Monday, July 24, 2017

Sports in the West Bank 1967 - 1994

Issam Khalidi

      In the aftermath of the Six-Day War in June 1967, the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip found themselves severed from the rest of the Arab World and under direct Israeli Control. The rapid occupation of these areas by the Israeli army initially put the residents into a state of shock. [1] In the newly occupied territories Israel suddenly controlled an additional one million Palestinians in addition to its four hundred thousand Palestinian citizens. This marked the beginning of important structural changes in Palestinian society under occupation.[2]
      The June 1967 war was a major watershed in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It unleashed another wave of Palestinian refugees, some of whom became refugees for the second time. But at the same time it gave a powerful boost to the PLO in the struggle against Israeli occupation. By the end of the war, Israel had captured the Sinai peninsula from Egypt, the Golan Height from Syria, and the West Bank from Jordan. [3] While the communities of exiles, scattered through the countries of the Middle East, formed the foundation of the new Palestinism, the 1967 war returned the focus to the reunited territory of the old Palestine mandate. Israel's overwhelming victory produced not only another wave of refugees but also the rise of a new outside leadership and the creation of a civil society within the occupied territories. The PLO outsiders and insiders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip cooperated and contended, struggling over the image of the Palestinians' future, all within the context of the Palestinian consciousness created in the refugee camps in the decades following al-Nakba [or catastrophe]. [4]Seeming at first to represent only further displacement and defeat, the 1967 war in fact inaugurated a period of national reintegration and institutional renewal, along with the daily burdens of Israeli occupation. The intervening years marked a certain limbo. The Palestinians were severed from the old foundations of society and politics, scarred by exile, and still stunned by the fate that had befallen them. The leaders and formal groups characterized the post-1967 era had not yet appeared on the scene. It was the moment in Palestinian history most bereft of hope.[5]
     "Since the establishment of the Jewish state, Israel has carried out not only confiscation of Palestinian land, the source of our physical existence, but also confiscation of our culture, constituting the spiritual source of our life.  Culture is our roots; a vital and essential side of the integrity of every people.  Without it, we are deprived of our common identity as a national community.  What the Israeli authorities object to, in fact, is the very concept of Palestine and, therefore, any form of expression of such a concept," wrote Hallaj.[6] The primary symbols of Palestinian nationhood are, of course, the word “Palestine” and the Palestinian flag.  The objection is not only to the context within which the word “Palestine” is used, but also to its symbolism.  For that reason, the word itself, even when it stands alone, is considered offensive by the Israeli authorities.[7]
   Sport as a cultural element, and a tool for social integration and identity formation was and still subjected to confiscation because of its potent force within society. It is impossible to fully understand contemporary society and culture without acknowledging the place of sport. [8] Sport has an impact on shaping social and national consciousness. It does not exist in a value-free, neutral social, cultural or political context but is influenced by all of these contexts. [9]During the post 1967 period, social-athletic clubs were centers for social, athletic, cultural, intellectual and partisanship activities; their constant efforts were a magnificent means for shaping the personality of the younger generation.  At that time it was required from the youth to be strong.  Clubs constituted fortifications for the struggle against the Israeli occupation; they made huge contributions towards strengthening youth cohesion.  At that period, sports went parallel with other activities (cultural and social) and sometimes interfered with them.  Activities such as cultural, social and athletic, in many cases, were interwoven so tightly that it was hard to separate them.  The main reason behind this phenomenon was the nature of the clubs, which were characterized as social-cultural-athletic.  Each of these aspects helped in promoting the other.  Many members practiced more than one activity at the same time; every club had few committees, such as cultural, social, and athletic.  Also, every club had his own football, basketball or sometimes boxing and wrestling teams. Many football (and other sports) matches ended with demonstrations against the occupation.  Many of these matches were interrupted with chants and songs demanding the liberation of the Palestinian lands from the oppressor. These matches represented a national celebration among the Palestinian people. 
