Saturday, March 1, 2014

Track and Field in Palestine


   Issam Khalidi
     The origin of track and field in Palestine goes back to the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, with the establishment of missionary schools in Palestine.   In 1911, a group of Arab and European elites in Jaffa founded a social athletic club they called Circle Sportive [al-Muntada al- Riyadi]. The club was located at the end of the Old City’s Ziqaq al-Batma.[i] The club made one of its main goals the development of games to strengthen the body and enhance the spirit, which resulted in the staging of a 1,800-meter race through the streets of Jaffa. Seven of the club’s members took part in this race. It started from the Bayyaret al-Aqbat passing Jummeizat al-Masakin on the Jerusalem road, then to Ziqaq al-Batma Street until its end. This was the first running race to be held by a social club in Palestine.[ii]

   Track and field in Palestine came after basketball (first football, second boxing) however, it was popular in the schools where special occasions and festivals were set for it…..these school festivals were unimaginably well organized.  Competitions started in all schools in villages and cities. Then every region had its own competitions. In the end all these regions competed with each other to determine the winner.[iii] Since the twenties, Filastin and Difa’ continuously published news about these annual athletic days in private and public schools in all the regions in Palestine.

    The Palestine Sports Federation PSF (established in 1931) which included only Arab clubs, in coordination with scouts leadership and the Youth Conference, decided to hold a scouts-athletic festivity on al-Bassa court in Jaffa in July 1935. The PSF formed a special committee for organizing this vestivity: Dr. Daud al- Huseini –secretary of the PSF, Haqqi Mazin, Ibrahim Murad, Mustafa At-Taher, Mamdouh Nabilsi and Husein Husni.[iv]  Few challenges faced this committee such as the average of participation of the majority of the clubs and scouts teams. The other challenge was the attitude of the British Mandate toward this parade, at the same time when it was facilitating the Jewish athletic activities.[v]
   On July 14th in the morning the teams started to arrive to Jaffa, at 2:30 pm they moved to the play field where they arrived at three coincided with the opening of the parade. All the athletic teams were in white colors; every club carried its own flag. One flag of each club was raised around the field beside other flags.  Issa Sifri mentioned that five thousands youth participated in this parade; they competed in running, jump and track and field.[vi]  The games included general club games included running 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500 meters, long and high jump, Javelin, shot put, discus. It also included 10 km bicycle race, relay, wrestling, fencing and weight lifting. Few boxing games were held during breaks. Also some clubs presented their own games. [vii]
   In February 1941, for two days (25th, 26th) an athletic festivity was held in Tel Aviv by the Maccabee (Jewish ports organization) in coordination with the Red Cross for supporting the British Army in Palestine, Egypt and Ausralia). Arabs took part beside Jewish, Egyptian and British athletes. Jaffa’s Mayor Abd al-Ra’uf al-Bitar made a speech mentioning that the British Army will achieve victory in this war [WWII]. Speeches in Arabic and Hebrew were translated. The festivity included drinks and foods products (wine, beer) from the settlement of Rishon LeZion (Filastin March 7th, 1941).

    Track and field was actually institutionalized after the re-establishment of Palestine Sports Federations (PSF) in 1944. In late 1945, PSF formed a branch committee for track and field. This committee included cycling sports.  In January 1946 this committee had its first session in the (Armenian) Homentmen Club in Jerusalem. It decided to form branch committees in all regions (Jaffa, Jerusalem, Haifa, Nablus, Gaza and Galilee). One of the main goals was to join the International Federation of Track and Field, and to participate in the London’s Olympics in 1948. This committee was formed of Livon Kishishian, George Tannous, Ibrahim Nuseibeh and Husein Husni. All worked hard to execute competitions in running, discuss throwing, shot put and jevelin). In March 1946 this committee had met with the secretary of PSF Abd al-Rahman al-Habbab and decided to set an element of track and field each month, and to adopt 3 km cross country for the regions (Jaffa, Jerusalem, Nablus, Gaza, Haifa, and Galilee), and 5km for Palestine’s championship in the end of April 1946. [viii]

