Monday, August 12, 2013

Colonialism, Nationalism, and Modernity: The Hat Trick in Mandate Palestine

Alberto Wilson III
7 May 2013
HIST 214-51
Prof. Schreier

            Sports never lie outside of world affairs, and in the case of Mandate Palestine, outside the Zionist goal of a Jewish state, Arab-Palestinian national consciousness, and the British colonizing efforts. During the interwar period, the popularity of sports was on the rise throughout the globe, and the continued colonizing efforts were exporting sports to all corners of the globe. Palestine, after World War I had been brought under British control and sports – specifically soccer for this paper - developed under the contradicting goals of the Mandate, and the clashing nationalisms of Jews and Arab-Palestinians. Soccer developed alongside the quasi-nation building occurring in Palestine, as each community sought to establish hegemony over the political economy of the region. At first the British sought to establish soccer as an apolitical sphere of cooperation for the communities, but as infrastructure increased, Jewish and Arab-Palestinians aims came to a showdown on the soccer pitch.
            The Great War led to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, as well as cataclysmic damage to the region. Following with Pres. Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the Paris Peace Conference included the creation of a League of Nations. Charged with “promot[ing] international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security,”[1] the League of Nations was created after the war. Included in the Covenant of the League of Nations was Article 22, which stated, those “colonies and territories which as consequence of the late war have ceased to be under the sovereignty of the State which formerly governed them” would be “entrusted to advanced nations” and their “tutelage should be exercised by them as Mandatories on behalf of the League.”[2] Under these auspices, Britain came under direct control of Palestine, which for the first time had become an autonomously functioning administrative unit.
            The parameters of the Mandate Period in Palestine must be defined in order to understand the power dynamics under which sports would develop for Arab-Palestinians and Zionist-Jewish communities. Though the “British encouraged each community to organize its own political affairs within the framework of the mandate,” the Zionist camp had a clear goal in mind and was more willing to work within the presets.[3] Arab-Palestinians were in clear opposition to the mandate and the increasing presence of Jews in the region. Britain had also promised the region to the Zionists with the promulgation of the Balfour Declaration, and when institutions were established, Zionists always had a clear favor in them. Sports would develop in Palestine under the British’s continuing colonizing efforts, Zionists goal of a Jewish state, and Arab-Palestinians resistance to foreign intruders.
            Kurrat al-Qadam as it is known in the Arab world, arrived to Palestine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the late Ottoman Empire, it was held under heavy suspicion, due to its colonizing functions, however, this changed after the liberalization that occurred after the 1908 Revolution. The first soccer club in Palestine was founded in Jerusalem in 1909, and in the same year they played against the American University in Beirut and won.[4] During the Mandate period, soccer’s popularity was on the rise, and the British utilized the sport in order to co-opt local elites and inculcate British values on the local populations.[5] The popularity of soccer was also on the rise due to the increased presence of British soldiers, and Jewish immigrants from Europe in Palestine. Though soccer carried a colonizing etiquette local populations adopted the sport as a process of modernization.
            The British provided a reference to modernity and the growing discourse of care of the body, however Arab-Palestinians adopted soccer as an anti-colonial struggle. The daily newspaper Filastin, constructed the discourse, of a once strong Arab that dedicated himself to sports – as the rhetoric was also very masculine – and since had stopped allowing foreign powers to penetrate his land. This discourse of emasculation provided the Arab-Palestinian population a course of action through sports to cure their inferiority in comparison to the British.[6]  The new strong Arab would be able to resist further British influence, and begin to strengthen himself for the war against the also emerging Zionist threat. Soccer became a sphere infiltrated by the developing Arab-Palestinian nationalism.
            Similar discourse can be found with the Zionist’s adoption of sport. Zionism emphasized the formation of the “New Jew” in contrast to the Diaspora Jew, which had been made weak by the anti-Semite conditions in Europe, and the rabbinical control of life. “The creation of the New Jew would serve as the idealized symbol of national renewal,” and sport would be a way to create a new muscular Jew able to withstand the harsh conditions of settling the new homeland.[7] The “New Jew” would also, like with Arab-Palestinian discourse, be preparing for the imminent war in Palestine. Sport also became a measuring stick for a movement’s cohesion and unity, and Zionists never separated sports from their nation building enterprise.