   Despite the demographic changes by the war, Palestinian society maintained significant aspect of its structure after occupation. [10]The relationship between exterior and interior in the Palestinian national movement began taking on a structure beyond limited symbolic and sentimental ventures. An examination of the mechanisms used to advance each of these spheres will help us understand attempts to coordinate between them. These mechanisms took different forms and centered on the following three goals. The first was to deepen national sentiment among the population and to emphasize the unity of Palestinian identity. The second form of activity used to correlate between exterior and interior was the blocking of Israel's attempts to foster the rise of local leadership in the occupied territories that might challenge or replace the PLO's comprehensive representational claims. The Third form of correlative action between interior and exterior in the Palestinian national movement took shape as a more solid structure. [11]
    Most of the clubs were affiliated with religious dominations, such as Orthodox, Catholic, and Moslem, while others were affiliated with political and national factions, such as Fatah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine PFLP and Democratic FLP.As humiliating as the 1967 war had been for the Arabs, it gave Fatah new opportunities in two areas. First, the humiliation quieted the gales of Nasserite pan-Arabism. Second, by reuniting the Palestinian majority--this time under Israeli occupation--the war made it much easier for Fatah to penetrate Palestinian society. [12]
   The leaders at the Arab summit in Baghdad(November 1978) committed $ 250 million to the PLO, $1.25 billion to Jordan, and a further $150 million to support the steadfastness of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories. By the end of November 1978 the PLO and Jordan had agreed to establish a joint committee to distribute the money in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. [13]The committee's aid to the educational system was not uniform. Institutions, movements, and personalities that were loyal to the Fatah elite in exile were better supported than others. With the differential allocation of resources the committee attempted to influence the ability of the different institutions and movements to mobilize support among the population. [14]Also, some social-athletic clubs that were linked to Fatah had the lion share and were better supported than others.
   The post-1967 period was characterized by a lack of governmental institutions, such as a department or ministry of youth and sport, sports associations (federations).  These institutions are the basic factor behind the growth of sports in any country.  However, this did not prevent the development of sports. As Migdal and Kimmerling pointed out that absence of a state may have played into the hands of the making of the Palestinian people in another way as well. Because they lacked a central authority, they developed a vibrant civil society, particularly in the 1970's and 1980's in the occupied territories. This civil society consisted of new, voluntary and service organizations, which breathed life into a sense of Palestinism.  In an odd twist of fate, it was only during the rule of the Palestine Authority itself that the civil society, weaned in the difficult conditions of occupation, crumbled. [15] By the end of the 1980s, these organizations of civil society employed 20,000-30,000 workers. In the absence of a state, the new Palestinian elite had cultivated alternate mechanisms in civil society. Without tax revenues, their organizations depended, in large part, on foreign sources. [16] This said, it remains the case that the forces acting on the West Bank population had created a unique people, doggedly attached to the Palestine they now inhabited as well as the Palestine their memories. [17]
   Sports games (especially in football and basketball) continued after 1967 among the clubs in the West Bank and Gaza Sector.  These games were friendly and sustained the links between the Palestinian people as well as villages and cities.  They also helped in preserving the daily life of Palestinian youth.  In the West Bank and Gaza Sector, almost every city and village had a social athletic club.  Most of these clubs adopted sports as part of their traditions.  Sports became a standard for their success.  At that time, it was hard to find a club that did not include sports(especially football) as the main part of its activities. Most of the members of these clubs started playing football on the streets, so when they entered these clubs, they had some skills that qualified them to play in the clubs’ teams.  Also, being a member of this or that club gave the youth self-confidence, self-esteem, and more respect from the club members and the community. The clubs depended entirely on the dedication and selflessness of their members. Their source of funding was based on fundraising events, and on donations by social dignitaries in cities and villages.
   It is obvious that, despite the harsh measurements taken by the occupation to hinder the cultural progress in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and besides the lack of state institutions, social clubs continued to be found in every city and village.  The growth of sports was linked proportionally to the increase in the number of clubs. In 1974 Gaza Sports Club was re-established (Nadi Gaza al-Riyadi) - established in 1934.  It became one of the best football teams at that time.  The re-establishment came after an initiative by Abd al-Karim Shawwa, Ibrahim Oweda, Salim Sharfa and Said al-Huseini, presented to the mayor of Gaza Rashad Shawwa.  In addition, in Jericho Nadi Hilal Ariha (established in 1974), which later became one of the best in the West Bank.  In 1976, in al-Bireh (near Ramallah) two organizations – Majmou’at al-Bireh (established 1964) and Nadi al-Bireh al-Riyadi merged together to form Mu’assasat Shabab al-Bireh. 

