Saturday, October 15, 2016

Palestine and Lebanon: A History of Athletic Relations 1908 - 1948

Issam Khalidi

    Palestinian-Lebanese athletic relations go back to the first decade of the twentieth century. These relations were based on the foundation of national brotherhood and good neighborliness. The two people could overcome the fake lines which were drawn by the Sykes-Picot Agreement.  It has been almost one hundred years since colonial powers divided the Arabs, although they are yet to respect the very boundaries that they have created. Moreover, they have invested much time, energy, resources and, at times, all out wars to ensure that the arbitrary division never truly ends. [1] There was a time not so long past when Lebanon and Palestine were the political-territorial entities that their contemporary masters insist enjoy ancient historical-mythological legitimacy. During the Turkish administration there were no borders or checkpoint, no sovereign states with their 'security dilemmas,' no chauvinistic nationalisms. But the arrival of the French and the British after 1919 and the gradual implantation of the Zionist project marked the beginnings of a  partition between the two areas that would harden and finally - since the 1960s - fester nearly continuous bloodshed. [2]

    In 1908, St. George's school football team was formed. In 1909, it  competed with the American University of Beirut AUB (in Beirut). The match ended in favor of St. George’s team.[3] This was the first game an Arab team in Palestine competed with a foreign team. The American University of Beirut had a significant influence on Palestinian youth. It served as a Mecca for  many Palestinian young men - the majority from notable families –who sought for their higher education. At the same time they were engaged in sports activities such as football and tennis. In March, 1932 AUB football team met with  Al-Nadi Al-Riyadi Al-Arabi (Arab Sports Club) in Jerusalem. The AUB team won this match 4-1.[4] In January 1935, Nadi Al-Nahda (Renaissance Club) visited Palestine and competed with Shabab al-Arab (established in 1934 in Haifa). Nadi al-Nahda won 5-0.[5] In boxing, in September 1937, the Palestinian champion Adib Al-Dasuqi competed with Mustafa al-Arna’out champion of Syria and Lebanon on the stage of Frere’s School in Jaffa attended by the Mayor of Jaffa. In January 1938, they competed in Beirut. The match ended in a draw.[6]

  This Zionist leadership viewed establishing athletic federations and committees as a means of achieving overall Zionist goals of establishing and legitimating Zionist claims to Palestine. These official organizations helped represent Palestine as "Jewish," both regionally and internationally, and were seen as instrumental in achieving the leadership's national and political goals. Joining FIFA in 1929, gave Palestine Football Association PFA the possibility to act as a  representative of Palestine internationally . It could control all athletic meeting with all teams in the region and internationally. [7] In 1931 the (Arab) Palestine Sports Federation PSF was founded by a group of young men as a reaction to the Jewish-dominated Palestine Football Association PFA.  PSF was founded at a time when the Palestinian national movement had to grapple with the fact that its traditional leadership was ineffective in the face of a refusal by the British mandatory administration to accord Palestinians the same degree of self-governance that it had granted other Arabs such as the Egyptians and the Iraqis.[8]
   Palestine-Lebanese sports relations were subject to political conditions in Palestine. Jewish teams had the lion's share of all the sports meetings for few reasons. First, Arab sport lagged behind Jewish sport. The Jews came to Palestine from developed industrial societies. Definitely, they brought with them physical culture and the culture of sports. They sought to represent Palestine by attracting  Arab teams from neighboring countries at the time when they maintained strong athletic relations with the British who in exchange provided adequate support in sports. Second, many teams from Arab countries have not been able to compete with their  Arab counterpart in Palestine because of the Jewish-dominated  Palestine Football Association which was affiliated with FIFA and appeared as the representative of Palestine.

