Tuesday, May 6, 2014

George Dirani ….. a Palestinian-Lebanese Wrestler


   During the Nakba (catastrophe of 1948),  an estimate of 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes. About 130,000 fled to Lebanon. The majority of these refugees were forced to live in refugee camps. Despite the harsh conditions in these slum-like camps, the youth still managed to practice sports. During the period between 1948 and the 1990's about 120 social-athletic club were founded in these camps.  These clubs 'produced' prominent athletes who became the voice of Palestine at the time when Palestinians had no voice. Among them was the wrestler George Dirani.

    George Dirani lived in the refugee camp of Mar Elias  [founded in 1952 in the southwestern of Beirut by the Mar Elias Greek Orthodox convent] in Lebanon, he was an active member of Al-Hisb al-Qawmi al-Suri al-Ijtimai’ [Syrian Social Nationalist Party] (founded by Antun Sa’adeh in 1932).

      Dirani started practicing boxing in the Orthodox School in Haifa. As many Palestinians did during the Nakba , he was forced to leave to Lebanon. Later he met with Kamil Hazini in Sour (Tyr), who convinced him to practice Greco Roman wrestling. They both founded a club for training young men. This club only lasted four years. Later, they both moved to Beirut where George and his family settled in Mseitbeh (a neighborhood in Beirut), while Kamel settled in the refugee camp of Nahr al-Basha.

   In Beirut, George was trained by the Bulgarian wrestler and coach Alexander Doberge. Later in Sour, he was trained by the Lebanese champion Hasan Jahmi. In the Nadi al- Muhtarifin (Professional Club), which was owned by the Lebanese wrestler Khalil Abu Khalil, Dirani started practicing free-style wrestling. Dirani represented Lebanon in 1960’s, and Palestine in late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He always he would insist on wearing the kufiyyeh and I’qal each time he ascended the ring. He also required that the Palestinian anthem play before each match, where ever and when ever he competed. Representing Lebanon as Nisr Lubnan (Eagle of Lebanon), in Britain he had the honor to receive a gift from Queen Elizabeth for his victories. He also took part in a tournament in Jordan under the auspices of his Majesty King Hussein in the historic city of Jarash during the opening of the Athletic City in Amman.

   In 1966, Dirani visited Jerusalem when it was still under Jordanian rule. People recognized him (especially who had TV at that time), expressing their admiration, they raised him on their shoulders and chanted his name.

Dirani was assassinated in Mar Elias in 1984 during the Lebanese civil war.

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