Sunday, May 21, 2017

Palestinian Sports 1948 – 1967: National Identity VS. Diaspora

Issam Khalidi

Behind every Palestinian there is a great general fact: that he once - and not so long ago - lived in a land his own called Palestine, which no longer his homeland.                       
                                                                                           Edward Said.[1]

     Throughout decades sports reflected the Palestinian reality; it portrayed this reality with all its details throughout different historical stages. By 1948, there were some 65 athletic clubs in Palestine; approximately 55 of them were members of the Arab Palestine Sports Federation (APSF). These clubs had a tremendous impact on the lives of Palestinian young people (members were mostly, but not exclusively, male), shaping their character and preparing them for social and political involvement.[2].
    The dispersion of the Palestinians was not a fact of nature but a result of specific force and strategies. [3] "Other dispossessed people in history cannot be compared, except in a few obvious ways, with the twentieth-century Palestinians.    This is not a matter of who suffered more, or who lost more; such comparisons are fundamentally indecent. What I mean is that no people - for bad or for good - is so freighted with multiple, and yet unreachable or indigestible, significance as the Palestinians," wrote Edward Said.[4]
    Nakba (or catastrophe of 1948) is the Arabic word for the displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people immediately before, during, and after the founding of the State of Israel.  The case of Palestine stands out as one of the more extreme cases of displacement, one in which the fleeing of the indigenous population was not incidental, but was necessary for the creation of a Jewish state in historic Palestine.[5] In human terms, the year 1948 saw the mass deportation of a million Palestinians from their cities and villages, massacres of civilians, and the razing to the ground of hundreds of Palestinian villages. In the first decade after the Nakba, political impotence and the failure to construct meaningful public institutions fueled the disorientation and petty bickering rife among the Palestinians. But ground-level activities (charitable, professional, and cultural) quietly continued. While they did not carry explicit Palestinian messages or symbols, organizations such as the Jaffa Muslim Sports Club and the Haifa Cultural Association (in Nablus) had an exclusively Palestinian membership; they helped both to keep alive the memory of now inaccessible places and to create new bases of association among West Bankers in their changed circumstances--often, ironically, with the support of funds from the government in Amman.[6]
"In the misery of the camps - in the permanence of temporariness - refugees developed a powerful new nationalism. Its fuel was longing and injustice, humiliation and degradation - bitterness and hatred toward Jews, the West, other Arabs, and the cosmic order itself. At its heart was a vision of returning to a Lost Garden. The right to do so was perceived as self-evident and a condition for rebuilding the cosmic order destroyed in al-Nakba," wrote Kimmerling and Migdal .[7]
With 1948, in the words of Fawas Turki, "The nation of Palestine ceased to be. Its original in inhabitants, the Palestinian people, were dubbed Arab refugees, sent regular food rations by the UN, and forgotten by the world." [8]
     The Nakba was almost a fatal blow for the Palestinian sports. The sports infrastructure was destroyed including Palestine Sports Federation PSF, schools, scouts, playing grounds, sports media, etc. Most of the documents in the clubs were confiscated, and many club buildings fell under the Absentee Property Law.  This law is one of the most striking, as it declares that those who left the country during the fighting of 1948 no longer have rights to their property if they departed for an “enemy country,” and that those internally displaced are considered “present absentees;” still without access to their land and property.  [9]
    In the Shitat (Diaspora), Palestinians carried with them their athletic skills. They practiced football in the narrow alleys of the refugee camps. Despite their sufferings, Palestinians found in sports a breather in the refugee camps. It became a subject of childhood and homeland memories; a means for self-assertion and existence; a good medium for the recognition of Palestinian rights, and a way for maintaining national identity. Even then, Palestinians faced extraordinary hurdles in fashioning their national story -- the narrative that would connect individual Palestinians to one another in their minds. Many of these hurdles, of course, were associated with the lack of a state framework, the statelessness that became their distinctive mark. [10]
   Since the early 1960s, then, Palestinians encountered the triple problem raised by their dispersion: their aspiration to self-determination, absence of a secure and possible territorial base, and the need to set up a Palestinian authority which if possible would not get involved in struggles with the local authority. [11]Despite the conditions in which Palestinians were living after the Nakba, many social-athletic clubs were established.  Many of them were in the refugee camps, and these clubs were named after the cities and villages which were abandoned during the Nakba, or named after the areas that had been settled.   Establishing new social-athletic clubs helped to promote the growth of sports. Therefore, the growth of sports increased proportionally with the increase in the number of clubs.  In addition, the conditions caused by the Nakba also served to cause an increase in the number of clubs, as people searched for new ways to entertain themselves in the refugee camps.  The true beginning of the phenomenon of establishing social-athletic clubs in Palestine can be traced to the early twentieth century, specifically the 1920s.   Since this time, sports - especially football - had become a social tradition and a pivotal part of the Palestinian culture.  Many of these clubs were established as socio-cultural clubs, where football was the main activity, though amongst other activities.  At the same time, sports were inseparable from other activities such as national, socio-cultural, and Scouts activities. Only a few clubs were established solely as athletic, while the majority emerged as social and later adopted athletic activities.
    As it was mentioned in previous articles, many athletes sacrificed their lives during the 1948 struggle to defend their homeland.  Later, after the migration from the Palestinian towns and villages, some of the Palestinian athletes stopped for a while, particularly in the West Bank and Gaza Sector, and then migrated to the neighboring countries.  Jabra al Zaqa and George Mardini left to Syria.  Abed Al Rahman al-Habab, Ibrahim Nuseibeh and Roushdi Abu Ghazaleh left for Jordan.  Zarqa, who played with the club Shabab al-Arab in Haifa, left for Jordan and played for the Ahli Club in Amman. Later he would move to Syria and play for the Syrian Police team.  While there, he made an excellent addition to this team, which stayed in the forefront for a few years.
   In April 1950, West Bank (including East Jerusalem) was annexed with Jordan. Wasef Daher, a sport editor in Al-Quds newspaper, describes the paralyzed sports conditions in Jerusalem after 1948:

    Young people were longing for the sense of normalcy that came with sports. There was rarely a football match or any other sports activity. As people walked the streets of Jerusalem, they combed the walls and municipal bulletin boards in order to find some mention of an upcoming football match.  The only available playground was in Sheikh Jarrah, but it was in a state of disrepair.  Some of the local matches were played there without even a goal net!  That was the sports situation in the early fifties, after which some of the clubs in Palestine - which was under Jordanian rule - became part of the Jordanian Football Federation.  These clubs lacked support and real leadership.[12]

    Directly after the Nakba, many clubs were established. In the Gaza Sector: Khadamat Rafah [Rafah Services], Nadi Khadamat al-Maghazi in 1951, Shabab Rafah in 1953, Shabab Khan Younis in 1960, Khadamat Khan Younis in 1965 [Khan Younis Services Club]. In Lebanon - Nadi Shabab al-Arab in Bidawi Camp in 1951, Nadi al-Qarama in Tal-Azza’tar in 1953, Nadi al-Hilwa in Ein al-Hilwa Camp and Nadi Filastin in Dhibia Camp in 1958. In Jordan - Nadi al-Wihdat - in 1956 (in al-Wihdat Camp near Amman). In Jerusalem, the Arab Sports Club (established 1928) and the Nahda Club (established 1932) merged in 1955 to form the well-known club Nadi al-Muwathafin [employees club]. In al-Bireh (near Ramallah) Shabab al-Bireh - in 1964. Orthodox Beit Sahour (near Bethlehem) - in 1965. In Nablus, Nadi Shabab Balata - in 1950; Nadi Hittin and Eibal Sports Club - in 1959. The clubs in the camps were a reflection of the continuity of life under new conditions.
   The UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) made quite a large contribution in establishing and spreading social service centers where sport was a main part of their activities. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is a relief and human development agency, providing education, health care, social services and emergency aid to 5 million Palestine refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as well as in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The day-to-day workings of Palestinian life in exile, unlike that inside Israel, have obviously been distributed unevenly between the host country, the international apparatus for dealing with refugee operations, and the Palestinians themselves. [13]International agencies like UNRWA had been set up to help with the specific problem of Palestinian refugees in their main places of exile, although the main goal has always been survival for Palestinians just short of political independence; UNRWA policy has been in harmony with the annual UN General Assembly resolution calling upon Israel to take back the refugees, but the call has been issued on more or less neutral humanitarian grounds, again just short of acknowledgement that the Palestinians and the Israelis are opposed to each other on national, political grounds.[14] It is probably true that those Palestinians who worked in UNRWA were important to the shift that took place in Lebanon and Jordan, countries with the heaviest concentration of refugee camps. In both countries, Palestinians gradually assumed responsibility for social services, a transition that was formally completed (even though UNRWA continues its work) on a political level with the rise of PLO, a programmatically national organization that took on quassi-governmental supervision of Palestinians both inside and outside the camps.[15]
     The camps [in Jordan] created a new Jordanian underclass, only marginally integrated into the national economy at the end of the 1940s.[16] After 1948, the Jordanian regime began to treat the Palestinians as but one more group or tribe that would contribute to the process of the Jordanization of the country.[17] In any event, after al-Nakba, he [King Abdallah] declared Jordan the only legitimate inheritor of Arab Palestine (a policy that the state more or less maintained until 1988). Abdallah's regime banned the use of the word Palestine - substituting the tem West Bank in most cases. (There is thus an odd irony to the present Palestinian insistence on use of this term to confirm national identity, fighting of the Israeli effort to substitute the biblical "Judea and Samaria.") Even if Abdallah was not thinking in terms of complete assimilation - a loss of Palestinian self-definition - at the very least he believed that bringing the West Bank and its population under his control would not shake the foundations of his dynasty and his state, its social and political balance. [18]
   Sport is a tool for building national consciousness. Certainly, national sentiments are the main factor in stimulating athletic growth. Jordinization, which was based on the elimination of Palestinian nationalism had negative effects on sports. The level of sports in the West Bank lagged behind the East Bank. While on contrary, Sector Gaza witnessed noticeable growth in sports. The Egyptian administration had no intention to obliterate Palestinian identity.  It helped in maintaining the Palestinian identity which at the end had positive impacts on sports growth. The Jordanian effort to eliminate Palestinian nationalism played a part in the process, the effort also ran up against formidable obstacles: A tiny state, scarcely a society, was attempting to impose itself on a larger, more educated, and urbane community. From the day of annexation, Palestinians outnumbered the original Jordanians two to one. [19]
     At times, the refugees even managed to establish public institutions and symbols to express the reformulation of their identity. Their al-Wahda [Wihdat] soccer team, for instance, won the Jordanian championship, as well as the avid support of Palestinians throughout Jordan. Even Arabs in Israel became fans when it beat the Ramtha team, symbolizing the East Bank and loyalty to the kingdom. Having a good understanding of the team's significance, the Jordanians reorganized and renamed it, adding non-Palestinian players to its roster.[20]
     Many players, who were members of the Palestinian teams and clubs prior to 1948, became active members of Jordanian Clubs. At the same time, Jordan Football Association JFA included Palestinians officials from different cities in the West Bank such as Jerusalem, Nablus, and others. The secretary of the Palestine Sports Association Abdel Rahman al-Habbab became the President of the Jordan Football Association in 1956. Few clubs in the West Bank joined the Jordanian Football Association which was established in 1948. Prior to JFA establishment, four championships were held in 1944, 1945, 1946 and 1947. The population of Jordan consisted of 60% Palestinian and 40% Jordanians while the championships won only by Jordanian teams.[21] 

