Monday, October 23, 2017

Arab Sports Club in Jerusalem 1928 – 1955

Issam Khalidi

       After World War I, the number of Palestinian social clubs, including charitable societies, women’s groups and young people’s organizations such as the Scouts, grew exponentially. Their appearance as social institutions reflected the growing advancement of nationalist sentiments by elites in light of the British Mandate and Zionist expansion. In the 1920's, most of these clubs assumed a civic social character, and incorporating football into their programs began to be viewed as an element of social consciousness and nationalist culture. The Dajani Sports Club of Jerusalem and some of the Orthodox clubs that grew out of church affiliation are prime examples of this theme. Still other teams were established as athletic organizations, and later incorporated social and cultural activities. As “sport” took its place among cultural and social activities, city and village football teams transformed into athletic clubs, changing their names accordingly. By the start of the 1930's, Arab social athletic clubs numbered about 20 in Palestine.[1]
    Among these clubs was al-Nadi al-Riyadi al-Arabi the Arab Sports Club  in Jerusalem which started as a football team in 1927, and was officially  established in 1928. In 1955, Arab SC and Qarawi Club in Jerusalem joined together to form Nadi al-Mowazzafin (Employees Club).  Immediately after its establishment Muslim and Christian youth submitted their applications for joining it. Since 1920’s until 1948, the majority of clubs’ members and leaders usually put a statute that demonstrated the goals and the mission of their clubs, and regulated their activities. The statute of the Arab SC was based on democracy, and gave the possibility of each individual to highlight his energies, and express his opinion and ambitions. The main purpose of this club, as it was pointed out in its statute was the strengthening of the bodies of the Arab youth by means of sports (a healthy mind in  a healthy body), and raising their literary level. One of the statute's articles included that the club admits members regardless of their religious affiliation.[2]
   Among the founders were Fuad Khadra, Nizar Estanbouli, Fawzi Mohyi Addin al-Nashashibi (treasurer), Khaled al-Duzdar (head of the sports team), Ibrahim Nusseibeh (secretary). As the newspaper Filastin reported that at the opening of this club its members swore to serve this club and to adhere with its resolutions and regulations. Also, they publicly promised not to discriminate between religions.[3]
  Arab SC was able to prove itself immediately in sports field. It competed with British and Jewish teams such as Maccabi - one of the strongest teams in Palestine at the time. In early 1930s, Filastin reported that two committees were formed at this club. A sports committee to promote sport, and a literary committee (lajnah Adabia) intended to expand the club library; to invite the Palestinian people to give lectures in the club and to encourage arts such as acting.
        In April 1933, an agreement was reached between the Youth Congress and the APSF that the Youth Congress would present a trophy to the winner of the Youth Conference tournament. In November 1933, the following teams took part in this tournament: the Arab SC and Rawda Club from Jerusalem; the Islamic Sports Club and the Orthodox Club from Jaffa; and the Salesian Club, the Islamic Sports Club, and al-Nijma al-Baida’ from Haifa. The institutionalized relationship between football and politics was further solidified through another tournament organized by the APSF and the Youth Congress, the “Tournament of the Armor of King Ghazi.”[4]
    The Arab Palestinian Youth Congress (Mu’tamaral-Shabab al- ‘Arabi al-Filastini) was established in Jerusalem in 1931. It was active in youth, scouts, sports and political activities, and was famous for its nationalistic trends. It had its first conference in 1932, the second in 1935. [5]
   In March 1932, a match between the AUB team and the Arab Sports Club in Jerusalem took place. At this meeting, the newspaper Filastin reported “The second team [the Arab Sports Club] was composed of: Ibrahim Nusseibeh, Bishara Tannous, Nael Nashashibi, Abdelqader Abu Al-Saud, Daoud Betouni, Fawzi Ma’touq, Ribhi Al-Husseini, Daod Al-Bitar, Nasri Al-Gozn, Nizar Estambuli, Rajai Nimer.  The stadium was crowded with sports fans - men and women - which we had not seen in the last few days. The match started at 3:30 p.m. American University team won 4:1. Both teams showed great performance and good sportsmanship.” [6]
In July 1933, the Arab Sports Club of Jerusalem and the Islamic Sports Club of Jaffa formed a joint team to compete with Al Ittihad of Alexandria. The match resulted in a win of 4:1 in favor of the Egyptian team.
   Table tennis was popular among the members of this club. In March 1938, Al-Difa’ reported:  "A championship in table tennis was held at Al-Nadi al-Qawmi (National Club) in Jaffa [between 1938 and 1942, the name of Islamic SC has been changed to Qawmi Club]. Qawmi SC in Jaffa won the Arab Scout Club in Haifa in the first round. The Arab SC won the Scouts Club in Haifa. In the afternoon that day in the second round the Arab SC won Qawmi Club in Jaffa.  Arab SC won the championship and received a cup from Jawdat al-Bibi the chief of the Arab Bank in Jaffa and a member of the Palestine Sports Association. The referee was Atalla Iqdis a famous athlete and activist.” [7]
   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 Federation. In order to reveal for the FIFA that the Arabs were taking part in the founding of PFA, Yekutieli invited Ibrahim Nuseibeh from the Arab Sports Club – as an Arab representative - to take part in the meetings. 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 marginalizing the Arabs and 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. Later, Arabs teams in neighboring Arab counties were forced to get permissions from the Jewish-dominated PFA in order to compete with Arab teams in Palestine.
  These attempts to control the PFA motivated local Muslims and Christians to establish the Arab Palestine Sports Federation (APSF) [al-Ittihad al-Riyadi al-Arabial-Falastini]. That the APSF was born after the 1929 Revolt was no coincidence; new tactics were required to handle Zionist expansion and control. In June 1931, Arab Palestine Sports Federation APSF was born from a coalition of ten clubs at a meeting at the Orthodox Club in Jaffa. Doctor Daoud al-Husseini, of the Islamic Sports Club in Jaffa, was elected president (he later became secretary when the federation had no president), and George Mousa from the Orthodox Club in Jaffa was elected secretary.
  Despite the outbreak of the Revolt, the PSF held a meeting in October 1937 to discuss the elections and the nomination of its supreme committee; it also discussed the schedule of the 1937-1938 tournaments. Despite the offers to the Arab clubs to join the Palestine Football Association, Arab clubs chose to remain within the PSF. However, later, in late 1930s, few of these clubs decided to join PFA and take part in the country’s championship. In 1943, all these clubs withdrew their membership, and took part in re-establishing the Arab Palestine Sports Federation in September 1944.
  The Arab teams in Palestine had a great desire to compete against teams in neighboring Arab countries.  There was also a lack of satisfaction by the Arabs with the conduct of the PFA and its “monopoly” on the sports arena.  In a letter sent on November 18, 1937 to the FIFA by Khader Kamal, Secretary of the Arab Sports Club in Jerusalem, it was mentioned that:
     Recognizing a Jewish team only, prejudice the Arab love of sports and exchanging visits with neighboring countries. If it is not possible to have our Club recognized by your association, we sincerely request that permission be granted to the teams of neighboring countries to play our team without the necessity of taking permission from the Palestine Football Federation. We have, before the introduction of the present regulations, often played against these teams, giving very good account of ourselves. At the present, we are playing against various British regiment teams in Palestine. In case you need any recommendation in evidence of our ability and conduct in Sports, we will be very glad to produce such certificates. [8]

