the association, despite Arabs comprising over three-quarters of Palestine’s population,” Khalidi wrote.70 The quest for Zionist dominance was rooted in the effort to create under British rule the building blocks of a modern state based on the principle of “authority without sovereignty”.71

The PFA was established in 1924 after the Jewish Maccabi Athletic Organization was refused admission to the International Amateur Athletic Federation because its membership was predominantly Jewish and not representative of Palestine’s British and Arab population.72  Its Zionist

68 Issam Khalidi, “Sports and Aspirations: Football in Palestine 1900 1948,” Jerusalem Quarterly. 58, (2014),
69 Josef Yekutieli, מ''מפ'האול מ'במשחק ישראל-ארצ השתתפות. Haaretz, March 29, 1935
70 Ibid. Khalidi, Sports and Aspirations
71 Dan Horowitz and Moshe Lissak, “Trouble in Utopia: The Overburdened Polity of Israel,” (Albany: State University of New York Press 1989), 232
72 Haim Kaufman, “Jewish Sports in the Diaspora, Yishuv, and Israel: Between Nationalism and Politics,” Israel Studies, 10:2 (2005), 147-167

domination sparked the initial creation of the Arab Palestinian Sports Federation (APSF) in 1931with Palestinians unwilling to legitimise Zionist colonisation or serve as a fig leaf for a Zionist dominated institution. The APSF was founded at a time when the Palestinian national movement had to grapple with the fact that its traditional leadership was ineffective in the face of a refusal by the British mandatory administration to accord Palestinians the same degree of  self-governance that it had granted other Arabs such as the Egyptians and the Iraqis. This reality was brought into sharp relief in 1930 with the death sentence for three Palestinian youths accused of organising the 1929 uprising against Jewish settlements and the British colonial administration. It persuaded younger nationalist leaders that they had to be more hard-line if Palestinians were to achieve their national ambitions.73

Divorce of Palestinians and Zionists was a key element of a more hard-line approach. As a result, the APSF vowed to boycott Zionist teams, athletes and referees. It’s opting for segregation paralleled efforts in other regions struggling with competing identities like South Africa and Ireland to assert identity through sports associations based on ethnicity or nationalism rather than the sport itself. The APSF’s policy however proved controversial. The Arab Sport Club in Jerusalem battled, for example, for months against a decision by the Orthodox Club in Jaffa to bar Jewish referees.74

The PFA’s intent was evident when it dubbed the squad it sent to Egypt for a friendly match, the Land of Israel. The team was made up of six Jewish and nine British players. No Palestinians were included.75 Neither were Palestinians part of the team which fielded in qualifiers for the 1934 and 1938 World Cup. When Palestinians revolted in 1936 against Jewish immigration, sports served to further bind Jews and Brits. “Efforts to dominate athletics, marginalize the Arabs, and cultivate cooperation with the British at any price were the main traits that characterized Zionist involvement in sports,” Khalidi wrote.76

A Well-oiled Machine
The Zionist effort to forge close relations with the British stumbled when ties with the colonial power frayed in the wake of the Second World War as Jews geared up for independence and extreme nationalist groups attacked British forces. Beitar, the right-wing nationalist group that encompassed Beitar Jerusalem, a storied club notorious until today for its anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim attitude, played an important role in the push for independence. Beitar, which was the product of the 1935 split between the revisionists and the main Zionist movement, was particularly pronounced in the post- World War Two run up to independence. The various Zionist youth movements intensified their focus on the concept of sports in the service of the nation and as a projection of nationhood. HaMashkif, the Beitar newspaper, argued in 1945 “that nations take part in international tournaments not only to

73 Mustafa Kabha, “The Palestinian press and the general strike, April–October 1936: Filastin as a case study,” Middle Eastern Studies, 39:3 (2003),169-189
74 Filastin. January 21, 1933
75 Ibid. Harif and Galily
76 Issam Khalidi, “The Zionist movement and sports in Palestine, The Electronic Intifada, April 27, 2009 (accessed Aprl 27, 2009)

display their sporting skills, but also to demonstrate their national traits and their national flag.”
HaMashkif went on to note that sports teams serve “to glorify the name of their people in public.”77