   In 1950, when some tools were offered to them by the World Alliance of YMCAs, the team soon found some men among the refugees who had skills and were eager to use them. Thus began a small vocational school project in carpentry and wrought-iron work. This project, which started so simply in a tent, became the East Jerusalem YMCA Vocational Training Center in Jericho.[22]
   In 1950 the YMCA began to provide services to the community in Jerusalem, in a small building that today houses the British Council.  The building included a guest house, an evening school to teach languages and accounting, and a game room.  In the backyard of the building, Issa al-Tams offered training in weightlifting and body-building, and Nadi Khoury coached gymnastics, basketball, and tennis at the St. George’s School sports field across the street.[23]
   In 1965, the new YMCA facilities at 29 Nablus Road were built.  The building consisted of a hotel, an auditorium, and the physical department, which housed the first indoor swimming pool and the first squash court in Palestine, as well as an indoor volleyball court, a basketball half-court, a weight room, and a youth lobby for table tennis and indoor games.  The outdoor playgrounds at St. George’s School were the foundation of a professional sports infrastructure for the Palestinian community.
[24] In 1966 Prince Ra’ed Ben Zeid opened the East Jerusalem-YMCA sports facilities, and in 1966 and 1967, the YMCA organized and hosted the basketball championship games for the Jordanian teams.
    It was not until the mid-1960 that the rebirth of Palestinian nationalism would put the Palestinians back on the political map of the Middle East. By this time, a new middle class leadership had emerged at the head of effectively organized political structures like Fatah and the Movement of Arab Nationalism, eclipsing the traditional leaders who had failed during the mandate period. [25] 

Gaza Sector
    Despite the fact that it held become a center of new Palestinian institution building as a result of Egyptian repression. Its contribution lay rather in the realm of consciousness and identity. The character of the society that developed there was unique, weaving memories and culture from pre-war Palestine with the poverty-stricken, harrowing life in the camps.  Compared to other Arab countries, Egypt had the prominent athletic prestige.  Being currently under this administration since the early 1950s, the Gaza Sector witnessed a rapid growth in sports. The Egyptian administration established the “Regional Committee for Youth Care,” which was headed by the General Governor, and included 25 members, most of whom were sports leaders. The Supreme Committee of Youth in Cairo supported this regional committee financially and technically. Several other committees emerged from the regional committee such as national education and sports committees. Through these committees, the regional committee organized and supervised the sports movement, which included fifteen other departments, such as the Social Services Centers and Youth Care in Gaza, Deir al-Balah, Khan Yunis, Rafah, YMCA in Gaza, and the al-Awda Club for Arab employees in the UN.    Palestinian sport found its way during that period; the Egyptian authorities provided sufficient support to Palestinian sports.  This support was shown in Egypt’s assistance in training and preparing qualified coaches, as well as the exchange of athletic delegations.  Proudly, the Palestinians in the Gaza Sector could represent Palestine in the international arena.  There can be no doubt that Egypt offered its full support to the Palestinians in order to achieve this goal. During that time, Palestine participated in the Pan Arab tournament in Alexandria in 1953, where it won third place.   The tournament was attended by the Egyptian President at that time, Jamal Abdul Naser.  