Sunday, October 21, 2018

Palestine's Odyssey to Join the International Football Association FIFA 1945-1998


Issam Khalidi
 Every success which the Palestinian people achieved on the sport arena represents a long path of struggle. In 1998 Palestine joined the International Football Association FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association).  This achievement was a result of the ongoing efforts which Palestine waged on the international field for more than half a century since 1940’s until 1990’s. Today, Palestine as a member of FIFA has a significant opportunity to be presented as an independent nation in the international arena, and to be integrated in the international community. Football became a strong tool to show Palestinian national identity and nationhood to the whole world, and reinforcing Palestine’s right for independence. Since 1998, Palestine started to take part in the World Cup qualifiers. Today, Palestine’s latest FIFA ranking is 73, comparing to 185 in 1998. [1]

     Just recently Palestine Football Association PFA had demanded FIFA sanctions over six teams playing in the Israeli league, which are based in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal by the international community.[2] FIFA decided to refrain from imposing any sanctions or other measures on the Israel FA. It stated that these territories are a concern for the international public law authorities and FIFA has to remain neutral. It stated that the matter is declared closed and will not be the subject of any further discussion until the legal and/or de facto framework has changed. 
    FIFA stated that resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is beyond its ability and claimed that any interference by FIFA in the status quo of football in the relevant territories without the consent of the parties concerned might aggravate the situation of football not only in the territories in question, but also in the greater region affected – which would not be in the best interests of the game. At the same time, FIFA is fully aware that Israeli settlements on the occupied territories are considered illegal under international law.
   PFA argued that FIFA’s decision is contrary to FIFA statutes which state that a member country’s teams cannot play matches on the territory of another association without permission. The PFA also complained that Israel hampers its activities, including limiting the movement of players between the West Bank and Gaza, and that it has barred some international travel. At same time the Israeli Football Association’s inclusion of football clubs based in illegal Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land is an evidence of its support to the Israeli occupation.  However, the Israeli FA claims that it is not responsible for the actions of its government.

Early days
    The Athletic conflict between Arabs and Jews in the field of sport was part of the general conflict in Palestine, it was not isolated from political conditions: the imposed British Mandate and the Jewish immigration. Since the beginning of the 20th century Jewish clubs started to be established such as the Maccabi. In 1925 the Maccabi World Organization was moved to Palestine.1926 the ha-Poel organization was established then followed by the Beitar. These organizations took sports as a cover for their political and paramilitary activities.
     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 early 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. [3]
    According to FIFA rules, only associations representing states could be accepted as members. Thus, Maccabi officials were compelled to invite not only their Zionist political adversary, ha-Po’el, but also Arab teams to join the Palestinian Football Association (PFA). Therefore, in addition to the fourteen Zionist representatives that participated in the first meeting of the new soccer-association directorate, one Arab delegate took part—a member of the Nusseibeh family representing the Arab Sports Club of Jerusalem. However, despite his involvement in this first session, Nusseibeh’s name never again appeared in the directorate’s protocol. Nevertheless, during the first years of the PFA, Arab teams participated in the games of the Association. A report submitted to FIFA in 1929 describes three soccer divisions in Palestine: ten teams in the first, twenty in the second (five of them Arab), and thirty-nine in the third (six of them Arab). [4]