   As a result of the war and the subsequent Israeli occupation in 1967 (in addition to the absence of national leadership, the lack of international support, and the desperate situation of youth), a sort of “sports Intifada” erupted through individual initiatives by some clubs and associations led by the East Jerusalem YMCA, which assumed the role of ministry of youth and sports for a time and became the meeting place for the West Bank Federation and other sports institutions. We could say that Palestinian sports experienced its golden era between 1968 and the late 1980s.[18]
   After 1967, the YMCA opened its facilities to the community at large to assist them in overcoming their frustration with the realities of an ugly occupation and to protect youth from the dangers of unstructured and unsupervised free time.  In fact, the YMCA took on the role of a national ministry for youth and sports.[19]
   During the seventies and eighties, the YMCA sports programs and activities were at their peak.  Palestinian sports representatives and football fans remember the old good days when the EJ-YMCA hosted the first international football games: the EPA football team from Cyprus in 1969 and again in 1970, Quincy University football team in 1971, the British Airways football team in 1972, and Western Illinois University football team in 1973.[20]  In addition to the international sports competitions, the YMCA hosted many tournaments and championships in various sports, but the Ramadan Championships were unique.  Players from various Palestinian regions got together after the iftar [breakfast after fasting] to socialize, pray at the Dome of the Rock, or to play in various sports competitions.  Hundreds of fans and spectators from Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Hebron gathered to enjoy evenings of sports and friendship in Jerusalem, their holy city.[21]