Beitar adopted obedience as one its core principles so that it would operate as a well-oiled machine. Its members were obliged to become skilled in the use of weapons. Its philosophy was in line with the militaristic principles of legionism, the notion of collective revival based on an inherited defensive tradition; strict discipline; hadar or dignity; and mobilisation.78 The duty of a Beitar member was to be ready to defend the Jewish settlement of Palestine. In Beitar’s vision, its members were destined to join a military unit that would emerge from five volunteer battalions known as the Jewish Legion of the British military that fought the Ottomans in the First World War. Almost two decades later, Jabotinsky, to who sports was a utility rather than a passion negotiated through intermediaries the training of 134 Beitar members in Mussolini Italy’s Maritime School in Civitavecchia in the province of Rome. The Beitar members were trained by Il Duce’s Black Shirts paramilitary squads established after the First World War and were visited by Mussolini himself. In a letter to Leone Carpi, one of his intermediaries, Jabotinsky, aware of the rise of fascism under Mussolini, wrote that his movement
preferred to have the training in Italy.79

Sociologist Shlomo Reznik noted that “in Jabotinsky’s words, Beitar was militaristic in the sense of knowing how and being ready to take up arms in the name of defending our rights. As an educational movement, the goal was to create a ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ citizen of the Jewish nation instead of the stereotypical ‘Diaspora Jew.’ The concept that captures the new Beitar type is Hadar (a Hebrew word that was used by Jabotinsky to denote outer beauty, pride, good manners, dignity, loyalty, and the like). Like its mother party, Beitar vowed to work for the establishment of a Hebrew state with a Hebrew-speaking Jewish majority, on both sides of the Jordan River, by means of mass settlement funded by national loans.”80

The Jerusalem branch of Beitar founded the Beitar Jerusalem sports club in 1936, the year of the second Palestinian uprising. The club has been supported throughout its history by right-wing Israeli leaders, including current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It initially drew many of its players and fans from Irgun, an extreme nationalist, para-military Jewish underground. Its players and fans were active in various right-wing Jewish underground groups that waged a violent campaign against the pre-state British mandate authorities. As a result, many of them were exiled to Eritrea in the 1940s. Beitar’s initial anthem reflected the club’s politics, glorifying a “guerrilla army racist and tough, an army that  calls  itself  the  supporters  of  Beitar.”  The  movement’s  links  to  the  underground  ultimately prompted the British to ban it on the grounds that it was “recruitment source for (a) terrorist group.”81 Said an Israeli journalist: “This was a team with an ideal. Everybody was a member of (the Jewish

77 Ben Eliehu, ב'הספורט פ'הםשק', HaMashkif, January 14, 1945
78 Ze’ev JabotinskyState Zionism, Hadassah Newsletter, October 1945, 9
79 Daniel Carpi, Attilio Milano and Alexander Rofé (eds, “Scritti in memoria di Leone Carpi: Saggi sull'ebraismo italiano a cura,” (Jerusalem/Milano: Mosad Shelomoh Meir, Makhon Le-Made Ha-Yahadut, 1967). 42
80 Shlomo Reznik, “Betar: Sports and Politics in a Segmented Society, Israel Affairs, 13:3 (2007), 617-641
81 David Niv,  הלאום 'הצבא מארגונ הםיארוח', (Tel Aviv: Klausner Institute, 1965),  277

underground movement Ha’Etzel) with the Menorah (Jewish candelabrum) emblem, which was something of a sacred symbol. The public was aware of the connection between Beitar and Ha’Etzel.”82

So were the Palestinians. Filastin translated an article by Jabotinsky originally published in Hebrew in HaMashkif newspaper under the title”Jabotinsky’s Program: Shooting”.83 Jabotinsky argued in the HaMashkif article that Beitar could serve as a venue for military training given British opposition to the creation of Jewish military units.84 The article constituted in Filastin’s view evidence that Beitar was a cover for Jewish paramilitary activity.

Despite the willingness of teams of neighbouring Arab countries to play Zionist squads prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, resistance to the Jewish national project spilled onto the soccer pitch, long before Israel’s expulsion from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 1974. Filastin reported in 1929 at the time of the Palestinian uprising that Arab fans, provoked by Zionist flags and the singing of Jewish nationalist songs during a match in Damascus played by a Hapoel club, clashed with their Jewish counterparts.85 Elsewhere, fans fought over alleged bias of referees.86 The Muslim and Christian Association asked the British mandate authorities in 1925 whether the flying of Zionist flag alongside the British flag during soccer matches violated regulations governing public display of flags. The British governor of Jerusalem and Jaffa ruled that club flags did not violate the ordinance which was designed to curtail “any partisan demonstration.”87 The query followed a visit to Palestine by Hakoah Vienna, a team that was inspired by Nordau and widely viewed at the time as the best Jewish squad ever.

