Saturday, November 19, 2016

Arab - Jewish Athletic Cooperation in Mandate Palestine

Issam Khalidi

     Examining Arab-Jewish athletic relations in Mandate Palestine one will find a number of athletic meetings - mostly in football and boxing - that took place between the two communities. In general, these  relations were limited, they were  not based on administrative-organizational foundations and close friendly cooperation. Obviously, they have been subject to Political conditions. It is quite clear that the main purpose of the Jewish immigration to Palestine was focused on building the National Home. Co-existence and cooperation with the Arabs were not part of the Zionist agenda. On the contrary, the exclusion and marginalization of Arab population was on the top of the Zionist priorities, especially after encountering an unexpected strong resistance by the Arabs.
  The intention to create the Jewish National Home is to cause the disappearance or subordination of the Arabic population, culture and language. [1] Yosef Weitz, the director of the Jewish National Land Fund on December 19, 1940, wrote: It must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country. [2] Zionist and Israeli anxiety has always centred on two questions: the Arab environment and world opinion. In building the Jewish state, the Zionists constructed in their own minds a dehumanized image of the Arabs as politically and socially unworthy. This helped them to dismiss the ethical problem of displacement and to justify the transformation of Palestine into a Jewish state. [3]
    As early as 1907 Dr. Yitzhak Epstein (1862 - 1943)warned his fellow Zionists of this oversight:
  Among the grave questions linked with the concept of our people's renaissance on its soil, there is one question which is more weighty than all the others put together. This is the question of our relations with the Arabs. Our own national aspirations depend upon the correct solution of this question. It has not been eliminated. It simply has been forgotten by the Zionists and is hardly referred to at all in its true from in Zionist literature. (quoted in Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1970), p. 60.)
    At the same time, Arabs did not show the desire to cooperate with the Zionists. They were critical to see that athletes and teams who were competing with them were Jewish immigrants seeking to replace them in their homeland. "It is important to understand in this regard that Palestinians did not see Jewish immigrants to Palestine primarily as refugees from persecution, as they were seen by most of the rest of the world. They saw them instead as arrogant European interlopers who did not accept that the Palestinians were a people or had national rights in their own country, believed that Palestine instead belonged to them, and were coldly determined to make that belief into reality. There was further a stubborn insistence on the part of most Arabs on seeing Jews as members of a religious rather than a national group (this attitude was to linger on among Arabs generally for several decades). Thus while an attempt to come to some sort of accommodation with Zionism might have been diplomatically wise, it was most probably doomed to fail because of both the drive of the Zionist movement for supremacy in Palestine, and the natural resistance to this drive of the indigenous population." wrote Khalidi.[4] The fact also that no Palestinian, regardless of his political stripe, has been able to reconcile himself to Zionism suggests the extent to which, for the Palestinians, Zionism has appeared to be an uncompromisingly exclusionary, discriminatory, colonialist praxis. [5] Migdal and Kimmerling point out that the ancient conflict between two great civilizations, the Arab and the Israelite, and two great religions, Islam and Judaism, only amplified the political conflict of the century. [6]
      It’s a matter of fact, that Arab sports lagged behind Jewish sports. The awareness of the Zionist leadership about the benefits of sports was higher than among the Arabs. The Jews came to Palestine from developed industrial societies. Definitely, they brought with them physical culture and the culture of sports. The yishuv, and the Zionist movement that represented it, in consequence received powerful external support, both from many of its coreligionist elsewhere and from the greatest imperial power of the day, as well as from the League of Nations. [7] All the gauges of the economic, social, and political advancement of the yishuv – the massive import of capital, the inflow of highly skilled human capital, the community’s predominantly urban nature, its high degree of ideological homogeneity, its unique social makeup and governing structures – when taken together, indicate its capacity for generating considerable state power.[8] There is no doubt that the contest in Palestine has been between an advanced (and advancing) culture and relatively backward, more or less traditional one. But we need to try to understand what the instruments of the contest were, and how appears to confirm the validity of the Zionist claims to Palestine, thereby denigrating the Palestinian claims. In other words, we must understand the struggle between Palestinian and Zionism as  a struggle  between a presence and an interpretation, the former constantly appearing to be overpowered and eradicated by the latter. What was this presence? No matter how backward, uncivilized, and silent they were, the Palestinian Arabs were on the land.[9]
   While the Zionists regarded sports as another means to strengthen the military effort, the Arabs saw it as part of an enhanced national identity and consciousness. The 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. 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. [10]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. [11]