   The YMCA also organized the Sudasyyat (6 players including the goal keeper) and Silwan Sports Club, YMCA, Shabab Gaza, Nadi al-Khalil, Markaz Tulkarm, Shabab Rafah, Orthodox Bethlehem, Majmoo’a Shabab al-Bireh, Al-Arabi Beit Safafa, Shabab Ariha, Hittin, Balata, Hilal al-Quds.[22]
   The story of Palestine’s golden era of sports would be incomplete without mentioning the people who were behind these achievements, such as the late Labib Nasser, the Secretary General of the YMCA, who had a vision for youth and sports.  He always followed the activities from his office, which overlooked the St. George’s fields and playground.  It is said that Labib once told a member who were complaining about the noise caused by the children of the YMCA: “This noise is music for me, and I enjoy it!”  Other significant figures of this era include the late Majed Asaad of Al Bireh Club, Ahmad Adileh of Silwan, Khalil El Husseini of Jericho, Rimon Zabaneh, Nadi Khoury, Toni Abboud, and many others.[23]
   At that time, St. George’s playing field was the site of these sports events, despite its sorry condition.  It was a real pity that nothing was done to rehabilitate this field, which was considered the only lung for the sports body in Jerusalem.
[24] Players were recruited and taken care of by Mr. Rimon N. Zabaneh (Abu Tareq), the physical director, who, with the Sports Committee and many qualified staff and volunteers, who supervised, trained, and coached different age groups and teams in football, basketball, volleyball, handball, and table tennis.  [25]

Institutionalization of sports
The sport activist Al-Ansari pointed out that after 1967 there was no authority that supervised the clubs and the athletic activities in the West Bank.  The coordination between clubs, referees and players depended on personal communications among them.  These communications were not based on strong administrative organizational bases, and were not free from personal conflicts.  In 1969, the Association of Arab Clubs was established; it took the Group of al-Bireh (club) [Majmooa’t al-Bireh] as its headquarters.  It organized the first tournament in the West Bank.  However, it was suspended by the Israeli occupation in 1971.[26]

The North
In 1969, Nablus Municipality urged the athletes of the city to be organized and to be involved in social-cultural activities.  Later, a preparatory committee was formed for the city’s athletes clubs.  It set up a tournament in football for the following clubs: NadiHittin, al-Ittihad al-Riyadi, NadiIbal, Markaz Balata, Markaz al-Thaqafi, Ittihad al-Naqabat, ShababAskar, Shabab al-Sikka, and MarkazRaqam (1) [Center Number One].  In Nablus, a selected team was also formed; it was a perfect step toward the progress of sports and football in this city.  At that time, sports events between the teams of Nablus and the rest of the West Bank started.  However, the results of these Nablus teams were very weak, so their leadership started to think about forming selected teams that could bring good results for the city. [27]
   In Tulkarim (North West of Nablus), the city’s biggest club, Markaz Tulkarim [Center of Tulkarim], was closed directly after the 1967 war.  The Majority of its players played with other clubs in other cities.  In 1970, the club was opened and they started to compete with the other teams in Nablus and in the West Bank.  In the first half of the 1970’s, few clubs were established in the Tulkarim region, such as the following: Thaqafi Tulkarim, Nadi Qalqilia, Nadi Jayyoos in Jayyooss, Noor Shams in Noor Shams Camp, and Nadi Salfit.  Later, two committees of supervision were established in Nablus and Tulkarim.  In 1978, a session was held between these two committees to establish a coordination committee which supervised and organized athletic activities and tournaments in these two regions.[28]

The South
Ya’qub al-Ansari, in his book The Clubs League: How, When Was Established?! (Rabitat al-Andiya, Kaifa, Mata Ta’assasat), states that:
    In September 25th 1975 we the referees Muhammad al-Muhder, Ya’qub al-Ansari, Ahmad al-Naji, George Qassis, Odeh Bishara, Muhammed Abdel Bari, Muhammed al-Samhuri, Nadi Khouri reviewed the issues of refereeing, we found that the lack of an association is causing problems to us, so we decided to found an association. At that meeting we formed the Association of Referees.[29] Which paved the way for the Association of Athletic Clubs. He confirms that the Association of Athletic Clubs Rabitat al-Andiyyah al-Riyadiyya originally was established in November 30th 1975. [30]Later, in 1980 it included the clubs of the north. He refutes the claims that al-Rabita was established in 1980.[31]

Gaza Sector
 In 1978 the Association of Clubs Rabitat al-Andiya was established in Gaza Sector.  The idea was initiated by the Gaza Sports club.  It was later supported by Khadamat ash-Shate’, Rafah Youth Club, Breij Services Club, Rafah Services Club, Nseirat Services Club and Khan Yunis Services Club.  The first President of this association was the athletic activist Subhi Farah (then Vice President of Gaza Sports Club).  Other Presidents of this association were Ibrahim Eweida from Gaza Sport Club and Muammar Biseso from Gaza Sport Club.  Among the founders of this league were Ali Mahdi from Shabab Rafah, Lutfi Sibakhi from Khan Yunis Services Club, Darwish Houli from Rafah Services Club and Walid Ayyub from Shate’ Services Club and Jawdat Judeh from Khadamat al Breij.  Later two other clubs joined the association: Ahli Palestine Club and Shaja’iyya Union.[32]