Ironically, Palestinians were not the only ones threatened by Zionist sports endeavours. Orthodox Jewry was vehemently opposed to defining Judaism as a national entity. To them Jewry was solely a religious community and would remain so until the Jews were redeemed from exile. The Orthodox leadership failed however to counter the attraction of youth movements with their emphasis on sports. Religious youth either joined Bnei Akiva, the largest religious Zionist movement, or often became members of Maccabi. The Orthodox Jewry nevertheless fought the fact that sports activities, particularly soccer, took place on Saturdays the Jewish day of rest. Police repeatedly clashed in the 1930s with Orthodox protesters who sought to prevent games from being played.88  It was struggle that continued to be waged throughout the 20th  century, with the Orthodox Jewry battling

82 Amir Ben-Porat,  Oh Beitar Jerusalem: The Burning Bush Protest, International Journal of the History of Sport, 18:4 (2001), 123-139
83 Ze’ev Jabotinsky, , Hamashkif, April 3, 1939
84 Filastin.. النار اطالق :جابوتنسكي برنامج, April 6, 1939
85 FilastinApril 16, 1929
86 Filastin, . الثورة مع تقريبا انتهت التي اشتباك. April 6, 1926
87 The Palestine Bulletin. March 24, 1925

plans for the construction of a stadium in Jerusalem. Much like militant Islamic clerics, ultra-Orthodox rabbis feared that sports would distract students at yeshivas, Jewish religious schools, from their study of traditional texts. Similarly, they also opposed sports because it was performed in clothes that allowed athletes to exhibit parts of their body.89

Fuelling Nationalist Friction

The Zionist  employment of sports in their struggle for Jewish statehood nonetheless sparked a Palestinian national response that sought to counter the challenge in the realm of sports. Palestinian national sentiment expressed itself post-World War I through the emergence of charitable societies, women’s groups, youth organisations and sports clubs, even though Palestinian media lamented that they lacked the resources, particularly in sports, available to their Zionist counterparts.  British mandate officials recognised early on that the development of separate Jewish and Palestinian sports clubs was likely to fuel nationalist friction. At the inauguration of the Jerusalem Sports Club in 1921, Jerusalem Military Governor Ronald Stores called for clubs to be inclusive and admit members irrespective of their religion or beliefs.90

Khalidi documented the battle over rival Jewish and Palestinian claims to land and identity waged on the soccer pitch in the decades leading up to the founding of Israel. Muslim, Christian Orthodox and secular Palestinian sports clubs reinforced national identity and constituted a vehicle to strengthen ties among different Palestinian communities. Orthodox Christians, opposed to foreign domination of their parishes, took a lead in promoting sports with the first conference of Orthodox Christian clubs in 1923  that  called for the  establishment  of  clubs across Palestine.  Its call  was heeded  with  the emergence of Orthodox clubs established in Jaffa, Jerusalem, Lod, and Akko.91

The clubs, similar to the role of the Algerian national team as a promoter of the Algerian liberation struggle during the country’s war of independence, allowed Palestinians to forge relations with other Middle Eastern and North African nations. Filastin praised in nationalistic terms the performance of the Orthodox Club of Jaffa in its 1931 encounter with a visiting Egyptian team. “The team of the Egyptian University came to Palestine and played with the Jewish teams, no Arab team applied to compete with them, except the Orthodox Club. The result was better than the game with “Maccabi”. So it made us proud and made everyone understand that there are Arabic teams in Palestine who are skilful in this game and have the same level as the British and Jewish teams,” Filastin wrote.92

Sports clubs further created an institutional base for political organisation and served to prepare predominantly young men for social and political engagement. In an effort to forge useful relationships through  soccer,  Palestinians first  created  their  own  informal  national  team  in  1910  that  played

89 For a detailed description of the history of the Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem see Gedalia Auerbach and Ira Sharkansky,  “Politics and Planning in the Holy City, (Piscataway: Transaction Publishers, 2007),  87-96
90 The Palestine Weekly,  Jerusalem Sporting Club, April 12, 1921
91 Issam Khalidi, The Coverage of Sports News in “Filastin” 1911-1948, Jerusalem Quarterly. 44 (2010),  45-69
92 Ibid. Khalidi, The Coverage
primarily against missionary clubs. Encouraged by local media, the Arab Palestinian Sports Federation and a national team that played its first match against  a squad from the American University of Beirut were born 21 years later as Palestinian counterparts of the PSA and the PFA. The team “will refute Jewish claims and Zionist propaganda that Palestinians are ignorant and have nothing to do with sports,” Filastin quipped.93