  The Zionist attention was focused on the collaboration with the British. Since the outbreak of these events [Revolt of 1936], an intensive effort was made in the Jewish Yishuv to hold sporting contests in football, swimming, water polo and hockey against the army units, in an attempt to bring British soldiers closer to the Zionist settlement in Palestine. ‘The scope of interest of most army and navy personnel is limited to two: women and sports’, Nachum Chet, one of the heads of Maccabi, maintained in a memorandum he wrote in September 1936. Chet concluded that ‘The first field is not for us, therefore sport is in fact the only field where we could find a common language and ground between our youth and most of the army and navy’. Chet wished to build good relations with the military because, in the face of the ‘Arab Revolt’, ‘the life of the Yishuv and all its material property were given to these forces for protection and defense. [12]
   At the time when the Zionists dominated sports and marginalized Arabs and  cultivated cooperation with the British at any price. In a paradoxical manner, Jewish journalist Shimon Samet in April 1936 wrote: "Perhaps at first a small group of Arab sportsmen would be found, a group that would listen to our voice and claims that sport and politics should not be mixed and that the good and mutual relationship between sportsmen of both nations could bring about the improvement in the friendship in general."[13] Harrif and Galili mentioned that the Zionists exploited the 1936 Revolt in order to sustain their relations with the British. Since the outbreak of these events, intensive effort was made in the Jewish Yishuv to hold sporting contests in football, swimming, water polo and hockey against the army units, in attempt to bring British soldiers closer to the Zionist settlement in Palestine.[14]
   It’s a matter of fact, that Palestine has always been represented by Jewish athletes teams and federations such as the Palestine Football Association and federations of other sports. They did not represent Palestine as Palestinians, rather  as “Jewish”, from "Eretz Israel" Land of Israel. The international orientation of the leaders of the Jewish Sports Movement in Palestine was expressed in their attempts to nurture sporting relations with sports bodies in neighboring Arab – Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Trans-Jordan. An interesting episode which emphasizes the importance they attributed to the symbols of national uniqueness in the sport arena, as part of the ethos of a nation striving to achieve its independence, took place in 1930: a team of Palestine football players comprising six Jewish and nine British players toured Egypt. The team, which was named the ‘Land of Israel Select Team’ had the letter ‘P’ (short for ‘Palestine’) on its uniform, while ‘LD’ (the initials of the Hebrew name of Palestine – Land of Israel) was written in small letters. Due to this fact, as well as to the playing failure of the team in its three games, against the Cairo team (5-0), the Alexandria team (2-0) and a military team from Cairo ( 2-0) and a military team from Cairo (5-2), the trip was sharply criticized in the Hebrew press:

    We highly regard the friendly relations between our country and the neighboring countries; indeed, sport can produce such relations. Again, a team from the Land of Israel went to compete in Egypt. Their uniform is not blue and white but black and white and their symbol is not a Hebrew one but a big P and only small LD on its side…the team had to comprise the country – only the inhabitants of the country and not military people who travel here and there, and due to their temporary status in the land they cannot be representatives of the country.[15]
    As a reaction to this domination and to the increase of Jewish immigration, some Arab young men established the Arab Palestine Sports Federation APSF in 1931. Apart from anti-Semitism, it prevented Arab teams from meeting with their Jewish counterparts. The anti-Zionist newspaper Al-Karmil openly criticized the Adabi Club in Haifa for competing with Ha-poel of Tel Aviv:

      We have been upset to find  that this club had violated the agreement among the Arab clubs which states that it is shame to any Arab team to compete with Zionist teams. We were informed that the Zionist teams have defeated the Arab team in two matches. In this case, the administrative board has to be blamed. We were surprised how it [Adabi Club] got involved in an act that brought only failure and defeat. Anyway, we hope that this defeat will be a lesson for the future.[16] 

  Repeatedly, after its re-establishment in 1944, APSF’s statutes included a clause that prevented Arab athletes and teams from meeting with their Jewish counterparts. In its internal report APSF indicated that "it [APSF] combines from Arab (non-Jewish) clubs and committees. No [Arab] team has to include any Jewish player. One of the financial sources  [of APSF] are donations and grants from dignitaries or (non-Jewish) organizations." The federation called the Arab teams to choose the referee  they want, but not a Jewish one. YMCA which was member of the this federation was exempted from the rules.[17] Later, the central committee had been informed that some Arab clubs received letters from the Jewish-dominated PFA offering them to join PFA.[18]  After the re-establishment of the APSF there were two Arab federations for boxing: the amateur which was affiliated with APSF and the professional which was independent. The former continued meeting with the Jewish boxers until late 1945.
     The Arabs opposed and warned about the Jewish Maccabiad (Maccabiah) which was held in 1932 and 1935 in Tel Aviv. Also, they put pressure on the YMCA and forced it not to withdrew its participation in this event. Filastin published articles which confronted the Maccabiah event. The Maccabiah Games became a good example of how athletic events (with marches and flags) were exploited in order to achieve political goals. Hosting thousands of Jews from dozens of countries, the event stirred Jewish nationalism and provided a means of introducing Jews to the future homeland. [19]