The first official match between the teams in the West Bank and Gaza was in the early seventies on al-Yarmouk Staduim in Gaza.  The match was between a selected team from Jerusalem and a selected team from Gaza, which ended with a tie.  The bridging of the ties between the West Bank and Gaza was initiated by Ibrahim Mughrabi, Mohammed Ghayyada, Said al-Husaini and others.  This match marked the beginning of moving football beyond the borders; it symbolized the start of coordination between the West Bank and Gaza Sector.  It was followed with numerous of matches between clubs from both sides.

   Sports activities and events were held regularly and frequently everywhere - not only football but other sports as well.  Spontaneous friendly matches and championship matches and all sorts of competitions took place between teams throughout the Palestinian territories.  Exchange of match visits between clubs and teams of various cities, including those in the Gaza Strip, were daily happenings.  Sports fever was the “password” among the young generation.  Football teams from abroad often visited, and matches were organized regularly.[33]
   Some clubs imported coaches and trainers who led training courses.  Visiting teams often tried to attract some of their players, and a number of them did actually go to the United States.  Some remained abroad to study and play for various teams, and others returned.  In spite of the limited support and lack of real training and coaching, there were talented players who played extraordinary football.
  The sport journalist Wassef Daher describes that period as, “I do not exaggerate when I say that watching Musa Al Toubassi and Hatem Salah, the magnificent players, was a great joy to us all.  A few players, however, were not as fortunate as others.  They did not have the chance to be chosen by foreign scouts and play abroad.  The talent was born and buried here, and deprived of the right to become famous, which could have been advantageous not only for the players themselves but for Palestine as well.”

The achievements of al-Rabita 1980 - 1987:
After the affiliation of the clubs of the north cities in the Rabita, the quality of performance improved rapidly.  This Rabita began functioning as a Ministry of Sports; it took different responsibilities and duties.  One of its main responsibilities was the mobilization of all the efforts for the advancement of sports and welfare of young men.  Its main functions were organizing and supervising the tournaments and competitions in the West Bank.  The Rabita built a system which was based on national, social, and organizational principles.  It had no links to government departments and was free from corrupted bureaucracy.  Most of its work was based on a volunteering system; the leaders of the clubs and al-Rabita activists desirably gave their efforts and time for free. 
   Football as a traditional game took the lion’s share from other games, such as basketball, handball, volleyball, boxing, and others.  Al-Rabita was responsible for promoting and developing sports.  Mainly, football was played in clubs which were considered the main field for bringing up good players.  The tournaments that were organized by al-Rabita were subordinate to international standards and far from intolerance, tribalism, and partisanship.  At that time, sports was free from impurities.  Many clubs began accepting defeat as a normal process.  In other words, sports had reached a high level based on national awareness and patriotic sentiments.
   In 1980, al-Rabita started to organize the preliminary round which ended in the classified tournament in 1981/1982; it classified the teams to five levels: Premier league -12 clubs. First league -15. Second league -12.Third league - 11.Fourth league - 6.[35] Al-Rabita also set up a tournament for all levels.  The winners were: Markaz Tulkarim - premier league, Nadi Shabab al-Khalil – second league, third league - O'dd (Return) Sport Club, fourth league - Sur Bahir Club (a village near Jerusalem).[36]
Competitions with other teams outside the West Bank
   In August 1980, the club of Hanover (Germany) was hosted by Silwan Sport Club, and the match ended with a final score of 3:2, in favor of Hanover.  In 1985, the team of French Unions Federation visited the West Bank and played against Hittin Club and won 2:0.  It also played against Hilal al-Quds and won 2:0. In 1981, the YMCA’s football team traveled to Jordan and competed against the Orthodox club in Amman; the YMCA won 3:1.  It also competed with the team of Wihdat Club and was defeated 0:1.  In May 1983, Hilal al- Quds matched the Wihdat on Amman Stadium; Hilal lost 3:0. In May 1983, the YMCA football team matched the Faisali in Amman and lost 0:1, and met with Wihdat and lost 3:0. In April 1984, the team of Shabab al-Khalil left for France (through Jordan) it played with St. Etan Club; Shabab al-Khalil lost 1:0.  Also, the Hebron defeated Annecy (city in France) team with a score of 5:0.  In April 1985, Shabab al-Khalil played with Wihdat on Amman Stadium; Wihdat won 1:0.  Also it played with Ramtha Club and lost 2:1.
   In September 1986, a meeting was held between the members of al-Rabita and the delegation of the French Union Federation.  A protocol was signed by Majed As’ad from al-Rabita and Rene Mustard from the Federation; both sides celebrated this occasion.
   Later, primary communications and discussions were held between the Palestinian al-Rabita and the Italian federation, but no protocols or agreements were signed until 1989. At the same time, a winning agreement was held between the local clubs and French Clubs such as De La Salle of Jerusalem and Cosma, Al-Khalil and Venice, and Orthodox of Beit Jala and De Porte Pau.
   In March 1984, the first athletic meeting was held between al-Rabita of the West Bank and Gaza.  In this meeting, they agreed to organize two matches for the selected teams of these two associations, the first in Gaza, and the second in Jerusalem. The first Match was held on Yarmouk field in March 1984. The West Bank selected team won this match 2:1.
Other sports and spheres
In November 1978, the Supreme Council of Youth Care (affiliated with PLO) re-established the Palestine Basketball Association. It chose Dr. George Rishmawi as its honorary president. Its headquarters were located in Gaza. Later, it was moved to Damascus.[37]
  Since 1966 YMCA organized a tournament for basketball (Sa'iqa). This tournament re-started in 1969 until 1980. Rimon Zabahe, head of the athletic section at YMCA was the head of the basketball committee of Rabitat al-Andiya. The competition in basketball has always been between YMCA and the al-Ittihad SC in Nablus. [38]In 1984, the YMCA basketball team left to Amman and competed with the Orthodox Club there. In 1985, the Rabita organized the first championship in basketball where 34 teams took part.  Al-A’mal al-Katoliki (Catholic Labor) became the champion. The second championship was held in 1986 where 20 teams took part. Salezian of Bethlehem was the winner defeating Markaz Shabab Balata. Also, al-Rabita conducted a tournament in order to classify clubs into divisions.
   In 1987 al-Rabita also organized tournaments in volleyball where 11 clubs took part.  Tal Club defeated Azzon 2 to nil and won the cup.
  Table tennis took place in al-Rabita's activities. The first single championship was held in 1984 when 99 players (members of 26 clubs) took part. Hanna Ardakian (YMCA) won the cup. Ahmed al-Minawi (Ibal) in the second place, and Aiman Tuqan in the third place. The second single championship was held in 1985. Fifty-five players took part. Hanna Ardakian (YMCA) was in the first place defeating Ahmad Minawi (Ibal). The third championship was held in 1986 when 76 players took part. Seleh Kana'n (Islamic SC of Bethlehem) defeated Aham Minawi, while Hanna Ardakian got the fourth place.[39]