The Islamic movement, riding a wave of increasing popularity on the back of mounting public disillusion with the inability of Palestinian and Arab leaders to counter Zionist advances, convened a meeting of the Islamic Physical Training Club in 1928. The gathering attended by lawyers, journalists and politicians, including Ragheb Effendi Al-Imam, Hasan Sidqui al-Dajani, Mohammed Izzat Darwazeh and Sheikh Hassan Abu Saud, a close associate of Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin el- Husseini,  the  grand  mufti  of  Jerusalem,  called  for  the  establishment  of  Young  Men’s  Muslim Associations (YMMA) across Palestine.94 A prominent newspaper editor described the activities of the YMMA’s Nablus branch as evidence that “native sons now have the knowledge that their public welfare, and consequently their private welfare, requires bonds of unity, virtuous discord, and love to exist.”95

Four years later, sports became a central tenant of the Arab Youth Congress headed by newspaper proprietor and politician Issa Basil Bandak. Convened in 1932, the congress was a reflection of the growing gap between Palestine’s traditional leadership and its youth.96 The divide was evident within clubs. In 1934, members of the long-standing Salesian Club in Haifa that was associated with the charitable Catholic Society of St. Francis de Sales, split off to form Shabab al-Arab because they felt that it was not nationalist enough. Shabab al-Arab was founded under the auspices of the congress which had its own annual tournament.97 “Athletic clubs were important in evoking the Palestinian national consciousness, sustaining connections between villages and cities, and developing ties with groups across the Middle East and parts of Africa. As such, this trend was contested by Zionist forces in Palestine in a struggle played out on the international stage after the re-establishment of the defunct APSF in 1944,” Khalidi wrote.98 To strengthen links with Arab neighbours,  players and spectators held two minutes of silence in 1945 at the beginning of the final of the Palestinians’ first territory-wide soccer championship to commemorate the 400 protesters killed in the French bombardment of Damascus.99
93 Filastin,  March 28, 1931
94 Abdelaziz A. Ayyad,  Arab Nationalism and the Palestinians 1850-1939, Jerusalem: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs1989),  120
95 Bracey/Filastin. 1932. May 4
96 Ibid. Ayyad. p. 136
97 Ibid. Ayyad. p. 136
98 Issam Khalidi, “Body and Ideology Early Athletics in Palestine (1900 - 1948),” Jerusalem Quarterly, 27 (1983), 44-58 / Tamer Sorek,  “Sports Column as a Site of Palestinian Nationalism in the 1940s,” Israel Affairs, 13:3 (2007),605-616
99 Ibid. Sorek, Palestinian nationalism

The nationalist Palestinian uprising that erupted in 1936 nevertheless allowed the PFA to briefly revalidate its claim to represent both Jews and Arabs in Palestine. With the APSF in disarray and no institutional framework, several Palestinian clubs including Jerusalem’s Arab Sports Club and Al Rawda Club and Haifa’s Shabab al-Arab re-joined the PFA to ensure that  they could continue playing.100  It was further strengthened by the creation of a short-lived league in 1942 that included Palestinian, Jewish, British and Greek teams.101 Shabab al-Arab, the nationalist club, was among the Palestinian clubs that participated.102 The APSF’s demise ironically ushered in a period of greater engagement between Zionist and Palestinian teams that in part was encouraged by perceptions in some segments of Palestinian society of sports being apolitical. It was a perception Zionists were eager to encourage. “Perhaps at first a small group of Arab sportsmen would be found, a group that would listen to our voice and claims that sport and politics should not be mixed and that the good and mutual relationship between sportsmen of both nations could bring about the improvement in the friendship in general,” wrote journalist Shimon Samet in 1937.103

A refusal seven years later by an Egyptian military soccer team to visit Palestine to play a predominantly Jewish squad prompted the Palestinians to again organise themselves on a regional and national basis. The newly reconstituted APSF insisted in its 1944 regulation that its membership “consists exclusively of Arab, non- Jewish institutions and clubs in Palestine… All clubs must include no Jewish members, not employ Jewish referees and not by funded by Jewish sources.”104 “The association is uncharted road in the confrontation with the Jewish Football Association,” a prominent Palestinian sports editor said.105