   Due to the 1936-39 Revolt, the activities of the (Arab) Palestine Sports Federation were suspended. Some clubs had to join the Zionist-dominated PFA and took part in its leagues. Among the teams were Shabab al-Arab (Haifa), Tirsana (Haifa), Islamic Sports Club (Haifa), ISC (Jaffa), Orthodox Club and Christians Club (Jerusalem), with other two Armenian teams Hoychmen in Haifa and Homentmen in Jerusalem. Shabab El Arab easily collected the full points in their Palestine League, Haifa Division game with Haifa Maccabi, scoring ten goals without any reply from Maccabi.[20] After the re-establishment of (Arab) Palestine Sports Federation PSF in September 1944, a noticeable growth in Arab sports occurred especially on the organizations level.
   Since the twenties until 1943, meetings in boxing were held between Jewish and Arab boxers. Under the title “Syrian Champion Beaten”,  Palestine Post brought this news about this boxer. Obviously, it intentionally ignored his Palestinian identity, while mentioning the Jewish as a local:[21]

    The Maccabi Hall was filled to capacity by a fine sporting crowd to witness the contests between local and Arab boxers. There was disappointment among the spectators that only two "proper" fights were contested, the rest of the programme being matches between boxers of various clubs. The crowd, however, was repaid with the last fight in which Emile Avinari, a local favourite beat Sinharib Salliba, champion of Syria and Lebanon in a six- round contest. Although the Syrian weighed only a couple of pounds more than his opponent, he appeared to belong to the heavy weight rather than the welterweight class. Emile lived up to his reputation, winning four of the six rounds, but not too easily. As predicted it was a match of technique against physical strength.[22]

   At the same time, because of the political atmosphere these meetings were not devoid of feuds and frictions. Constantly chanting enthusiastic cheers and raising the Zionist flags provoked the feelings of the Arabs.   Al-Difa’ brought this news in November 1934, which constituted the degree of hostility between the two communities when  students of the Scottish College team in Sarafand and the Arab Sports Club from one side fought with the players of the second Maccabi and Hapoel teams in Tiberias because the former refused to stand a minute of silence for the death of the Baron Rotchild before a game between the Scottish College and the second Maccabi-Hapoel team.[23] Most of this news was characterized with nationalistic tendency, intentionally directed to reveal the sentiments of rejection toward the Zionist immigration and colonization in Palestine.
   In December 1945, the Arab League announced that its seven member States would boycott all Jewish-produced goods from Palestine beginning Jan. 1. 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 establishments of a Jewish national home and State in Palestine.” Arab groups in Palestine are represented in its councils. [24]
  Responding to this “Boycott”, Palestine Post published the following news: Problems created by the anti-Zionist boycott are dealt with in a leading article in the Christian daily "L'Orient" by its political by editor, M. Labake, in connection with the Tel Aviv Ski Club's decision no longer to visit the 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.[25]
     The Zionist-oriented newspaper Palestine Post tried to refute the allegations that the boycott had positive effect in general by reporting that the Friends Boys School in Ramallah held their Annual Field Day over the weekend and once again the meeting was full of interest, with the track and field events being run off with the usual keenness. The "boycott" reported to have been proclaimed against the sports appeared to have an opposite effect, as quite a number of people turned up to see how the boycott affected the sports. As a consequence there seemed to be more people present than usual.[26]
     Far from  politics and  Zionist dreams in Palestine, it is worth mentioning that in many cases Arabs and Jews showed desire for sportsmanship,  friendship and good intentions in competing with each other, especially in football and boxing. Palestine Bulletin and Palestine Post reported a number of news about matches between Arabs and Jewish teams: A football match which was played between an Eleven of the three Spanish battleship in the Haifa harbor, and a selected team of Arab and Jewish players of Haifa resulted in a decisive victory by 6 goals to nil."[27] The match between “Kadimah” and a selected Arab team yesterday resulted in a victory of 3 to 1 in favour of “Kadima."[28] The Arab Sporting Club will meet the Hashmonai Football Team on the latter's grounds tomorrow afternoon. Kick-off at 3.[29] Haifa - The football match between the "Maccabi" and the Arab team on Saturday afternoon resulted in a win of a 2 to 1 in favour of the Arabs.[30] For the first time in Palestine a Jewish and Arab hockey match was played when the Tel Aviv Police crossed sticks with the Amiria School, Jaffa, on the Bassa Ground, the Police winning by 2 goals to 1.[31] The Jaffa Arab Sports Club visited Rehovoth last Saturday for a game with the local Maccabi team and after an interesting and lively game the score stood at three goals apiece. Playing with the wind at their backs, the Arabs had more of the play in the opening half thank their opponents and went into the second period with a lead of three to nil, Zaki having netted all three. In the second half the Maccabi had the wind behind them and succeeded in netting three goals to level the score. Zaki and Samara were outstanding in the Arabs forward line, while for Maccabi, Liverman and Madhalla excelled. [32] The football match between the “Maccabi” and the Arab team on Saturday afternoon resulted in a win of 2 to 1 in favour of the Arabs.[33]
   Filastin and Difa’ often published news about athletic competitions between Arabs and Jews from the end of 1920's until the Revolt of 1936, and when Arab clubs have been members of the Jewish-dominated PFA 1939- 43. In basketball the Orthodox Club in Jaffa took part in the tournament that was organized by the Federation of Amateur Sports Clubs in Palestine FASCP in 1941/42 along with YMCA, Armenian Homentmen and Hoychmen. In boxing most of the well-known (Arab) Palestinian boxers (Adib Kamal, Adib Dasuqi, Sanharib Saliba, George Najjar and others) met with Jewish boxers  such as Ovadia Leniado.
   Most of the leagues were affiliated with associations except the Municipal League, Governmental League and the Flower League. They were not affiliated with any Association and were open to any Club who cared to compete irrespective of creed or nationality they therefore escaped the political influence that were so predominant amongst Association Leagues and Competitions and the games were played with perfect goodwill and freedom. [34] Also, the YMCA in Jerusalem could bring Arabs and Jews together. Its  staff and athletes consisted of British, Arabs, Jews, Armenians and others. They all worked together for implementing the organization's mission.