Later, a letter from FIFA was sent to the secretary of the PFA, J. Chalutz, on the 16th of December 1937:
    I have received from the Arab Sports Club Secretary Mr. Khodder Alb.Kamal [Khader Abdallah Kamal] a letter in which Mr. Kamal asks for a permission to play against teams of neighbor countries specially Egypt and Lebanon [Lebanon]; he underlines that it is impossible for them to join the Palestine Football Association under the present circumstances and by this reason he asks the above permission. I will have to submit this matter to my Committee but I beg you to let me have your opinion about this matter. The only things which should be possible is that the Associations of Egypt and Lebanon are informed by me that the Arab Sports Clubs with your permission is entitled to play with the teams of Egypt and Lebanon and the each be subject to a special permission of the F.I.F.A. [9]

   At the same time, a letter was sent from FIFA’s Secretary-General to Khader Kamal on 16th December 1937:
     I came in possession of your letter of November 19th contents of which have been duly noted. I understand the difficult situation of your club and it is quite clear that under the present circumstances it is impossible for you to play for Palestine Football Association which is recognized by the F.I.F.A. as the governing body for football in Palestine. I will have to submit your request to my committee and I will give you further news as soon as possible.[10]

These letters from Khader Kamal as a representative of Arab SC to FIFA had a national dimension and historical importance. It came during the 1936-1939 Revolt.  Arab SC was part of the Palestinian sports movement which was directly affected by the Jewish immigration and the Zionist expansion in Palestine. 
   Arab SC became a member of the the Palestine Sports Federation which was re-established in 1944, and participated in its tournaments. Some of its officials became active in PSF's  branch and regional committees. 

[1] Issam Khalidi, One Hundred Years of Football in Palestine, (Amman: Dar al-Shorok, 2013) p 19.
[2] Filastin, 12 June 1928.
[4] al-Difa‘, 30 May 1934
[5] See ‘Isaal-Sifri. Filastin al- ‘Arabiyya bayna al-Intidab wa-l-Sahyuniyya [Arab Palestine between the Mandate and Zionism] (Jaffa: Maktabat Filastin al-Jadida, 1937), 194–201.
[6] Filastin, 29 August 1932
[7] Al-Difa’, 27 March 1938.
[9] FIFA Archive, Zurich, Switzerland
               [10] FIFA Archive, Zurich, Switzerland 

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