   In April 1940, the Lebanese National Team met with its Jewish counterpart (the Zionists were representatives of  Palestine) in Tel Aviv, the latter won 5:1. Five members of the Lebanese team refused to take part in this game. Jamil Sawaya, the President of LFA stated that sports is far from politics from different aspects, "the purpose of this trip was to get introduced to a neighboring country."[9]

The Maccabi organization sought to maintain connections among its branches in the region (Egypt, Lebanon and Syria). In May 1929 Palestine Bulletin reported that the Sephardic Union and the "Haluzei Hamizrach" in Jerusalem gave a reception  in honour of the 50 members of "Maccabi" who arrived in Palestine from Beirut and Damascus for the purpose of participating in the Palestine Maccabi Sports Meeting held at Tel Aviv. Few days before they were feted by the Brith Trumpeldor Organization at the Revisionist Club. They visited the historic places as well as the modern institutions in Jerusalem. Syrian "Maccabeans" welcomed in Jerusalem the leader of the Jewish settlers who were killed by remnants of the Arab Revolt at Tel Hai in 1920, serves as the primary role model of the Betar.[10] The Palestine Council of the Maccabi Sports Clubs held a conference in Tel-Aviv in January 1930. Palestine Bulletin reported that the organization is responsible for branch clubs that have recently been established in Beirut and Damascus.[11]

   Jewish teams had plenty of sports meetings with Lebanese teams. Maccabi Hashmonai scored 2 to 0 in a football match played with the students of the American University of Beirut in March 1929. [12]Invited by the Maccabi Club of Tel Aviv, the Renaissance Sportive Club, Beyrouth, arrived in Palestine. A cordial reception was given to them at the station, where they were welcomed by a large number of Maccabis headed by the Acting President, Mr. Caspi. Dr. Salem and other members of the Renaissance Club committee accompanied the visitors Football Team. The party were taken to the Balfouria Hotel where everything possible was done to make their stay enjoyable. The score was 3-2 in favor of the Maccabis.[13]

    In June 1930 Palestine Bulletin mentioned that  the “Maccabi” Tel Aviv, Football Cup Holders of Palestine were invited by The Renaissance Sportive Club - champion of Lebanon - for friendly football matches. Great preparations were made by the Sportsmen of Lebanon and a fine reception was made to the guests. The first football match between the two teams ended with a draw of 3-3.[14] In January 1931, Palestine Bulletin reported that sportsmen in Palestine will be interested to learn that the Hapoel, Tel-Aviv intends to visit Beirut on February 27 and play with the American University and the Renaissance Club. [15] In April 1934, the Club of International Sports of Beirut met with the Maccabi Petah Tikva at the Levant Fair Olympiad,[16] which was intended to promote the Jewish goods and to bring illegal Jewish immigrants to Palestine. At the same time this fair included some sports competitions. In June, 1935, the local Maccabi football team has been invited by the Government of Lebanon to meet the Renaissance Club of Beirut today, in the opening match of the Lebanese football season. The Government has given a special cup for the winner of the match and is keenly interested in promoting friendly athletic relations between Palestine and the Lebanon. The Syrian press look upon the match as a forerunner of many future sports meeting between the neighbouring countries.[17]

    In April 1940, Palestine Football Association invited the Lebanese national team to visit Palestine, the two teams competed on Tel Aviv. Maccabi won 5-1. It is worth mentioning that five players from the Lebanese team refused to take part in this match. The head of the Lebanese Football Association stated that sports is far from politics from different aspects; that the purpose of this trip is to get introduced to a neighboring country.[18]It is a long time, if fewer, since the Palestine Selected swimming team have had to bow to such a superior side as they met at the Aley Pool. Of  the six swimming events, the Lebanese team won five, only the 200 metres free style being annexed by the Palestinians , although they registered an overwhelming success in water polo, to the tune of eight goals to nil.[19] In August 1943, a group of Jewish swimmers from Palestine traveled to Lebanon to compete with the clubs there. Nadi Lubnan Al-Riyadi defeated the Jewish team. The Lebanese swimmer 'Abboud hit a record in the free style.[20] In November 1944, Beirut selected swimming team - basketball and football - visited Palestine. The swimming team competed with the Jewish Maccabi team at Beit Galim in Haifa. The teams were accompanied by Nasif Majdalani the owner of the newspaper Al-Haya Al-Riyadiyya (Sports Life) which was issued in Beirut, and by Admon Malaki – treasurer of the Lebanese Swimming Association. Later, both  visited the office of Al-Difa newspaper.[21]