   In 1973 universities and institutes organized the first sports day where students from Birzeit College (at that time it was still college), Najah and Teachers Institute in Ramallah took part. They competed in 100m, 400m, 1500m, 4x100 relay, long and high jump, shot put and discus.  In 1978, the first tournament for colleges was launched, three major universities and institutes - Birzeit, al-Najah, Bethlehem, Teachers (men's) College in Ramallah, and Teachers (girls') College in Tireh Ramallah - in the West Bank took part. The universities and institutes organized annual championships for football, volleyball, handball, table tennis, and cross country.
  Since 1973, he General Federation of Trade Unions GFTU organized the Tournament of May 1st (Dawri al-Awal min Ayyar) in football, table tennis, basketball, volleyball, handball, and cycling. [40]UNRWA organized tournaments for its 13 social youth centers in the West Bank, the first tournament was held in 1969. These competitions were not held annually on a regular basis.[41]
   Boxing at that time had its own association Ittihad al-Mulakama. Khalil Zahdeh was the first boxer from the West Bank to win the bronze medal at the Pan Arab Games in 1987. [42]In December 1986 and January 1987, a meeting was held between the Palestinian and Jordanian boxers in Amman Jordan where Palestinians got three golden and four silver medals. [43]

The committees [which were founded by al-Shabiba- Fatah and functioned through late 1970s and 1980s) tried to break down the barriers between the village and the city as well as those that prevented the flow of contacts between villages. For this purpose, they organized cultural, social, political, and sporting activities that brought people from the villages and the cities together. Doctors and academics were invited to lecture in the villages, and sports clubs were organized in an attempt to extend the scope of contacts between villages and cities. These gathering included cultural activities aimed at raising the socio-political awareness of the people in the villages and bringing them into a broader socio-national web. [44]
   The sports honeymoon came to an end in the late eighties, and the situation took a 180-degree turn in the wake of the confrontation between the Palestinians and the Israeli occupation.  One of the first things the United National Leadership (UNL) did was issue a fourteen-point programme which accepted the overall leadership of the PLO and asked for adherence to United Nations resolutions and the right of self-determination. In addition, the leadership asked local people holding jobs in the Israeli occupation  apparatus to resign, called for strikes and for businesses to close, and issued specific instruction to the children ranging from how to throw stones to what to say under interrogation. [45] Roadblocks, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and all sorts of restrictions put an end to the movements of the teams between cities and even between different places within each city!  Gaza was severely affected and sports received a big blow. [46]  Young people and children were deprived of their normal rights to recreation and play.  Loss of regular contact and competition had a negative impact on the development and improvement of sports, in general, and on sports activities, in particular - whether locally or internationally.  The Palestinian flag was never raised, medals were not won, and the national anthem was never heard at any of the Olympic Games or other international competitions.[47]
At the same time, closing the clubs and suspending the football games was considered an egregious mistake committed by the Unified National Leadership of the Uprising (UNLU) at that time.  In addition to its national and social importance, football, as well as other games, constituted the ideal means for maintaining good health for the citizens.  The situations at that time required the leadership to maintain engagement with the citizens in football and other games.  Besides the occupation, the blame has to be put on the national movement, which was not fully aware of the importance of sports and its potent power in improving many life spheres.  It might be more nationalistic if the athletic clubs stayed open to their members, so they could maintain their physical abilities and skills.
   Of course, this decision was taken by UNLU at that time; it was the head of the Palestinian resistance against the occupation. Unfortunately, the suspension of the athletic activities, and the closure of the clubs had a negative effect on the youth, and football, at the same time.  No one can ignore the role of the youth in the Intifada, who used evasive methods during their confrontation against the occupational forces.  Their physical preparation was formed during the period before the Intifada and had a great impact in this confrontation.  Therefore, closing the clubs and suspending the activities, including football, led to the weakening of the physical abilities, skills, and preparation of the youth.  Many of them dealt with the lack of physical activity by smoking and spending time at home playing cards.  This suspension also led to weakening the link between the youth, as well as between villages and cities.  Keeping the clubs opened was supposed to be an urgent issue to keep the youth in an acceptable physical condition.  Therefore, the closure was not a patriotic act; it contradicted one of the essential demands in front of the Palestinian people at that time - which is strong-healthy citizen. Unfortunately, UNLU did not take this issue into consideration.  However, despite the closure, many young men and women went to the streets to express their rejection of the occupation.

The re-establishment of al-Rabita
After the initial breakout of the Intifada, al-Rabita was suspended spontaneously until the end of 1991.  On the 16th of January, 1992, the league was re-established when twenty-two club representatives of the West Bank clubs attended a meeting.  In this meeting, they decided to bring back all the athletic committees that were registered members of al-Rabita before December 9th, 1987 (the Intifada broke out in the end of November 1987).  Al-Rabita asked these committees to pay their fees, which were not paid for the years 1988 - 1991.
   In 1994, al-Rabita included eight regions: Jerusalem (headed by Bassam al-Kilani), Hebron (Rajab Shahin), Bethlehem (George Qassis), Jericho (Khalil al-Huseini), Ramallah (Daoudal-Mitwalli), Tulkarim (Shawkat Labbada), Jenin (Farouq Yunis). Al-Rabita  also included the Committee of Public Competitions and the Referee Committee.  The Referee Committee included 15 referees for the first league, 23 referees for the second league, and 67 for the third league.  Also, there was a committee for testing the referees which consisted of HuniYunis, RasimYunis, I’rsan Ibrahim, Ahmad al- Naji, and Rimon Zabaneh.
   Al-Rabita, represented by its members, took part in the conference held by the French Federation in 1994.  The delegation included Majed As’ad (Secretary of the League), Irsan Ibrahim, Mohammad al-Nadi, Hmaidan Maragha, and George Ghattas.  The delegation had the opportunity to meet other delegations, such as the delegation of Swedish workers and South Africa, after the collapse of the apartheid regime.  The delegation also planned to have football matches in late 1995 in Gutenberg, Sweden, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Beit Sahour, Palestine.  At the same time, the delegation established connections with the Russian delegation.  These connections were based on exchanging sports visits and Russian support for the Palestinian football teams.  The delegation visited the French club, Drancy, and signed a twinning agreement with it.
   Al-Rabita depended totally on itself financially.  The clubs’ fees and match incomes were the main source for sustaining the existence of the league, which at the same time suffered from financial scarcity.  Al-Rabita was waiting and hoping that the Ministry of Youth and Sports would provide financial help. It feared that financial crisis would have a negative effect on its activities.
   Despite the harsh conditions, many administrators and athletes consider the period of 1967 - late 1980s as the golden age,or as many describe it as the Sports of the Good Time (Riyadat al-zaman al-Jamil).  However, there is no scientific evidence that proves which period was the best, the post-1967 or 1994.  Also, it is not known what criteria had been used to determine whether or not this period was better than the other. In 1982, the number of clubs that were members of the Rabita were 61. At the end of 1987 this number reached 138. [48]


    This period witnessed intensification in the athletic media.  Three newspapers were the leaders in this field: al-Quds [Jerusalem] (established in 1951) al-Fajr (Dawn) established in 1972, and al-Sha’b.  At the time, the local newspapers carried hardly any sports news or articles.  In 1969, however, this reality changed thanks to the late Mahmud Abu el-Zuluf, the chief editor of Al Quds newspaper, who determined that journalism could help sports and vice versa. Wassef Daher wrote (of that time period):
  After I had written a number of articles in Al Quds, he asked me to take charge of a daily sports column, which has since been expanded to four full pages.  All other newspapers and local magazines followed in the footsteps of Al Quds, and sports became an integral part of their publications.  The impact on both sports and journalism was tangible.[49]