The majority of the players on the team were from Gaza Sector.  In 1965 a football team from Gaza and Diaspora (Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon) participated in the fourth Arab Cup, playing Libya (0-0), North Yemen (0-7), and Syria (1-3). Palestine also participated in the 2nd Pan Arab Games in Syria, as well as the 3rd in 1956 in Lebanon.  In addition, in 1965 it participated in the 4th Pan Arab Games in Cairo.  At those games, the Palestinian football team defeated Egypt (1-2), tied with Iraq (1-1), won against Yemen (1-0), beat Lebanon (1-0), defeated Sudan (2-1), as well as Libya (4-2).  The goalkeeper was Marwan Kanafan, while Faek Hinnawi from Gaza was the substitute goalkeeper. The team also included Ismael al-Masri, Muammar Bsiso, Omar Sheikh Taha, Foad Abu Ghida, Husam Assamarai, Nabil Shami, Feisal Bibi, Ibrahim al-Mughrabi, Khalil Istanbuli, Fathi Yusif, Abdul- Qadir Shu’eb, Muhammed al-Sheikh, Khader Qadada, Ali Abu Hamda, and Munther al-Mazina. The team was led by Zaki Khayyal, Subhi Farah and Elias Manneh. Palestine also participated in the Arab Cup Championship in Iraq in 1966.  The Palestinian team tied with Iraq (0-0) and defeated Yemen and Syria.  Palestine left the competition in 4th place.  Most of the players were from the Gaza Sector, except Ahmad Amura from Syria and Ali Ajloni from Lebanon.
   The Palestinian basketball team competed in several tournaments such as  The African Tournament in Casablanca in 1963 where Palestine got the third place among 52 countries;   Arab Tournament in Tripoli in Libya in 1963 – the fourth place; Fourth Pan Arab Games in Egypt in 1964. Also, few weightlifter took part in Pan Arab Games. A weightlifter appeared on the scene such as Muhamad Abu Shahla who won the bronze medal at the third Pan Arab Games in Morocco in 1961.
  In 1966, Palestine participated in the GANEFO (The Games of the New Emerging Forces) Games in Cambodia, playing against North Yemen (4-0), North Korea (1-5), China (0-7), North Vietnam (0-7), and Cambodia (0-4). [26]
   The Egyptian administration also brought to Palestine a Hungarian coach by the name of Sabo, who had previously been the coach of the famous Hungarian player Ferenc Puskas.  Sabo stayed in Gaza and trained for two consecutive sessions.  Furthermore, competing with the Egyptian teams enabled the citizens of Gaza to improve their skills and helped them to qualify for international competitions.[27] It is also difficult to ignore the progressive role of the Egyptian administration in promoting school education, to include extracurricular activities and sports. Many of the physical education teachers were graduates of Egyptian universities and institutes.
     In Gaza many games took place between the clubs in Gaza and the Egyptian teams, such as the game between Shabab Gaza and the Egyptian Air Force in 1964 (0:1).  In this game the Palestinian goal keeper Faek al-Hinnawi did great, which made the Egyptian players become fascinated with his performance.  Another match was between the selected team of Gaza Sector and the Egyptian Army.  The Palestinian goalkeeper Faek Hinnawi (who was the best goalkeeper at that time in Gaza Sector) could fend off a penalty.
   One of the main problems that the national football team faced at that time was the coordination of the regions in the Diaspora and bringing the members together from Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere. The Palestinian team, which was mostly a combination of the teams from Gaza played against Egyptian teams, such as the Selected Company team.  In addition, the Gaza Selected team played a few games with the Egyptian military teams, such as the Army and Air Force.  Gaza’s team at that time included: Nadi Gaza al-Riyadi, Nadi Khadamat Rafah, Nadi Khadamat Khan Yunis, YMCA, Nadi al-Qawmi, Ri’ayat Ashabab, and Al-Awda.[28] 

