Monday, November 18, 2013

Boxing in Palestine: Sanharib Saliba


Issam Khalidi

  Examining history of Palestinian sports, we find that boxing had become part of the athletic traditions in Palestine. Many high-skilled and famous boxers appeared on the arena to make this sport one of the most popular in Palestine. We don’t exaggerate by saying that boxing went beyond the regional borders.  Abu Aj-Jibin noted that “In spite, that football had big popularity; however, boxing reached the peak through a long path. The popularity of boxing exceeded any other sport.”[i]

   Palestinian boxing goes back to the twenties of twentieth century when the Orthodox Club in Jaffa (established in 1924) adopted boxing beside football. At that time, Adib Kamal or Adib Bek Cemal (originally from Turkey) appeared on the boxing arena and became the most famous boxer at that time. He matched with Arab and Jewish boxers in Palestine and the region. In 1932, in Haifa, the Society of Refinement and Charity [Jam’yyat at-Tahthib wal Muwasa] was founded. It was the first boxing club in Palestine.  It adopted boxing since the first days, and promoted boxing by making it the second among other sports after football. It is not surprising that the name of this club was always linked to boxing. In September 1933, the ‘Club of Boxing and Sports’ [Nadi al-Mulakamawal-Riyada] was established. Later, officially, its name was changed to al-Nadi al Ghazi after King Ghazi of Iraq.

   In general, boxing in Palestine was spread among four cities in Palestine: Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem and Ramla. Haifa included Arab Workers Organization, Club of Boxing and Sports, Nadi Ansar al-Fadila, Society of Refinement and Charity [Jami’yyat al-Tahthib wal-Muwasah], the Orthodox Club, Shabab al-Arab and the Islamic Sport Club. Jaffa included Nadi al-Ikha’, The Orthodox Club, the Olympic Institute and Islamic Sport Club. Ramla: Youth Sport Institute. In Jerusalem boxing was confined on Armenian athletes as Nobar Kibril and Mardos Bokrashian.

    Born in 1919 in Bethlehem, his real name is Aziz Abdallah. When he was thirteen he started practicing boxing with his coach Adib Kamal in Haifa.


  Under the title “Syrian Champion Beaten”, the Jewish newspaper Palestine Post brought this news about Saliba. Obviously, it ignored his national identity and place of birth:

   The Maccabi Hall was filled to capacity by a fine sporting crowd to witness the contests between local and Arab boxers. There was disappointment among the spectators that only two "proper" fights were contested, the rest of the programme being matches between boxers of various clubs. The crowd, however, was repaid with the last fight in which Emile Avinari, a local favourite beat Sinharib Salliba, champion of Syria and Lebanon in a six round contest. Although the Syrian weighed only a couple of pounds more than his opponent he appeared to belong to the heavy weight rather than the welterweight class. Emile lived up to his reputation, winning four of the six rounds, but not too easily. As predicted it was a match of technique against physical strength. In the opening round the local man fought continuously and in the second round used a fast right to the face which cut the Syrian's lip and caused his nose to bleed freely. This did not subdue Salliba, but only angered him and during his ferocious moments he repeatedly made the error of opening his guard  which Emile used to his advantage. The Syrian was not so impressive after this. He hit often enough to  the body but without effect. The referee separated both boxers on various occasions. It was not a surprise to see the Syrian champion revive in the last round. He had things his own way and had he combined strength with judgment in the earlier rounds he would have fared a lot better. Mr. Effrandi, a member of the control Egyptian Boxing Board of Control refereed the fight.[ii]




In 1935, he defeated the Egyptian Champion Abdo Kibrit. In 1936, Sanharib traveled to Lebanon, where he defeated the Lebanese champion Mustafa al-Arna’ut. Leaving Lebanon, he went to Italy and matched with an Italian boxer (Bernati) under the auspices of the Duce Mussolini and won the match by knocking down his opponent in the seventh round.  Then he moved to Paris where he lost his first match by points. Then he had a contract to compete in eight matches. In one of them he defeated a famous boxer (Ganzelle) by knocking him in the second round. Later, he went to Czechoslovakia where he played one match with one of the champions there, and knocked him down. In 1939, he returned to Lebanon, then to Palestine. During the WWII he was sent by the British authorities to work as a translator in one of the Turkish islands near Syria. There, he felt great passion for boxing, so he decided to visit Aleppo where he defeated the Syrian champion Muhammad Kheir (the Lion of the East) by knockdown.  In Beirut the brothers Khalil and Ibrahim Mahjoub organized the revenge match between Saliba and Muhammad Kheir. However, Saliba defeated Kheir by knocking him down in the fourteenth round. After 1948, Saliba moved to Lebanon, where in 1950 he matched with the Armenian-Lebanese champion Hrant Gazarian. Sanharib died in Beirut in 1993.[iii]

  Until the end of 1947, many matches in boxing were held between Sanharib Saliba, Adib Dasuqi, Nobar Kibril, and Mardos Bokreshian.[iv]The sport’s column in Filastin describes one of the rival matchs between Adib Dasoqi and Sanharib Saliba which was organized by the Arab Labor Union in Haifa [Jam’iat al Ummal al-Arabia]:


   After the end of the first match, music of the Arab Sports Club has been started, then Sanharib Saliba ascended to the ring followed by al-Dasuqi.  Applause and chanting filled the hall. The British referees took their places around the ring”. This match ended with 172 points to Adib, 169.5 to Sanharib. [v]


[i]Ijjawi Khalid,al-Haraka al-Riyadiya al-Falastinia fi al-Shatat.[Palestinian Sports Movement in the Diaspora], Damascus, 2001. P.29.

[ii] Palestine Post, 26 February 1934.

[iii]Ijjawi Khalid, P.

[iv]Difa’March 22, 1942

[v]Filastin, September 1, 1946.




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