            Before the creation of the Palestinian Football Association in 1928, the British hoped soccer would be a sphere of cooperation between the Zionist-Jewish and Arab-Palestinian communities. The al-Zahra League was the first soccer league founded in Palestine which included Jewish, Arab-Palestinian, and British soccer teams.[8] A railroad team in the league was comprised of both Jews and Arab-Palestinians.[9] As the league grew, teams from Europe and other Arab countries traveled to Palestine to play local teams. Ha-Koach Vienna, which came to Palestine in 1924, destroyed local teams – in one instance winning 11-2 – and their heightened level of play brought Arab-Palestinian and Jewish leaders together to discuss establishing a local soccer league.[10]
            During this time the 12th Zionist Congress also established the Maccabi World Union in order to “foster physical education, the belief of the Jewish heritage and the Jewish nation and to work actively for the rebuilding of our country.”[11] This organization would solely cater to the Jewish people and in Palestine would work towards the creation of a Jewish-only Olympics. Though the Maccabi was founded in the 12th Zionist Congress, it attempted to retain an apolitical image, and therefore appealed to the Jews in the Diaspora more. In Palestine, the Histadrut – labor union that viewed the worker as the vanguard in settling Palestine – established the Hapoel soccer club. Initially created to work within the Maccabi framework, in 1926 it broke off.[12] This division between the Histadrut and the World Maccabi Union coincided with the growing divisions between the Jewish Agency in Palestine and the World Zionist Organization in London. The religious and revisionist parties also established their own teams at this time, Elizar corresponding to the former and Beitar to the latter. As Jewish-Zionist infrastructure in Palestine was growing, so was their soccer clubs, and the Arab-Palestinian community was falling behind.
            The Palestinian Football Association was founded in 1928 under the leadership of Josef Yekutieli, the leader of the Maccabi. Talks for the league had begun in 1924, when Yekutieli had attempted to gain recognition by the International Amateur Athletic Federation but was denied. In an effort to integrate the various Jewish, British and Arab-Palestinian soccer clubs in a single league he traveled to Egypt where he met with a FIFA official and with at first the help of Hapoel and later Arab-Palestinian teams – no organization like the Maccabi nor the Histadrut existed for the Arab-Palestinian community – founded the PFA. Due to FIFA bylaws the PFA would have to be all-inclusive if it sought official recognition by FIFA.[13] The PFA since its inception was dominated by “Zionists officials and players…on all levels,” greatly frustrating Arab-Palestinian soccer clubs.[14] Many times the blue and white Zionist flag was flown in stadiums, and Arab soccer clubs faced unfair refereeing practices on the field. The PFA was an extension of Zionist “goals of creating and legitimizing Zionist claims to Palestine,” and the PFA would “represent Palestine as Jewish, both regionally and internationally.”[15]
            Resistance to the PFA by Arab-Palestinian soccer clubs began almost immediately after its genesis. The first Arab-Palestinian clubs began to leave in 1929 after increased hostility in the league due to the 1929 Revolts. The sports movement became increasingly “connected to the national movement in the country which was struggling against the Zionists expansion in Palestine.”[16] The Filastin began to run columns with the idea of establishing a formal, rival Arab-Palestinian soccer league, as FIFA in the same year recognized the PFA as the official representative of Palestine.[17] In 1934, Arab-Palestinians finally established the General Palestinian Sports Association (known as the Arab-Palestinian Sports Association) finally breaking all ties with Jewish soccer, and consolidating their nationalist struggle on the soccer pitch with a formal league.
            The founding of the PFA marks a turning point in the history of soccer in Palestine. The British had hoped the sport would remain apolitical, and serve as a unifying activity between all communities, as they sought to maintain cultural hegemony over the region. This became increasingly difficult as the Arab-Palestinian nationalist struggle was coming of age with the incipient threat of Zionist immigration. Zionists, in their fervor for establishing quasi-state institutions to continue their settlement goal, extended their strivings to the field of soccer, and with the official recognition by FIFA, now had official control of the sport in Palestine. Soccer had been politicized and was in the process of being institutionalized, and the soccer stadium was now inhabited by two fandoms, ready to score nationalist goals.
             In response to the PFA, in 1934 the General Palestinian Sports Federation was created, as an only Arab league. “Inspired by political motives, Arab teams’ preferences subsequently moved from the Palestinian Football Association in favor of the new Arab organization.”[18] Nationalist and militaristic symbols were prevalent in the league as the Arab flag was displayed at many games, and many teams were named after “renowned Muslim and Arab military commanders.”[19] By this time soccer was becoming a major sport in the region, and the Filastin began covering the sport more closely, as the number of fans also increased. In 1935, the APSA (as the Federation came to be known) in response to the second Maccabian games held in Palestine, held a scouting exhibition for the “direct protest of Zionist immigration, the British Mandate, and the celebration of Arab brotherhood.”[20] This Arab-Palestinian federation was short lived due to the 1936 Palestinian Revolt. “The affinity between the emerging sporting movement and the national movement was regarded with suspicion” by the British and after the Great Revolt the league became defunct. The retaliation of the British against the APSA coincided with the massive retaliation the entire Arab-Palestinian community faced after the revolt. After 1939, Arab-Palestinian soccer clubs no longer had any institutional framework for their athletes and clubs – some even looked to rejoin the PFA.[21]
