Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sports in Jerusalem: Between the Hammer and the Wall


  Issam Khalidi

   Since June 1967, the Israeli occupation has undertaken the Judaization of Jerusalem, by building settlements, confiscating lands, demolishing houses (under the pretext of lacking a license), depriving the citizens of building homes, and by imposing taxes (especially the ‘Arnona’ tax, or Israeli property tax).  Of course, all these procedures have affected sports and athletic clubs.

The recent report prepared by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in 2013 states that the construction of the Separation Barrier annexed more Palestinian land and negatively impacted both Palestinian communities on both sides, and the ensuing adversity has been keenly felt in EJ. It is estimated that up to 55,000 Jerusalemites (a fifth of the EJ Palestinian population) are now physically separated from the city center as a result of the Barrier (OCHA, 2011). PCBS (2011) estimates that 2,900 households in the Jerusalem Governorate area have been displaced by the Barrier’s construction and 9,100 dunums of land confiscated to build it upon (some 18 per cent of the total West Bank land confiscated for the construction of the Barrier). The most affected areas include Kufr `Aqab, Shu’fat refugee camp, parts of `Anata, RasKhamis, and A’Sawahira, A’Sharqiyeh. Residents of these areas now need to go through checkpoints, which are often overcrowded with significant delays in travel time, to access health, education, and other services to which they are entitled as Jerusalem residents.

Since the Barrier cuts through annexed EJ, those 55,000 Jerusalemites directly affected by the Barrier are still required to pay municipal taxes as they still live within the greater Jerusalem Municipality, even though they do not all enjoy all services (or the same level of such services as Jerusalemites living within the Barrier) such as water, sewage, road maintenance, postal services and garbage collection. As a result of their physical separation from EJ, such areas also suffer from a security vacuum and increased lawlessness. The Israeli police rarely enter the Municipal areas outside the Separation Barrier while the Palestinian Authority (PA) does not have security jurisdiction in these localities, leading to growing crime and drug trafficking in these communities (Rosenberg, 2011).

Following the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the campaign to suppress Jerusalem's institutions intensified. To a large extent this was accompanied by closing off Jerusalem to Palestinians through setting up checkpoints on the roads connecting the city with the other regions of the West Bank, and through Israel's issuance of a decree barring West Bank and Gaza residents from entering Jerusalem (in accordance with the decree regulating entry into Israel) without a permit issued either by Israel's civil or military administrations. 

   Between 2000 and 2014, Israel issued orders to close around forty of Jerusalem's institutions, with Orient House, the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce, and the Arab Higher Council for Tourism topping the list, along with many other institutions working in development, youth and social affairs, and sports. [1]
The effects of restricted access to education are compounded by the lack of recreational and cultural services and outlets for the youth of EJ. For example, west Jerusalem has 1,000 public parks compared to only 45 in EJ ; 34 swimming pools compared to three in EJ; 26 public libraries compared to a mere two libraries in EJ; and 531 sports facilities against only 33 in EJ.[2] The discrepancies even in such socio-cultural services aptly highlight the entrenched disadvantages of the Palestinian population of Jerusalem.

   All clubs in East Jerusalem are registered with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, as well as with the Ministry of Interior Affairs.  Most of these clubs are also members of the Palestine Football Association.  According to the Israeli law, the majority of these clubs are illegal because they are not registered with the Israeli authorities.  Many of these clubs do not recognize the Israeli law because of the obstacles which Israel puts before them.  It is hard to get a license from the authorities, consequently, they can be threatened to be closure at any time, under the pretext of not possessing a license. 

   There are about 25 clubs in East Jerusalem.  Many have no place to practice their activities and to attract the Jerusalemite youth.  The majority of the clubs rent small locations.  A few have their own locations; however some either have no location or rent a location.  These locations do not answer the demands for all the activities of the clubs.  In Ra’s al-Amoud, the Israeli authorities built a huge settlement, which grabbed half of the clubs square.[3]
Jerusalem also suffers from the lack of courts, since the Israeli authorities converted the Rawda field to a municipality office, and changed part of the field of AbdallahIbn al Hussein in Sheikh Jarrah to a street, and the other part to solid multiple usage court that could not be useful for playing football and training.  Also, using it requires permission from the athletic administration of the Jerusalem municipality.  The court of Dar al-Awlad was changed into a parking lot.[4]
    The biggest disaster was when part of St. George School’s court was converted to a parking lot, and the other part was rented to the American Consulate in Jerusalem.  This court hosted thousands of matches and tournaments from the West Bank, Gaza and the region; it was the main court of the YMCA.  Also, part of the court in BeitHanina (north of Jerusalem) was cut off for building a bypass road; the authorities prohibited the use of the second part, and, while a settlement court was built near the Lutheran Court on the Mount of Olives, it became hard to do any restoration on it for security reasons.  Near the village of Um Tooba south of Jerusalem a settlement, Jabal Abu Ghneim, was built on the village’s land; the occupation confiscated the court under the pretext of the security of the settlement.  Where, therefore, do the children and the youth in Jerusalem play and train?  They practice on the asphalt courts in the YMCA, between trucks and buses, in Sheikh Jarrah and small municipal courts.

   In the old city, despite the intensity of the populated area, there are only two playgrounds.  Some of the clubs that practice in the Esawiyyah are required to pay $60 each time they use the field.  Beyond even that, some of the clubs are forced to travel across the checkpoints in order to practice on the stadium of Feisal al Hussein, and pay $500 to each time they practice, or to the Khadr Stadium in Bethlehem.  Therefore, many clubs were not capable to cope with the burden of professionalism.  In another words, they could not follow the clubs in the West Bank, who get sufficient support from FIFA.[5]

   The municipality in Jerusalem aimed to establish public athletic organizations as an alternative to the national clubs.  The main purpose was to discharge the national clubs from the patriotic content, and to marginalize them.  The occupation authority aimed to put pressure on the national clubs, and force them to close their headquarters.[6]  The Jerusalem municipality organizations are spread in BeitHanina, Shu’fat, JabalAzzaitun, Soor Bahir, Beit Safafa, Esawiyya, and others.  Because of the financial crises, the Arab clubs in Jerusalem could not face the challenges imposed by these centers.

Players living in Jerusalem are deprived of participation in the national football team on the pretext that they don’t carry a Palestinian Passport.  This regulation is based on the instructions of FIFA and AFC.  Of course, this also had a negative impact on the psychology of the players, who had the wish to represent Palestine.[7]


[1] Nazmi Jubeh, "Jerusalem: Five Decades of Subjection and Marginalization" , Jerusalem Quarterly 62 (Spring 2015): 7-28.
[2] B’tselem. EJ: Neglect of infrastructure and services in Palestinian neighborhoods. Website accessed May 4th, 2011.
[3] Yasin al-Razem. The Israeli Occupation and its Effects on the Jerusalemite Sport. [al-ihtilal al-Isra’iliwaAtharohu al-Salbiyyaala al-Riyada al-Maqdisiyya].
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid


  1. Very interesting article Issam! I would never know certain facts like this without having read this.

  2. This is main purpose was to discharge the national clubs from the patriotic content, and to marginalize them. The occupation authority aimed to put pressure on the national clubs, and force them to close their headquarters.