  Al-Rabita was though, an alternative to the Palestine Football Association, which could not exist in the West Bank and Sector Gaza.  It represented a success in challenging the Israeli occupation at that time. According to its policy, sport was a way in which the Palestinians could raise their voices, their name, and their flag.  It had been agreed that sports would witness a noticeable growth at that point.  Al-Rabita also functioned as a federation for different sports (football, basketball, volleyball and table tennis); it brought all the clubs together and sustained the links between the West Bank and Gaza Sector.  It is worth mentioning that al-Rabita took its legitimacy from the wide fundament of the people and athletes in the West Bank and Gaza Sector.
    The West Bank and Gazan strands of Palestinian culture only began to reconnect after the 1967 war, in the unexpected environment of a Jewish state. [50] After 1967, sports could bring the West Bank and Gaza Sector together, it helped in uniting the Palestinian people together especially cities and villages. Although the biggest obstacle in the development of sports in the West Bank and Gaza Sector was the occupation, the period of 1967 - 1994 witnessed a significant growth in sports compared to that in other Arab countries. Of course, this progress is attributed to the social-athletic clubs, Rabitat al-Andiya and the efforts which were made by the sports leadership in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Al-Rabita was an umbrella that brought all clubs in the West Bank together. Actually, it functioned as a Ministry of Sports. As a nongovernmental institution al-Rabita proved to work and achieve good results.  It has been dismantled by the PNA after 1994 and replaced by governmental institutions such as the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Palestine Football Association

Issam Khalidi, an independent scholar living in San Francisco, California, is author of ‘History of Sports in Palestine 1900-1948’ in Arabic, ‘One Hundred Years of Football in Palestine’ in Arabic and English, as well as various articles on the subject included at