            Zionist-Jewish sports during the 1930’s were heavily backed by different Zionist organizations including the Jewish Agency, World Zionist Organization, Jewish National Fund, Histadrut and the Maccabi.[22] These quasi-state institutions in Palestine invested heavily in sports; an example being the holding of the Maccabian Games in Palestine in 1932 and 1935. The Jewish-only Olympics “stirred Jewish nationalism and provided a means of introducing Jews to the future homeland,” and their militaristic fervor was also clearly portrayed.[23] The games also provided a practical advantage to the Zionist cause by allowing those athletes and Jewish spectators to remain in Palestine, circumventing British immigration restrictions. [24] During this time also, immigrants from the 3rd and 4th aliyot were arriving to Palestine hailing from Central Europe, were soccer was a major sport. The Histadrut, which in many cases was in charge of immigrant absorption processes, funneled many immigrants to the Hapoel soccer club.[25]  The absence of the APSA also benefitted the Jewish-Zionist soccer community as they increased their games against teams from abroad. Sports were flourishing for the Jewish-Zionist community entering into the 1940’s as they increased their advantage in Palestine vis-à-vis the Arab-Palestinian community.
            Palestine entered the 1940’s with a charged atmosphere. In 1937 the Peel Commission Report stated that, as “each community grows, moreover, the rivalry between them deepens,” and the once believed acquiescence to the Balfour Declaration by the indigenous population had never been realized.[26] Talks about partitioning Palestine were also on the rise, as cohabitation between the two communities seemed impossible. Persecution of Jews in Europe and their difficulty in entering Palestine due to British immigration controls was also creating rifts between the Zionists and the British. The looming conflict spilled out onto the soccer pitch as Arab-Palestinians made a final struggle for a competing soccer league recognized by FIFA.
            As the Zionist controlled PFA sought to portray itself as the true representative of Palestinian soccer, talks of reestablishing the defunct APSA had begun in the 1940’s. Sport clubs, especially boxing, had survived the late 30’s and began establishing regional federations.[27] In 1944 the Egyptian army team “refused to visit Palestine unless the Arab clubs also organized a team to play against them,” providing the final impetus for the reinstatement of the APSA.[28] Founded again in 1944 the APSA would be an only-Arab league, tasked with demonstrating the organization and quality of Arab-Palestinian sports. The restituted league had clear nationalist undercurrents as many political parties had soccer teams in the league, many athletes were involved with activism, and the league never played on November 2nd – the day the Balfour Declaration had been issued in 1917.[29] The league was also challenging the PFA as the official representative of Palestinian soccer, and in 1945 the APSA petitioned FIFA to become a recognized federation of Palestine.
            The petition by the APSA for recognition by FIFA was sent in 1945, as the PFA blocked many soccer games between APSA teams and national teams.[30] The “membership application to FIFA was discussed at an international conference in Luxemburg in August 1946,” however it was denied on the grounds that only one federation could represent a nation, “representing a clear bias in the organization [FIFA] towards the PFA.”[31] During this time the Filastin had created a daily sports column, tying sports to the nationalist cause and the strengthening of the Arab-Palestinians through sports. Palestine faced imminent war in the years 1947-48, and many athletes began shelving sports for the sake of their country.[32] A day before the partition vote in the United Nations, the Filastin ran an article stating:
            Our aim is to make Palestine Arab forever, and that’s what every Arab in this land with grace and             importance. None of this will happen unless all of us become strong and healthy…by the way of sport.[33]
After the 1948 war and the creation of Israel, alongside the expulsion of nearly 750,000 Palestinians, all Arab-Palestinian sport infrastructures were destroyed.
            Soccer’s beauty captivated the populations of Palestine during the Mandate period, and they utilized its infrastructural capacity to establish hegemony over the region. Every game became a showdown of nations and their people, every goal a step closer to the larger scheme of each team. Soccer was enmeshed in the development occurring in Palestine, as it is intertwined in every development in the 20th century. The Historian must not think of sports as an apolitical sphere, separate from the progress occurring, in this case in Mandate Palestine. Instead it is best to think of soccer like Eric Hobsbwam so beautifully put it, “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people.”[34]