     Arab-Jewish athletic relations were submitted to the Political conditions in Palestine.  Zionist goals and Arab reaction to these goals were main reasons behind the case of non-cooperation. Jewish-Arab cooperation in general was not among the Zionist strategy in Palestine. Sport as other cultural element was used as an effective means for building the National Jewish Home. The period 1944- 1948 was characterized with  the lack of any cooperation between the two sides. The application of  APSF  to join the FIFA (in order to represent Palestine and break the PFA's domination) was an indicator of the increasing competition and noncooperation between APSF and PFA.


[1] David Waines, "The Failure of the Nationalist Resistance," in The Transformation of Palestine, ed. Ibrahim Abu-Lughod (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1971), p. 220.
[2]Edward Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage Books, 1980), p99. From 1932 on, in 1965 his diaries and papers, My Diary, and Letters to the Children, were published in Israel.
[3] Alan R. Taylor, The Zionist Mind, (Beirut: The Institute For Palestine Studies,  1974).  p. 197

[4]Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood(Boston: Beacon Press, 2007) 120.
[5]Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, p. 69.
[6] Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003) 415.
[7] Rashid Khalidi,The Iron Cage, p. 9.
[8] Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage, p.21.
[9] Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, 8-9.
[10] Kaufman, Haim. Jewish Sports in the Diaspora, Yishuv, and Israel: Between Nationalism and Politics Israel Studies - Volume 10, Number 2, Summer 2005, pp. 147-167
[11] A Memorandum to FIFA, from APSF, 1946.
[13] Shimon Samet, Ha'aretz, April 17, 1936. Quoted in Haggai, Harrif, Galily, Yair,  “Sport and Politics in Palestine, 1918-48: Football as a mirror reflecting the  Relations between Jews and Briton”. Soccer and Society, Vol. 4, No.1, Spring, 2003, pp.41-56
[16] Al-Carmel, 10 October 1932.
[17] Al-Ittihad al-Riyadi al-Falastini, Palestine Sports Federation, Internal report 1945-46.
[18] Filastin, 20 November 1946.
[19] Issam Khalidi “Al-Maccabiad, al-Sahyooniya wa Istighlat al-Riyada, al-Arabi Monthly No. 548, (Kuwait).
[20] Palestine Post, 14 January 1942.
[21] Sanharib Saliba, Boxing in Palestine, See:
[22] Palestine Post, 26 February 1934.
[23] Al-Difa’, 20 November 1934.
[24] NY Times, December 4 1945.
[25] Palestine Post, 15 March 1946.
[26] Palestine Post, 27 May 1946.
[27] Palestine Bulletin, 26 August 1927.
[28] Palestine Bulletin, 31 July 1927.
[29] Palestine Bulletin, 24 December 1930.
[30] Palestine Bulletin, 21 May 1928.
[31] Palestine Bulletin, 12 April 1940.
[32] Palestine Post, 22 January 1941.
[33] Palestine Bulletin, 21 May 1928.
[34] Palestine Football Prospects 1932-33. Palestine Bulletin, 26 October 1932.

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