   It is worth mentioning, that in December 1945, the Arab League announced that its eseven member States would boycott all Jewish-produced goods from Palestine beginning January 1st 1946. The league’s secretary-general, Abdul Rahman Azzam Bey, said the boycott was ordered because Jewish industry in Palestine was “based on Zionist funds, collected in foreign countries, to serve a political purpose: the establishment of a Jewish national home and State in Palestine.”[22] Directly, the Lebanese newspaper "L'Orient" reported about the 'anti-Zionist boycott' by its political editor, M. Labake, in connection with the Tel Aviv Ski Club's decision no longer to visit Lebanon. A letter from the Club had explained that in view of the anti-Zionist boycott they preferred to ski in Cyprus. M. Labake goes on to say that his article was written specially for consideration in Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus, that they might know that the boycott had harmed the Lebanon more than Palestine. The Lebanon was never a large client of Palestinian industry, but Palestine was an important supplier, and in certain cases an exclusive supplier. The Lebanon ceased obtaining from Palestine chemical and pharmaceutical products which could not be had from Europe or America, and Palestine had stopped buying Lebanese farm produce, which was now being destroyed. The smuggling of Palestinian goods was continuing however, and indeed becoming a kind of national institution. It was an expensive enterprise doomed to failure. The article demands that the Arab league should consider the payment of compensation to cover Lebanese losses, and concludes by asking why Lebanese obedience to the Arab League was so poorly repaid. It is understood that the "L'Orient" 's viewpoint is widely shared.[23]

  The PFA strengthened its connections with FIFA, and this cooperation far exceeded the limits of good conscience. For example, the PFA used its newfound influence to interfere with the forming of a Football Association in Syria (including Lebanon which was considered as part of Syria). In a letter from the PFA to Dr. Schriker, the General Secretary of F.I.F.A. on 18th November 1932: I intend soon to take up the question of formation of a Football Association in Syria with the view of having the football played there regulated by F.I.F.A. Do you have any views on this matter? Shall I act on your behalf?

   Following that, a letter was sent from the secretary of FIFA to E. Chalutz, the   Secretary of Palestine Football Association on the 14th of December 1932:

   I noted with pleasure that you are trying to organize football in this country and may thank [you] in advance for the good work you are doing for the cause of international football. As regards our views in this matter I may inform you that we have been in correspondence with the ‘Club de la Renaissance Sportive’ (Beirouth, P.O. Box 197) but the aspects as regards the founding of a National Association were at that time very poor. You can as far as necessary act on behalf of the F.I.F.A. if you think it may be useful to have some moral assistance on that respect whilst I am with the greatest pleasure willing to give you every information you might need. It would however be very useful to know before taking any steps to know [sic] whether in Syria [there] are enough elements to guaranty the existence of a National Association. You will understand that it is not reasonable to found an Association which has no or not enough possibilities to exist. It is on the other hand not desirable that such organization be affiliated to the F.I.F.A.I should by this reason be very much obliged to you if you would be so kind as to give me your opinion about same in a report about football in Syria which I will submit to my Committee and let you know our opinion about the possibilities of founding an Association.

   In response to that, this letter was sent from the secretary of FIFA to PFA on 26th of June 1933:

    I may refer to my letter of 14th December 1932, replying to your favour of 18th November, by which I wrote you that it would very much interest me if you could let me have some information about football and football organization in Syria. Did you receive in the meantime such information and would it be possible to let me have same? The Turkish Football Association asked the F.I.F.A permission to play some Syrian clubs. I replied that it is not well possible to give a general permission to play clubs of that country, as not being affiliated to our Federation, but that there is no objection to play exceptionally some matches with Syrian in this respect that these relations will lead to the affiliation of Syria to the F.I.F.A.