   Between 1948 - 1967, about ten clubs (in addition to two football teams) had been established in the refugee camps in Lebanon. Among these clubs were: Al-'Amalika (The Giants) was founded in 1966, Palestinian Scouts - 1955, al-Karameh - 1953, Filastin - 1958, al-Ittihad - 1966, al-Wihdah (near Saida) - 1956, Shabab al-Arab (Arab Youth)- 1951, Nadi Nojoom Filastin - in early 1960's, Nadi Al-Ba'ath established by Ba'ath party in Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp, the team of Al-Qastal - in 1955, and the team of Al-Cabri founded in 1952.  Many football players became members in the Lebanese clubs. Some of these clubs were affiliated with political factions such as the Arab Nationalist Movement and the Ba'ath party. Few club leaders could not avoid being arrested by the Lebanese authorities for their political orientation.
    At that time, other sports such as wrestling started to the light. As mentioned earlier A'maliqa (Giants) Club was established in 1966 by the brothers Khalil and Atta Nabilsi. The two brothers worked hard to develop this sport among the Palestinian community in Lebanon. 

Palestine and FIFA
    After 1948, the Palestine Sports Federation PSF continued to exist after 1948.[29] Documents which were found in FIFA’s archive show that even though the application of the PSF was rejected before 1948, PSF decided to continue applying for the affiliation in the FIFA.  In March 1951 it sent a letter to the FIFA:

    In 1946 and before the termination of the British Mandate the Palestine Sports Federation applied, in a long memorandum, for registration in your honourable Association.  The application was then refused on the ground that the rules of the International Football Association do not sanction the registration of two institutions from the same state or country, the Palestine Football Association (a Jewish Sporting Institution) having obtained registration long before the submission of our application.  Towards the end of 1947, however, and after the authentication of the Partition Scheme by the General Assembly of the United Nations, we were informed by the Lebanese Football Association that your Committee had finally decided to allow the registration of our Federation, but due to the state of chaos and turmoil prevailing in Palestine at that time we could not make further approaches for effecting registration after payment of the required fees.  We hereby affirm our previous application for the registration of our Federation in your Association and regard ourselves automatically entitled to such registration.  We shall, therefore, be grateful if we shall be informed of the amount of fees to be paid.  Twenty-one clubs have so far registered in our Federation and we have twelve playgrounds at our disposal most of which are fenced and have international dimensions.  The rules of our Federation of which you have a copy still stand without alteration. Hoping to receive a favourable reply as soon as possible.[30]

    No further information about this application was mentioned; however, obviously FIFA rejected the application.

   In the 1950’s and 1960’s sports in Gaza reached a reasonable level. Therefore, in 1962, the athletic leadership decided to form Al-Ittihad al-Riyadi al-Falastini li Korat al-Qadam (The Palestine Sports Football Federation - PSFF). The President was Subhi Farah, the vice president – Ishaq Nashashibi, Secretary Elias Manneh, treasurer – Abdel Qader Judeh and Yihya Asharif – member. The affiliation of PSFF with FIFA required that Palestine had to have at least five federations affiliated with international federations. Boxing, track and field, volley ball, Basketball, handball, weightlifting, wrestling, shooting, skating and ice hockey.  Some of these federations have been accepted, while others have been rejected.

   In August 1963 a letter was signed by the secretary of the Arab PSFF Elias Manneh and sent to the Secretary of FIFA:

May I submit the following for your kind consideration.  A Football Federation has been established in Palestine Gaza Strip in 1962 which was the outcome of a long and fruitful experience.  The clubs affiliated to the Federation are 15 in number.  The Football players actively engaged who are above the age of 17 years are 1200 and those who are below that age are 3000 approximately.  So far three other Federations in Palestine have been accepted in their respective Federations, name Boxing, Weightlifting and Basketball.  I enclose herewith a summary detailing the information which clarifies our position.  We are ready to fulfill all obligations and we earnestly hope that our application for affiliation to the F.I.F.A. will be kindly and justly accepted, for which act of kindness I am to thank you in anticipation.

   The Association was constituted from the clubs and sporting bodies in Gaza Strip. The Board of Directors of the Association were: President – Subhi Farah, Vice President – Ishaq Nashashibi, General Secretary – Elias Manneh, Treasurer – Abdel Qader Judah, and Member – Yihya Sharif.

        Later the PFA received a letter from Dr. H. Kaser FIFA’s secretary to Elias Manneh:
With reference to our previous correspondence we should like to ask you to let us have an up to date statistical information about football in your area.[31]

   Few days later, PFA sent a letter to FIFA, dated the 23rd of November, 1964:
   May I take this opportunity to referee to your letter in which we have been informed that our request for affiliation of our Federation to FIFA will be submitted to the Executive Committee at their meeting of October 6th, 1964 in Tokyo.  Accordingly we have delegated three representatives to attend this meeting in Tokyo.  In spite of the high expenses occurred for the travel of our representatives to Tokyo, they were faced with the fact that our request for affiliation to FIFA was not enrolled on the Agenda as advised in your above referenced letter.  It would be highly appreciated if you would kindly advise us of the reasons for which our request was omitted from the Agenda although all our documents, statistics, information, etc. were supplied to you long time ago and we believe that there are noexcuses to prevent presenting our request in the meeting in Tokyo.”