The regulation was more than an effort to challenge the Zionist claim of representation of Palestine, it was an attempt to project Arab Palestine as an organised sports entity in its own right, able to compete internationally and to engage the British in the waning years of their mandate. Opting for segregation in sports was in line with Filastin’s advocacy more than a decade earlier of parallel Jewish and Palestinian labour markets to counter British and Zionist policies that forced Palestinians into an increasingly untenable situation of  insecure land tenure,  heavy debt, and lack of  investment.106 Filastin conveniently refrained from reporting that Palestinians and Jews played in an APSF team in violation of the group’s 1946 regulations to play against other squads in Palestine.107

The segregation strategy nevertheless persuaded Palestine’s Arab neighbours to play in Palestinian rather than Zionist clubs. However, Palestinian efforts to persuade FIFA to recognise the APSF alongside  the  PFA  fell  on  deaf  years.  It  took  the  Palestinians half  a  century  to  achieve  FIFA

100 Ibid. Khalidi, Body and Ideolog
101 Filastin.. المقبل للموسم الرياضة رابطة تشكيل, January 27, 1942
102 Ibid. Khalidi, Sports and Aspirations / al-Difa‘, 12 April 1942 103 Shimon Samet, חשוב ד'תפק 'לםלו, Ha’aretz, April 17, 1936 104 Ibid. Khalidi, Body and Ideology
105 Hussein Husnu, Filastin, January 31, 1947
106 Ibid. Bracy, p. 101
107 Ibid. Al-Jibin, p. 442

acceptance when the Palestine Football Association, the APSF’s successor, won membership as FIFA’s only entity that was not a state.

Ironically, APSF had already warned two years before the establishment of the State of Israel that FIFA’s efforts to play peacemaker in the Middle East by having Jews and Palestinians represented by one organisation would fail. “Simply we could say that the members of  your federation will not succeed in achieving what the British administration could not do,” the APSF said in a memo to FIFA.108 It would take the Palestinians 52 years to defeat Zionist insistence that the Palestinians did not constitute a people or a state. In achieving their goal, the Palestinians made history by becoming the first territory without a state to have a seat at the soccer world table.

The fact that it took the Palestinians half a century to become a FIFA member raises questions about soccer’s effectiveness as a tool to project nationhood. In the case of the Jewish national movement, Harif argued that the “political implications of the sports contacts with foreign countries must not give the impression that these sports meetings resulted in a substantial change in the international standing of the Yishuv,” the Jewish settlement of Palestine. Athletes, in the political scientist’s view, “first and foremost fulfilled a symbolic role as representatives of a political entity which lacked sovereignty and real power and strove to achieve independence.”109 While Haggai looked at the role of sports primarily in terms of Zionist Jewish identity, he unwittingly anticipated later concepts of the utility of sports as a soft power tool to project identity to a target  audience beyond a nation’s immediate confines.

Projecting Nationhood

The Palestinian struggle to gain the right to represent themselves in soccer nonetheless gave birth to a strategy Palestinian soccer upholds until today: the projection of Palestinian nationhood through football. Palestinians “cannot avoid devising a way to publicise their ideas…and propagate their principles and views without being afraid of opposition or oppression. They can achieve their goal through sports as did Sweden, Czechoslovakia ... and Hungary,” Filastin commented a day before the 1947 United Nations vote in favour of partitioning Palestine.110 APSF had rejected an invitation to Palestinian clubs issued by the PSA a year earlier in a bid to fend off a request by Arab soccer associations to grant the Palestinian group FIFA membership.111

The Palestinian efforts to join FIFA were thwarted not only by Zionist opposition but also by British concern about identity politics in sports given their experience in Egypt where Cairo’s storied Al Ahli club was a driver of the 1919 revolution and represented an anti-colonial bulwark. A 1935 official British report on youth movements in Palestine warned that Palestinian Scouts, sports and youth

108 Ibid. Khalidi, Sports and Aspirations
109 Ibid Harif, Israeli Sport
110 FilastinNovember 28, 1947
111 Ibid. Sorek, Palestinian nationalism

groups could challenge the region’s national leadership.112 A year later, in a forerunner of the role of soccer fans in the 21st century’s popular Arab revolts, members of sports clubs and the Scouts were in the forefront of anti-British demonstrations during the revolt in 1936. They patrolled beaches to prevent illegal Jewish immigration and arms smuggling, organised the distribution of food, and helped moving those wounded or killed in the uprising. They saw themselves as filling a void left by a failing Palestinian leadership.