 A letter from the PFA to the FIFA on September 7th 1933:

    I have just recently been able to gather some more or less accurate information about the Football in Syria. My investigation was protracted on account of absence of a central authority on this Branch of Sports in that country. The American University in Beirut seems to take the leading part in sports in general but is not interested to form a central governing body for football. There are a number of other clubs in other towns but there does not seem to be any concrete desire among these to form an Association (the clubs being of a secondary class in football).

This fact however should not only, in my opinion, preclude foreign visiting teams from playing local Syrian clubs but should bear out your contention expressed in your letter of 28th June 1933 that a special and occasional permission should be given to them when required. It is also my opinion that by closer cooperation of the field of play and by generous and liberal interpretation there. We adopt this attitude when our permission is sought by our clubs to play Syrian and such is the course adopted by our neighboring Egyptian Association. In any event Palestine Football Association warmly recommends that the permission you refer to be granted to the Turkish Football Association.

   In a letter dated January 18th 1935 from PFA to FIFA:

      My Committee expresses its very sincere satisfaction that another of our neighbors entered the “International family” of football. We look upon it as the result of the long series of visits of leading teams in Syria and the keen interest taken by our Hon. Gen. Secretary to promote friendly relations between our two countries (based on the correspondence from you dated 28th June, 1933 and ours of 7th September, 1933). My Committee emphasize that however welcomed is the affiliation of the Lebanese Federation, it cannot recommend that the permission to play local Arab team not yet members of this Association should be granted, not even as an exceptional and temporary measure. This concession will deprive this association of its sovereign rights within our territory and will enable a foreign neighbouring Association to interfere in the domestic affairs of its neighbor. In fact the prerogative of seeking permission of this Central committee to arrange Games in the country or abroad has actually kept within order, law and regulations many teams and has to a great extent influenced the affiliation of the Lebanese Association. There are only 3 Arab clubs of any technical importance though inferior to any club of our 1st division teams which are taking part in the Divisions. Leagues run by us. Up to the year 1930 all these teams were affiliated to his Association. They withdrew their affiliation under pressure brought by political leaders. Politics have thus been brought into the field of sports, a much deplorable fact. We have ever since carried negotiation with them in a very liberal spirit.

As soon as the Lebanese Football Association was affiliated with FIFA it asked FIFA to give it a permission to compete (during the season 1934-36) against Arab teams in Palestine which were not members of PFA.[24]The PFA tried to attract Arab teams from Arab countries, and at the same time sought to distant the Arab Palestinians teams to compete with their brother’s teams in other Arab counties.

A letter from FIFA to the PFA in 3rd of September 1935:

    I have notice your communications regarding the question of an allowance of matches to be played between clubs of the recently affiliated Federation Lebanese de Football and Arab clubs of your county which are not –affiliated to your Association; and I have informed the Lebanon F.A. of your refusal to grant for the moment such a permission explaining them that you are negotiating with these Arab clubs in a broadminded way in order to obtain the membership of these elements. The best way would certainly be to bring these Arab clubs into your Association and if the difficulties are not insurmountable I really hope you may be successful. Whenever you can arrive to an arrangement you should inform the Lebanon F.A. about the matte

   FIFA then asked the PFA to inform all its’ clubs touring in foreign countries that a match against nonaffiliated clubs was not allowed without the special consent of the International Federation, and that for every match to be played in any country the permission of the Association of the concerned country must be given. [25]The Zionists did not only denied the existence of  Arabs in Palestine who were the indigenous people, moreover, they sought to marginalize them from all cultural spheres including sports.