    In March 1946 PSF assigned Kamel al-Hashlamon as the secretary of track and field for Jerusalem. Later, Husein Husni wrote about him in Filastin’s :

  “The 22 years old unknown Arab hero Kamel al-Hashlamon who loved to compete in long distances when he was in the elementary school, exceeded in 1500 meters in the competitions of schools’ annual festivities [al-Haflat al-Madrasiyya] in the provinces for four consecutive years. After his graduation from high school, he was hired in the Department of Education as an additional teacher in the village of al-Tour [on the Mountain of Olives] near Jerusalem. He is still working there to this day. In 1944, he became a member of YMCA in Jerusalem. He took part in the competitions which were held between champions of the British and American soldiers in Palestine. He was the first among them. In 1945 he took part in the Jewish Olympiad in Tel Aviv and won first place. He even managed to hit a new record by running 1500 m in four minutes and twenty two seconds, just few seconds less than the record of the world’s record. Jewish teams tried to attract him to join them but he refused. Hashlamon has eight silver cups and 32 medals. Had this champion been in another country, the doors of opportunities would be opened for him. He would be encouraged and financially supported ….. He would be having the ability to improve his training so he could represent his country among other nations. Nations today are measured by how strong they youth are.”

     In April 11th 1946, the Palestine Sports Federation held a competition in track and field at YMCA in Jerusalem. In July, Jaffa’s committee of PSF held an athletic festivity. All the clubs that were registered with the Jaffa committee took part. This festival included 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, 800 m race, long and high jump, shot put and relay. The purpose of this competition was to select athletes from this region who could represent it in the general track and field championship. In July 1946, the first competition in track and field in Palestine was held (among Arabs). Livon Kishishian announced that all the results in these competitions were by themselves records, because this championship is the first in Palestine among  Arabs. [ix]

Later, Palestine Post mentioned that the Orthodox Club in Jerusalem had won this championship and got 36 points, in the second place al-Dajani Club got 27 points followed by al-Ahli Club with 20 points.  George Tannous was awarded the cup of this championship donated by the Municipality of Jerusalem. This newspaper also mentioned that this championship was held under the auspices of the High Arab Committee. [x]

    In May 1947, PSF organized in Jaffa an eight-kilometers cross country competition. 26 athletes took part from different cities in Palestine. The committee of this competition was composed of: Livon Kishishian – secretary, Khair al-Deen Abu Jibin , Ibrahim Nuseibeh, Rock Farraj and Subhi Farah. The competition started at 3pm, launched from Jamal Pasha Street, Nuzha Street, Mustashfa Street, Hilwa, Shati’ Ashabab. Then competitors went back on the same track until they reached the Bassa court. Filastin described this completion:

    The streets on both sides were crowded with fans. This indicated that people were interested in this competition which is considered the first of its kind. It is worth mentioning that two cars accompanied the competitors one for monitoring, the other served as an ambulance. [xi]

[i] In February of 1913, Lawyer Francis Khayyat was elected President of this club.
[ii] Filastin May 21, 1913
[iii] Ijjawi Khalid,     
[iv] Difa’ July 12, 1935
Arab Palestinian Youth Conferences (Mu’tamar al Shabab al Arabi al Falastini) was established in Jerusalem in1931. It was active in youth, scouts, sports and political activities, and was famous for its nationalistic trends.
Dr. Daoud al-Huseini and Mamdouh Nabilsi were the founders of the Islamic Sport Club in Jaffa. Haqqi Mazin was a dentist and was the most popular boxing coach in Palestine at that time.  His father was an officer in the Turkish army. 
[v] In March 1926, the British authorities broadcasted a statement asking every society and club had been established in Palestine to be registered whatever its purpose was, charitable or political.
[vi] Sifri, Issa p. 201.
[vii] Difa’June 25, 1935
[viii] Filastin March 19, 1946.
[ix] Filastin July 17, 1946
[x] Palestine Post July 18, 1946
[xi] Filastin May 19, 1947

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