In this letter the PFA made it clear to FIFA that:

   At the termination of the British Mandate, a Palestinian National Assembly met in September 1948 in the Gaza Strip and set up a Government of all Palestine, which has been recognized by the League of Arab States, the regional organization in that area comprising thirteen states, of which twelve are members of the U.N. Not only does a legal Palestine Government exist, but it is recognized and participated as a full-fledged member of the League of Arab States.  Furthermore in Gaza Strip, which is a part of the territory of Palestine, there exists an Arab Palestinian administration, a constitutionally elected legislative Assembly and a national army.  As a matter of fact although Gaza constitutes only part of the Arab State of Palestine it has, nevertheless all the elements of sovereignty.  If the Palestine Government has chosen not to apply for U. N. membership in protest against the great injustice that has befallen it, this can never be considered as invalidating the legal existence of Palestine.  The Palestinian Government however, has been represented continuously in the U.N. whenever the Palestine issue came up for discussion.  In bringing forward these facts to your kind attention we hope that you would find that the admission of the Palestine Football Federation to the F.I.F.A. is legal and that you will give our application further consideration.

   FIFA considered that the status of the Gaza Sector was the main obstacle in the registration of the PFA.  On December 2nd 1964, a letter was sent from FIFA to the United Nations, which had been forwarded by the European Office of the United Nations in Geneva, informing the UN that the Palestine Sports Football Federation, with Headquarters in Gaza, has requested affiliation with FIFA, and inquired of the UN the legal status of Gaza:

   The information which you note in the fourth paragraph of your letter appears to be substantially correct.  So far as the United Nations is concerned the status of Gaza is governed by the Egyptian-Israeli General Armistice Agreement, signed at Rhodes on 24 February 1949.  Under this General Armistice Agreement Gaza is a “territory under the control” of Egypt (now the United Arab Republic).  The Agreement specifically provides that it is not intended to prejudice the rights, claims or interests of a non-military character in the area of Palestine.
   While Israel has taken the position that the General Armistice Agreement with Egypt is no longer in force, the United Arab Republic and the United Nations do not accept this view.  In any event, Gaza remains “territory under the control” of the United Arab Republic and for which the UAR is internationally responsible.  If you should wish for which the UAR is internationally responsible.

Later PFA received a letter from FIFA dated 24 December, 1964:

   With reference to previous correspondence I would like to inform you that one difficulty has arisen, that is to know the exact status of your country.  As soon as UNO [United Nations Organization] answers our question we hope to be able to submit your application to the competent committee but this will not be before the end of February 1965.  If you are able to let us know your exact political status would you please be so kind as to write to us again.

   In this regard FIFA received a letter from UN on February 9th 1965:

   I wish to refer to your letter of 2 December 1964 which has been forwarding to me by the European Office of the United Nations in Geneva. Your letter informs us that the Palestine Sports Football Federation with headquarters in Gaza has requested affiliation with your Association and you inquire concerning the status of Gaza.
   The information which you note in the fourth paragraph of your letter appears to be substantially correct.  So far the United Nations is concerned the status of Gaza is governed by Egyptian Israeli General Armistice Agreement, signed at Rhodes on 24 February 1949.  Under this General Armistice Agreement Gaza is a “territory under control” of Egypt (now the United Arab Republic).  The Agreement specifically provides that it is not intended to prejudice the rights, claims or interests of a non-military character in the area of Palestine.
   While Israel has taken the portion that the general Armistice Agreement with Egypt is no longer in force, the United Arab Republic and the United Nations do not accept this view.  In any event Gaza remains territory under the control of the United Arab Republic and for which UAR is internationally responsible.  If should wish detailed information concerning the exercise of governmental territory within the Gaza area, this could be obtained most authoritatively from the Government of the United Arab Republic.

   Unfortunately, on the 28th of May, 1965, the PFA received a telegram from FIFA about the rejection of its application:

We firmly object exepting [sic. accepting] a District called Gaza as a member of FIFA.  There is no country called Palestine, therefore Gaza cannot be in Palestine.  The exeptance [sic. acceptance] of a part of a country as an independent member is contrary to the FIFA regulations.

Justifying the reasons behind this rejection FIFA sent a letter to PFA dated  June 2nd 1965:

   At its last meeting, the Executive Committee of FIFA carefully examined your application for provisional membership.  We are sorry to inform you that the Executive Committee did not feel itself in a position to admit your Association to provisional membership because of the status of your territory, which is a territory under control and not an independent nation, colony, dominion or protectorate.  The conditions of Article 1, paragraph 3 of the FIFA statutes are not fulfilled.