     The Arab Palestine Sports Federation was established in 1931. With the outbreak of the 1936 Revolt, many sports activities among Arab population were suspended. Arab teams were forced to join  PFA, and began to compete against the most extreme teams, such as Betar. Few Arab clubs took part in Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem leagues organized by the Jewish-dominated PFA. Among the teams were Shabab al-Arab (Haifa), Tirsana (Haifa) , Islamic Sports Club (Haifa), ISC (Jaffa) , Orthodox Club and Christians Clubs(Jerusalem). Other two Armenian teams Hoychmen in Haifa and Homentmen in Jerusalem. However, respectively, in 1943, they began to withdraw from this association. However, in 1942-43 they withdrew their membership from this association. In September 1944, the Arab Palestine Sports Federation was re-established (established in 1931 as a response to the dominated PFA). Though APSF was not affiliated with FIFA, many Arab neighboring clubs (including Lebanese) were attracted to compete with Arab clubs and athletes in Palestine.

In September 1944, the Arab Palestine Sports Federation APSF was re-established. Directly, it contacted all  federations in the brother countries, informing them that one of its main tasks was to sustain its relations with them. PSF sent letters to all Arab sports federations informing them about the political conditions in Palestine and  its discontent with the PFA's domination.

 Later, the meetings and cooperation between Palestine and Lebanon increased proportionally. The Lebanese teams at that time (1944 - 1948) viewed Arab teams in Palestine as a strong opponent.  Also, Lebanese Football Association supported PSF in its efforts to join FIFA.


[1] Ramzi Baroud ‘Plan B’ – Not an Enigma: Why the West is Keen on Dividing the Arabs,
[2] Michael C. Hudson, "Palestinians and Lebanon: The Common Story," Journal of Refugee Studies Vol. 10, No. 3 1997, p. 243 -269.
[3]Walid Khalidi. Before their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians 1876-1948 (Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1984)
[4]Filastin, 29 August 1932.
[5]Filastin, 11 January 1934.
[6]Filastin,20  January 1938.
[7]For example, in 1924, the leadership of the Jewish Maccabi athletic organization attempted to gain membership in the International Amateur Athletic Federation. This initiative ended in failure as it was determined that Maccabi did not represent Arab, British and Jewish sportsmen in Palestine equally. However, this unsuccessful attempt did not discourage Maccabi leader Josef Yekutieli, who in the beginning of 1925 attempted to gain Maccabi membership in the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Yekutieli decided to employ a different tactic this time: he first established the Palestine Football Association PFA. The federation's inaugural meeting was convened in the summer of 1928. Immediately, after being accepted in FIFA, the Jewish leadership started to dominate the Palestine Football Association by ensuring that Jews were the majority in it. This was accomplished by such strategies as imposing the Hebrew language and incorporating the Jewish flag in the federation's logo.
[8] Mustafa Kabha, "The Palestinian press and the general strike, April - October 1936: Filastin as a case study," Middle Eastern Studies, 29:3 (2003), 169-189.
[9]Filastin, 20 April 1940.
[10]Palestine Bulletin, 6 May 1929.
[11]Palestine Bulletin, 4 January 1930.
[12]Palestine Bulletin, 28 March 1929.
[13]Palestine Bulletin, 29 June 1930.
[14]Palestine Bulletin, 17 June 1930
[15]Palestine Bulletin, 12 January 1931.
[16]Palestine Post, 30 April 1934.Lebanon took part in fair.
[17]Palestine Post, 23 June 1935.
[18]Filastin, 2 April 1940.
[19]Palestine Post, 1 September 1942.
[20]Al-Difa, 25 August 1943.
[21]Al-Difa, 8 November 1944.
[22] Vote Action Against Jewish Industry, Charging Tie With Zionist and Political Aims, New York Times, 4 December 1945.
[23]  Palestine Post 15 March 1946
[24]FIFA Archive.August 6th 1935 a letter from FIFA to PFA
[25]FIFA Archive,  4th September 1937

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