Palestinian media stressed throughout this period the nationalist utility of sports in general and soccer in particular. Filastin, a twice-weekly Christian-owned newspaper published in the first 67 years of the 20th century that pioneered Palestinian sports reporting, supported the Young Turks during Ottoman rule and was influential in promoting Palestinian nationalism, “maintained a consistent critique: challenging the authorities’ neglect of Arab sport and its support of Jewish sport activities. About 80  per cent of the news in Filastin’s sport section was about soccer, the most popular game in Palestine,” wrote Khalidi.113

At the Jaffa Literary Club in 1922, the newspaper’s co-founder, poet and journalist Issa Daoud El- Issa, signalled public distrust of political leadership that came to haunt the Middle East and North Africa almost a century later. Addressing Arab rulers, El-Issa, a pioneer of criticism of 20th century Arab regimes, said: “Oh little kings of the Arabs, by the grace of God, enough feebleness and infighting. Once upon a time, our hopes were on you, but all our hopes were dashed.” El-Issa’s comments primarily targeted the inability of the Hashemites, Jordan’s current rulers who at the time ruled Hejaz a province of contemporary Saudi Arabia, to unite the Arabs in confronting British, French and Zionist advances in the region.114 They also targeted large landlords who sold Arab land to the Jewish National Fund which was a key element of Zionist colonisation effort; Palestinian merchants opposed to general  strikes in protest against pro-Jewish British policies, and against Palestinian leaders who collaborated with the mandate authorities. The comments were all the more significant given that El-Issa had joined Hashemite Prince Faisal in his 1918 march on Damascus and served as the head of his court during his brief two-year reign in Syria. Similarly, El-Issa parted ways with El-Husseini, the grand mufti, whose supporters called for a boycott of Filastin, accused El-Issa of being a traitor, burnt his house to the ground and forced him into exile in Beirut from where he continued to publish the newspaper.115

Filastin, founded in 1911 in the booming port city of Jaffa, helped in the emergence of a Palestinian civil society and built an audience across all social and economic segments. El-Issa’s cousin and co- founder, Yousef  El-Issa, defined the newspaper’s mission in Filastin’s first edition as advocating

112 Ibid. Khalidi, The Coverage
113 Ibid. Khalidi, The Coverage
114 Yaqub Awdat. “Min ‘alam al-fikr wa al-adab fi Filastin,” (Jerusalem: Dar al-Isra, 1992), 478 quoted in. ‘Isa al- ‘Isa, Filastin, and the Textual Construction of National Identity 1911-1931, R. Michael Bracy. (Lanham: University of America Press, 2011), 1
115 Ibid. Bracey, p. 36

“every development that serves the constructive rather than the destructive building of a nation.”116 Six months later, he stressed the need to create a public opinion that would enable Palestinians to modernise tradition and custom within the framework of Islamic law.117 The notion of a need for public opinion and mobilisation was expanded three years later in the pages of Filastin and other media in a bid to galvanise opposition to Jewish immigration and land purchases. Within three weeks of writing an editorial asserting that “a very important movement is afoot among young men,”118 Filastin was closed down by the Ottomans for a period of six years that included the length of World War One, and Isa El-Issa was exiled to Anatolia. The paper’s fate was shared by other Palestinian publications.

Filastin, which unlike most Palestinian publications was not formally associated with a political party, was widely viewed as the most influential Palestinian newspaper in the first half of the 20th  century. Once it started publishing again after the six-year closure, Filastin expanded its coverage to include sports. It used its football coverage to deepen national sentiments and helped, according to Khalidi, to “maintain the Palestinian national identity… Sports began to be viewed in the Palestinian community as an important element for raising social consciousness and as an essential component of national culture.”119 The paper did so in the context  of  a drive promoted by Isa El-Issa to carve out  a Palestinian national identity that was separate from that of Syria, which traditionally was seen to incorporate Palestine. It was based on Isa’s notion that Palestinians needed to shape their identity before seeking independence a proposition that positioned Filastin’s brand of Arab nationalism against Islam-based concepts of ummah, the community of the faithful.120 Filastin’s coverage tackled Zionist domination of sports and refuted assertions that the Palestinians lacked the cultural, social and athletic attributes needed for sports. The paper’s influence increased despite British censorship. Its sports coverage went in tandem with the revival of Palestinian sports federations in the 1940s.