Chalip, Laurence and Johnson, Arthur and Stachura, Lisa. National Sports Policies An       International Handbook. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Gelvin, James. The Israel-Palestine Conflict One Hundred Years of War. Cambridge:         Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Keys, Barbara. Globalizing Sport National Rivalry and International Community in the 1930’s.
            Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.
Riordan, Jim and Kruger, Arnd. The International Politics of Sport in the 20th Century. New          York: E &  FN Spon, 1999.
Sorek, Tamir. Arab Soccer in a Jewish State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.


Ben-Porat, Amir. “Linesmen, Referees and Arbitrators: Politics, Modernization, and Soccer          in Palestine,” in The European Sports History Review Vol. 3: Europe, Sport, World Shaping Global Societies (2001): 131-154.
Galily, Yair. “Playing Hoops in Palestine: The Early Development of Basketball in the Land         of Israel, 1935-56.” International Journal of the History of Sport Vol. 20 (2003): 143-         151.
Kaufman, Haim. “Jewish Sports in the Diaspora, Yishuv, and Israel: Between Nationalism            and Politics.” Israel Studies Vol. 10 (2005): 147-167.
Kaufman, Haim and Bar-Eli, Michael. “Processes That Shaped Sports in Israel During the             20th Century.” Sport History Review Vol. 36 (2005): 179-192.
Khalidi, Issam. “Body and Ideology Early Athletics in Palestine (1900-1948).” Jerusalem             Quarterly Vol. 27 (2006): 44-58
Khalidi, Issam. “The Coverage of Sports News in Filastin 1911-1948.” Jerusalem Quarterly         Vol. 44 (2010): 45-69
Sasson, Moshe and Schrodt, Barbara. “The Maccabi Sport Movement and the Establishment        of the First Maccabiah Games, 1932.” Canadian Journal of Sport Vol. 16 (1985): 67-   90.
Sorek, Tamir. “Palestinian Nationalism Has Left The Field: A Shortened History Of Arab             Soccer In Israel.” International Journal of Middle East Studies Vol. 35 (2003): 417-    437

Primary Documents

Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library. “Covenant of the League of Nations.” Yale
            Law School. (accessed 8
            May 2013).

[1] Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library, “Covenant of the League of Nations,” Yale Law School, (accessed 8 May, 2013)
[2] Ibid.
[3] James L. Gelvin, The Israel-Palestine Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 90
[4] Issam Khalidi, “Body and Ideology, Early Athletics in Palestine (1900-1948),” Jerusalem Quarterly 27 (2006): 45
[5] Tamir Sorek, Arab Soccer in a Jewish State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 14-15
[6] Ibid., 26
[7] Information on Creation of “New Jew” from Haim Kaufman and Michael Bar-Eli, “Processes that Shaped Sports in Israel During the 20th Century,” Sport History Review 36 (2005): 180…Quote from Haim Kaufman, “Jewish Sports in the Diaspora, Yishuv, and Israel: Between Nationalism and Politics,” Israel Studies 10 (2005): 147
[8] Khalidi, “Body and Ideology,” 46
[9] Amir Ben-Porat, “Linesmen, Referees and Arbitrators: Politics, Modernization, and Soccer in Palestine,” in The European Sports History Review Vol. 3: Europe, Sport, World Shaping Global Societies (2001): 140
[10] Ibid., 143-144
[11] Moshe Sasson and Barbara Schrodt, “The Maccabi Sport Movement and the Establishment of the First Maccabi Games, 1932,” Canadian Journal of History of Sport (1985): 74
[12] Kaufman, “Jewish Sport in the Diaspora,” 153-154
[13] Amir Ben-Porat, “Linesmen, Referees and Arbitrators,” 146
[14] Sorek, Arab Soccer in a Jewish State, 17
[15] Issam Khalidi, “The Coverage of Sports News in “Filastin” 1911-1948,” Jerusalem Quarterly 44 (2010): 52
[16] Ibid., 52
[17] Information on Filastin from Khalidi, “The Coverage of Sports,” 52… FIFA recognition in Amir Ben-Porat, “Linesmen, Referees and Arbitrators,” 147
[18] Amir Ben-Porat,” Linesmen, Referees and Arbitrators,” 149
[19]  Sorek, Arab Soccer in a Jewish State, 18
[20] Khalidi, “Body and Ideology,” 49
[21] Sorek, Arab Soccer in a Jewish State, 19
[22] Moshe Sasson, ““The Maccabi Sport Movement,” 79
[23] Khalidi, “The Coverage of Sports,” 54
[24] Ibid., 55
[25] Kaufman, “Processes that Shaped Sports in Israel,” 188
[26] Gelvin, The Israel-Palestine Conflict, 116-117
[27] Khalidi, “Body and Ideology,” 52
[28] Khalidi, “The Coverage of Sports,” 59
[29] Sorek, Arab Soccer in a Jewish State, 19
[30] Ibid., 28
[31] Khalidi, “The Coverage of Sports,” 64
[32] Ibid., 66
[33] Sorek, Arab Soccer in a Jewish State, 30 he gets from Filastin day before UN Partition Vote
[34] Tamir Sorek, “Palestinian Nationalism Has Left The Field: A Shortened History of Arab Soccer in Israel,” International Journal of the Middle East Vol. 35 (2003): 417… he gets from Eric Hobsbwam, Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). 143

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