    Later, in a letter to FIFA, Elias Manneh gave a brief historical explanation about the status of Gaza, and refuted the claims that Gaza was a “territory under control” of Egypt.14   FIFA responded that it was not ignorant of the historical facts the PFA mentioned, but did not wish to enter into arguments of a political nature.[32]

    After 1948, the center of gravity of Palestine sports movement moved from Jaffa to Gaza. Sports in Sector Gaza - which was under the Egyptian administration - witnessed a noticeable growth. While sports developments in the West Bank and the refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan were slow and spontaneous. Palestinian sports had the capacity to recover from difficulties, this resilience was due to the previous experience and the severity of the dispersion and dispossession. The participation of Palestine in the Pan Arab Games has raised the name of Palestine high and proved that sports at that period played a pivotal role in maintaining  and demonstrating the Palestinian national identity. This was also represented in Palestine Football Federation's bid  to join the FIFA.


[1]Edward Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage Books, 1980), p. 119.
[2]Issam Khalidi, “Body and Ideology: Early Athletics in Palestine: 1900-1948,” Jerusalem Quarterly 27 (2007): 44-58.
[3]Edward Said, The Question of Palestine.
[4]Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, p.122.
[5]Hannah Mermelstein. Overdue Books: Returning Palestine’s “Abandoned Property” of 1948. Jerusalem Quarterly 47,  p. 46- 64.
Due to Nakba, Palestinians were force to leave to Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Gaza Sector, West Bank and other Arab countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Gulf States.. 
[6] Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 224-223.
[7]Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, p. 415.
[8] Fawas Turki, The Disinherited: Journal of Palestine Exile. p 29. Quoted in Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 215.
[9]Hannah Mermelstein. Overdue Books: Returning Palestine’s “Abandoned Property.
[10]Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, p. 399.
[11]Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, p. 133.
[12]Wasef Daher, Sports History in Palestine, This week in Palestine, August 9, 2010.
[13]Edward Said, The Question of Palestine , p. 131.
[14]Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, p.131
[15]Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, p.132.
[16] Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, , p. 222.
[17] Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, , p.218
[18] Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, , p.219
[19] Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 221
[20] Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p.223-224.
[21]In 1948 championship was not held. In 1949 the Ahli Club became the champion. (1950 – Ahli, 1951 –Ahli, 1952 – Faisali, 1954 – was not held, 1955 – Jazira, 1956 – Jazira, 1957 and 1958 – was not held, 1959 – Faisal, 1960 – Faisali, 1961 – Faisali, 1962 – Faisali, 1963 – Faisali, 1964 – Faisali, 1965 – Faisali, 1966 – Faisali, 1967 – was not held).
[22]Michel W. Asfour. From Humble Beginning ….The East Jerusalem YMCA. This Week in Palestine. June 2008.
[23] Michel W. Asfour, From Humble Beginning 
[25] Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p.27 .
[26] The games set up by Indonesia as a counter to the Olympic Games. Established for the athletes of the so-called "emerging nations" (mainly newly independent socialist states), GANEFO was the name given both to the games held in Jakarta in 1963 and the 36-member sporting federation established the same year. A second GANEFO scheduled for Cairo in 1967 was cancelled and GANEFO had only one subsequent event, an "Asian GANEFO" held in Phnom Penh in 1966.
[27] An interview with Ismail al-Masri a football player in the 1960s from Gaza.
[28]Sector Gaza had its tournament: Nadi al-Qawmi 1954-1956, YMCA 1963-1964, Ri’ayat Ashabab 1967.
[29]The Palestine Sports Federation was located in the current Gaza Sports Club, in the top floor. It was separate from the other sports federations.
[30] FIFA Archive.  This letter was sent by the Football Committee which was affiliated to the PSA [al-Ittihad al-Riyadi al-Falastini – LajnatKurat al-Qadam].  At the same time a letter by Abdel Rahman al-Habbab the secretary of the PFA was sent to the FIFA informing it that the functions and authorities of the General Secretary have been transferred to Mr. Ahmad Z. Afifi, who was the duly authorized person to represent, communicate and sign on behalf of the Federation.
[31]FIFA Archive, November 13 1964.
[32]FIFA Archive, February 10  1966.

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