Sports, a term in Arabic derived from a word that denotes domestication of animals, amounted in Filastin’s view to a national duty, according to Israeli sports historian Sorek who analysed Filastin’s sports reporting in the 1940s. Filastin propagated soccer’s emphasis on discipline and obedience. “Soccer teaches us to obey the team’s manager, and the referee teaches us to adhere to law and justice… Obedience is one of the most important qualities that the soldier in the battlefield must equip himself with. The war will not be fought without obedience,” the newspaper said.121 To bolster its campaign, Filastin enlisted medical personnel to propagate the individual and national health benefits of sports and provide guidance for taking care of one’s body similar to concepts pushed by its Zionist counterparts.

In an appeal to the Supreme Muslim Council in 1946 to encourage sports, Filastin said it was “calling upon you as a soldier active on the sport field for many years ... I would ask you to direct the attention

116 Yousef El-Issa, وجد ال ام وجد, Filastin, January 14, 1911
117 Youssef El. Issa, السنة نفس, Filastin, July 15, 1911
118 Ibid. Bracey, p. 59 / Issa El-Issa. 1914. Filastin August 8
119 Ibid. Khalidi, The Coverage
120 Bracy/Filastin. 1921. July 9
121 Ibid. Sorek, The Sports Column

of the preachers in the mosques, and the speech-givers in the houses of God, so that through their speeches they may point the nation to sport, to urge them to care for their bodies, to ensure its cleanliness and activeness, to strengthen its limbs and to behave according to the rules of health, and its health will advance with us…in the struggle….”122  In a similar appeal to school principals, it said: “Remember that history urges you to raise an army of well-educated and healthy people, which will defend this country against the demon of colonialism.”123 The newspaper’s campaign reflected the views of nationalist leaders at the time. “The youth is to the nation as the heart is to the body ... I see sport as the best means of equipping the nation with the youth it longs for,” Gaza mayor Rushdi al- Shawa told the paper in 1945.124

Fast forward to 1998 when Palestine became the first non-state entity to become a member of FIFA and soccer re-emerged as a building block in the Palestinians attempt to create a state regardless of peace talks with Israel. Soccer, despite lack of funds and disruptive Israeli travel  restrictions, flourished in Israeli-occupied Palestinian areas. Stadiums were built or refurbished across the West Bank and the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) hosted international tournaments. The Palestinian national team in 2014 qualified for the Asian Cup finals for the first time.

“Ours is more than just a game,” said PFA secretary general Abdel Majid Hijjeh. “It breaks the siege on Palestinian sports and the Palestinian people.”125 “When teams come to play on our land, it’s a way of recognizing the Palestinian state. That benefits the Palestinian cause, not just Palestinian sports,” added player Murad Ismael in an interview with the Associated Press.126 Palestine’s soccer effort fits into a Palestine Authority campaign spearheaded by President Mahmoud Abbas to ensure popular support at a time of popular revolt, upheaval and sectarian violence in the Arab world and to reduce Palestinian dependence on failed U.S. efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Leading Palestine’s charge on the soccer pitch was PFA President Jibril Rajoub, a 62-year old tough anti-Israeli activist, former security chief and member of the central committee of Abbas’ Al Fatah guerrilla group-turned political party. Rajoub, who served 17 years in Israeli jails for throwing a grenade at Israeli soldiers when he was 17 years old, worked hard to get Israeli consent to upgrade a soccer stadium in Al-Ram, a Jerusalem suburb a stone’s throw from the barrier that separates the West Bank from Israel, and to get FIFA funding for its refurbishment. He also convinced FIFA to allow Palestine to play its first ever match on home ground in 2008 rather than in a neighbouring Arab capital. The crowds in the Faisal al Husseini Stadium shouted “Football is nobler than war” as

 122 Ibid. Sorek / Filastin. 1946. June 1
123 Ibid. Sorek / Filastin. 1945. October 25
124 Filastin. October 12, 1945
125 Interview with the author
126 Quoted in Palestine: Playing soccer for statehood, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, James M. Dorsey, June 18, 2011 (accessed June 18, 2011)   soccer-for-statehood.html

Palestine took the lead in its first international match in the stadium,  a friendly match against Jordan.127

