Sunday, February 23, 2014

Palestinians, Unity and Sports

Issam Khalidi
   It is well established that every movement struggling for independence and statehood has the right for resistance using different means (military, stones, demonstrations, non-violence confrontations etc.).  In addition to all these means, Palestinians are using sports as an important mean for independence and establishing their statehood.  It is clear that their struggle through sports is bringing great results.  There can be no doubt that in particular Palestinian sports are proving to the  world that they have a great amount of potential to encourage the growth of freedom and liberation. Palestinian Sports is going through the same experience that South Africans went through.

 One of the main factors in achieving reasonable growth and success in Palestinian sports was the unity of the Palestinian people (beside its democratic foundations). Unfortunately, this success that Palestine achieved internally and internationally has been held back by the Fatah-Hamas  division.  Today, one of the main obstacles in front of the current sports movement is in its subjection to partisanship. This division in sports came to help Israel who was dreaming to  'divide and conquer '

    No doubt, this conflict has affected sports in the West Bank and Gaza and can be considered an obstacle to the growth of sports in Palestine.  Hamas members have commented that there were no elections in Gaza because of the political conflict, which has resulted in a power vacuum.  Whatever achievements the team in the West Bank will make, Hamas does not recognize, because no elections had been held in Gaza.  Fatah had also been accused of dominating Palestine Football Association (PFA) and the majority of athletic clubs; that the Palestinian Authority (PA) does not issue licenses to Hamas clubs in both the West Bank and Gaza.  Fatah has responded to these accusations by saying that the PA does not deal with politics; that there is no place for political polarization in sports.
    Hamas states that Jibril Rjoub has also been accused of supporting Fatah’s sports over Hamas’- in moving some teams to the premier league by a presidential decree.  Hamas has also accused the PA of not issuing new licenses for its new clubs.  But, since Hamas, a militant Islamist group, seized control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007, football has been brought to the brink of extinction.  Hamas did more than take over Gaza's political and economic apparatus.  They also took over all of Gaza's top sports and football clubs. [1]

   "We as sports people want to remove sport from politics but politicians on both sides, Hamas and Fatah, play on this, they try to make politics come into sport," explained Ibrahim Abu Saleem, vice president of the Palestinian Football Association [PFA], and the man in charge of the game in Gaza."  The main problem lies with Hamas.  When Hamas hands back the clubs to their legal board of directors, sport will be running again in Gaza as in the West Bank."[2]

   Angered by the political intrusion in sport, the PFA, based in the West Bank, has refused to organize a league until the teams are handed back.  Hamas has declined, and the football league has been dormant ever since the push.  Instead, the clubs have been left to organize their own small, increasingly irregular tournaments.  The best players simply left for the West Bank, but since Israel's war in Gaza last winter, that exodus has been halted due to movement restrictions.[3]

   The third article of the PFA’s regulations points out that discrimination is strictly banned in all forms against any nation, person, or group of people based on race, gender, language, religion, political affiliation, or any other reason, and is punishable by suspension or expulsion.  At the same time, Article ‘4’ mentions that the PFA encourages friendly relations between members, clubs, and athletes for humanitarian purposes. 

    As we have established, since the 1920s, sports has played a big role in bringing youth together in villages and cities in Palestine.  Many agree that there will be no real athletic progress as long as Palestinians are divided.  Unfortunately, sports could not unite Palestinians during the crises, maybe because the size of the crises itself has been very huge.  Also, at the same time, sport was not based on solid meaningful foundations that could help the unity of Palestinians. Sport is a sword with two edges. Unfortunately, as history witnesses, ignoring the great potential of this magnificent tool could lead to many using its other edge – the harmful and destructive one. Forgetting that after the Nakba (e.i. Catastrophe) when Palestinians had no voice, sports was their pride. Even more ignoring how their parents and grandparents struggled to build the Palestinian sports movement.
     At the end, both Fatah and Hamas – the representatives of huge layers of Palestinian people - are bearing the responsibility for this separation in general and in sports in particular.

[1] James Montague, Football in the Firing line: The Gaza Cup Final. October 29, 2009.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

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