[1] Helena Cobban, The Palestinian Liberation Organization: People, Power, and Politics (Cambridge, U. K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984); Rashid Hamid, "What Is the PLO," Journal of Palestine Studeies4, no. 4 (Summer 1975): 90 - 109. Quoted in Amal Jamal, Palestinian National Movement, Politics of Contention 1967 - 2005, (Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 2005) p. 19.
[2] Amal Jamal, Palestinian National Movement, Politics of Contention 1967 - 2005, (Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 2005) p. 19.
[3] Avi Shlaim, Israel and Palestine, Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations, (London: Verso, 2009). p. 30.
[4]Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 416.
[5] Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, p.214 – 215.
[6] Hallaj Mohammad Palestine: The suppression of an idea. January – March 1982
[7] Ibid.
[8] Grant Harvie, Sport, Culture and Society, An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2006), p. 2
[9] Grant Harvie, Sport, Culture and Society, An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2006), p.19
[10] Amal Jamal, Palestinian National Movement, Politics of Contention 1967 - 2005, (Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 2005) p. 20.
[11] Amal Jamal, Palestinian National Movement: Politics of Contention 1967 - 2005, (Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 2005) p. 42.
[12] Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 252
[13] Amal Jamal, Palestinian National Movement: Politics of Contention 1967 - 2005, (Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 2005) p. 63.
[14] Amal Jamal, Palestinian National Movement: Politics of Contention 1967 - 2005, (Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 2005) p.64
[15]Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 400
[16] Migdal 366
[17] Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 277.
[18] WasefDaher.
[19] Michel W. Asfour, From Humble Beginnings ... The East Jerusalem YMCA, This Week in Palestine, Issue No 122, June 2008.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] A one- day tournament, each participating team consisted of six players including the goalkeeper. This kind of tournament started and ended at the same day. Sometimes the teams consisted of seven players and were called [Suba’iyyat] from the number seven in Arabic.
[23] Michel W. Asfour, Michel W. Asfour, From Humble Beginnings ... The East Jerusalem YMCA
Rimon Zabaneh: Graduated from the Institute of Physical Education in Alexandria, later he worked as a teacher in few schools in Jerusalem such as St. George’s school, Kulliyyat al-Umma. At the same time he was the athletic instructor at Jerusalem YMCA. In 1985, after the suspension of the athletic activities at the YMCA Zabaneh, and few of his football team moved to Hilal al-Quds, this team became one of the best teams in the West Bank and Gaza. Zabaneh was the first Palestinian to become an international referee in football. Today many athletes and football players owe him gratitude.
[24] Wassef Daher. Sports History in Palestine, This Week in Palestine, Issue No. 122, June 2008.
[25] Ibid.
Of those who contributed to YMCA sports, we should also mention the late Tony Aboud and Ali Kurdieh, Wassef Daher, Dr. Nassib Abed Al Latif, Michel Asfour, Kamal Shamshoum, Salah Abu Irmeleh, Akil Nashashibi, Khamis Abu Al Sa’ied, Hasan Al Halawani, Issam Helasey, Michel Karkar, Ouraib Al Nashashibi, BassemNijim, Suheil Shehadeh, Usama Kirri, Abdel LatiefGeith, Ibrahim Al Atrash, Youseff Teha, Usama Al Sharif, and many others.
[26]Ya'coub al-Ansari Rabitat al-Andiya, Kaifa, Mata Ta’assasat , (The League of Clubs, How, When it was Established), Jerusalem, 1988, p. 3.
[27] RasimYunis, al-Haraka al-Riyadiyya fi al-Diffa al-Gharbiyya 1967 - 1987 (Palestine Sports Movement in the West Bank), (Hijjawi Press: Nablus, 1992). p 7-8.
[28] RasimYunis, al-Haraka al-Riyadiyya fi al-Diffa al-Gharbiyya, p. 77.
[29] Y a'coub al-Ansari Rabitat al-Andiya, Kaifa, Mata Ta’assasat, p. 3.
[30] Ya'coub al-Ansari Rabitat al-Andiya, Kaifa, Mata Ta’assasat , p. 6.
[31] Ya'coub al-Ansari Rabitat al-Andiya, Kaifa, Mata Ta’assasat , p. 19.
[32] Regardless of the occupation, Gaza Sport Club could participate in the Wihdat Arab Tournament in 1987 and in the Ramtha (city in Jordan) tournament in 1993.
[33] Wassef Daher, Sports History in Palestine, This Week in Palestine, Issue No. 122, June 2008.
[34] Ibid.
[35]   The first cup tournament of 1980, Nadi Shabab al-Khalil (Hebron) won, defeating the YMCA 1:0.  The second cup tournament of 1982, Nadi Shabab Az-thahiriyya defeated Makaz Shabab Balata 2:0.  The third cup tournament of 1985, Shabab al-Khalil won, defeating Markaz Shabab Tulkarim 2:0. The fourth cup tournament of 1987, won by Thaqafi Tulkarim, defeating Silwan Sport Club 2:1.
[36]For the results of the premier league tournament in 1984, first place was Markaz Shabab Tulkarm, second place was Majmoo’at Hittin, and third place was YMCA.     In the tournament of 1985/86, twelve teams took part.  In first place was Shabab al-Khalil, second was Thaqafi Tulkarm, and third was Islamic Club of Bethlehem.  Also, in the first league for that year, Shabab Zahiriya won the first place, Hilal of Ariha (Jericho) won the second place, and in the third place was Shabab of Jericho. In the tournament of 1986/87, Markaz Tulkarm from the premier league won the first place, in second place was Shabab Azthahiryya, and in third place the Islamic Club of Bethlehem.  The first league placers were: 1. Qalqilia 2. Hittin 3.O’dd. For the second league, the placing teams were: 1. Shabab al-Am’ari 2. Union of Jenin 3. Sur Bahir.
According to the statutes of the league, the elected committee had the right to assign the chief referees.  The chief referees had the right to assign the members of the committee after getting the league’s approval.  In 1980, a referees committee was formed from Amin al-Masri – President, Husni Yunis - for the Nablus region, Ahmad al-Naji - for Jerusalem region, George Qassis for treasurer, and Abdallah al-Khatib as the media spokesman.
[37] Khalid Ijjawi, al-Haraka al-Riyadiyya al-Falastiniyya fi al-Shatat, )Palestinian Sports Movement in Diaspora), a-Dar al-Wataniya al-Jadida, Damascus, 2001.
[38]YMCA included: Zaher al-Masri, Michel Asfour, Yousef Bajali, Mitri and Jalil Zabane, while al-Ittihad included: Bilal Tbeileh, Samih Tbeileh, Naef al-Haj Ahmad, Ammar al-Masri, Husam Salem and Walid Khanfar.
[39] RasimYunis, al-Haraka al-Riyadiyya fi al-Diffa al-Gharbiyya 451 - 457.
[40] RasimYunis, al-Haraka al-Riyadiyya fi al-Diffa al-Gharbiyya, 184
[41] RasimYunis, al-Haraka al-Riyadiyya fi al-Diffa al-Gharbiyya, p. 186
[42] RasimYunis, al-Haraka al-Riyadiyya fi al-Diffa al-Gharbiyya, 519
[43] RasimYunis, al-Haraka al-Riyadiyya fi al-Diffa al-Gharbiyya , 489
[44] Amal Jamal, Palestinian National Movement, 79
[45] Said Aburish, Arafat from Defender to Dictator, (Bloomsburry: NY, 2004) p. 208.
[46] Wassef Daher, Sports History in Palestine.
[47] Wassef Daher, Sports History in Palestine.
[48] Rasim Yunis, al-Haraka al-Riyadiyya fi al-Diffa al-Gharbiyya , 325.
[49] Wassef Daher, Sports History in Palestine.
[50] Baruch Kimmerling, Joel Migdal, The Palestinian People, a history, p. 277.

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