“We can achieve a lot for our cause through sports. The world is changing and we have to push the legitimacy of our national aspirations through sports. I hope sports will help Israel reach the right conclusion. We are 4.2 million people living under Israeli occupation; I hope that I can convince the Israelis that we should open a new page that recognizes the existence of Palestinian people,” Rajoub said.128


Filastin’s emphasis on national duty and its concept of sports as a tool for cultivation of traits needed on a battlefield was reflected in its reporting of  the 1948 war that  led to Israeli independence. Sportsmen who died in Zionist attacks or on the battlefield resisting Zionist advances were termed martyrs. One obituary was entitled, “The Martyrdom of a Youth on the Battle Field.”129

Nationalist fervour and the impending partition of Palestine in the late 1940s produced a galvanising figure, Hussein Husnu, in many ways the equivalent of early modern Turkey’s legendary author and athlete Selim Sirri Tarcan and Zionism’s Yosef Yekutieli. An Egyptian physical education teacher who became Filastin’s sports editor, Husnu was, in Khalidi’s words, a rarity who had a keen understanding of the importance of sports and education for the “health, ethical, national, cognitive, pedagogic and aesthetic benefits of sport at a time when many thought that sport was merely an amusement or recreational activity.”130  The emphasis of  Filastin and Husnu on sports as a driver of modernity paralleled trends elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, including Zionist parts of Palestine as well as Iran, Ottoman and modern Turkey, and Egypt.131 Husnu emerged as a nationalist critic of Palestinian and British official neglect of Palestinian sports and physical education, and a major voice in countering conservative opposition. “The more the Palestinians will sacrifice for the sake of athletic progress, the faster they will reach a level of development and civilization. Every Palestinian must know that for every cent he pays for the growth of sport, he will achieve glory and honour for his country,” Husnu argued in his Filastin column.132

In doing so, Husnu and Filastin were aligned with more modernised segments of the Palestinian elite as opposed to conservatives like al-Husseini with whom Filastin editor Isa el-Issa had parted ways. Filastin found common ground with Ahmed Hilmi Pasha, an Ottoman general and finance minister in Faisal’s short-lived government in Damascus, director of Husseini’s religious endowment, and founder

127 Ibid. Dorsey
128 Interview with the author
129 Ibid. Khalidi, Sports and Aspirations
130 Ibid. Khalidi
131 Wilson C. Jacob, ‘Working out Egypt: Masculinity and Subject Formation between Colonial Modernity and Nationalism, 1870 1940’, (Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, 2005)
132 Ibid. Khalidi
of a bank. Hilmi Pasha parted ways with Husseini with the establishment of the secularist Istiqlal Party in 1932 to which El-Issa was close. By the mid-1940s, Hilmi Pasha had emerged as a major patron of soccer which he hoped would help garner support for his bid for political office and mobilise a grassroots base. Hilmi Pasha was not alone in recognising the political value of soccer in Palestine at a time of increasing disunity and factionalism. Founders of the People’s Party, a breakaway group of younger members of the Husseini clan’s Palestine Arab Party (PAP), operated secretly through a network of  sports clubs in Nablus and other cities.133 The moves by Hilmi Pasha and the PAP dissidents underscored the role soccer had already played in nationalist struggle and nation-formation in the Middle East and North Africa and was destined to play in the years to come.

So did the graduation of Jewish Israelis from nation formation to nation building with the 1947 United Nations partition resolution that established the State of Israel and could have established an Arab/Palestinian state had Arab states not rejected the notion of a territorial compromise. As a result, Palestinians post-1948 remained preoccupied with nation formation in the absence of an identity that was fully delineated from that of the broader Arab world and particularly concepts of Greater Syria.

That delineation took final shape with the takeover of the Palestine Liberation Organization, founded five years earlier by the Arab League, by Palestinian guerrilla groups in 1969. The creation of the Palestine National Authority in 1994 as a product of the Oslo Israeli-Palestinian peace process launched the Palestinians on their ongoing convoluted and messy nation building process.  The Ottomans and Turkey as well as Iran were spared the convulsions of nation formation. Nevertheless like in Palestine, sports influenced by the notions of the German Turnbewegung played a key role in their nation building efforts.  

133 Issa Khalaf,  Politics in Palestine: Arab Factionalism and Social Disintegration, 1939-1948, (Albany: State University of New York Press 1991),  95


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