    The Arabs had entered this Association in good faith for the sake of cooperation and there was no ill will for standing alone with it. It is true that this Association was formed by the Arabs, Jews, and the British; however, studies and historical facts indicate that the motivation behind its formation was a purely Zionist goal. Its exploitation by the Jewish athletic leadership and the continued marginalization of the Arabs was among the Zionist goals, especially after joining FIFA in June 1929; therefore, the Palestinians announced their dissatisfaction with the Jewish practices in seizing this Association.[5] The Association’s joining FIFA was a valuable opportunity for the sake of making the Jewish identity prominent and representing Palestine on the international level. With this the Jews, with the cooperation and support of the British, were able to represent “Palestine” on the international level in the World Cup in both 1934 and 1938. 
    Resulting from the gross transgressions by the Jews in the Palestinian Football Association and also resulting from the 1929 Revolt, many of the sporting leaders established the Arab Palestinian Sports Federation PSF or (Palestine Sport Association PSA) in April 1931, which immediately called for a boycott of Jewish teams and athletes. One of the achievements of this PSF was the organization of the tournament of The Armor of the Youth Congress [Dir’ Mu’utamar al Shabab].[6] Because of the 1936 revolt, the activities of the PSF were hindered and PSF totally paralyzed at the end of the thirties. Few of its members joined the Jewish PFA. [7]

    Since its re-establishment in September 1944, the Arab PSF sought to join FIFA.  In order to achieve this task, the PSF, from the beginning, strengthened its links with the football federations in the neighboring Arab countries.  One of the main achievements of the PSF was that countries such as Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon recognized the PSF as the legitimate representative of Palestine.  The desire of enrollment in FIFA came at a time of escalation in the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews.  Through this membership, the Palestinians wanted to prove that they not only exist, but that they are the majority in the country and that they were the real legitimate representative of Palestine.  For them, acceptance in FIFA was a goal which would rise Palestine as an Arab country. 

   Directly after its establishment, the Arab PSF presented the issue of the PFA (which was recognized internationally in FIFA as a representative of Palestine) to the athletic administrators in Egypt.  It asked them to mediate and try to cancel the PFA.  The PSF suggested that, in case the cancellation of the PFA would be difficult, according to the British legislation in Palestine, Egypt could ask for two-thirds of its seats to go to the Palestinians, and one third to the Jews.
   On March 15, 1945 the following excerpt was published in the sports section of Filastin by Hussein Husni.[8] It was a message to the reader about the athletic conditions in Palestine and the domination by PFA on the sports arena. Husni asserts that this association must not be the representative of the Arab Palestinians: 

   A sports delegation led by the Arab PSF is expected to travel to Egypt in order to plan games between Egypt and Palestine at the beginning of next month. We are asking the delegation to discuss the issue of the Palestinian Football Association, which is not Arab, and is recognized internationally and representing us against our will. Likewise, we are asking Egypt to intercede on our behalf and insist on the elimination of the PFA. This association (the PFA) does not represent anyone but itself and its community, and not the Arab-Palestinian people. If this is impossible at this time, then we demand two-thirds of its seats, and the last third will remain with it according to the governmental laws of the country. This association was founded in 1922 [sic, 1928] and represented Palestine internationally while the game among the Arabs was still in its formative stage. Twelve members managed this association. None of them are Arab, it is located in Tel Aviv, and until this day it still represents Palestine. It will be a great injustice if this association continues to represent Arab Palestine internationally when our games and our association are already organized and among our youth there are stronger, better and more professional athletes them. The Arab teams cannot visit Palestine and play with us if this illegal association refuses to let them. Egypt is also forced to comply with this of it wishes to keep the international order and laws that are followed in other countries. As long as this irregular and exceptional situation does not come to an end, efforts must be invested in Egypt in order to establish an Oriental Sports Association that will begin operation immediately.[9]

   Seeking to ease the sting of rejection, the Syrian FA subsequently informed the Arab PSF that it could be included under SFA umbrella, allowing the PSF to compete more freely in international events.[10] There was also a proposal made about forming a United Arab Federation consisting of all Arab Federations, which would represent all Arabs in FIFA.  This new federation would allow for more power to isolate the Jewish-dominated association from the international arena.[11]  Unfortunately, this suggestion remained merely rhetoric, not applied on the ground.

    Abdel Rahman al-Habbab, secretary of the PSF, was supposed to attend a FIFA meeting in Luxembourg on August 27, 1946.   He was planning to discuss and explain the Palestinian point of view regarding the application of the PSF in FIFA.[12] Unfortunately, FIFA rejected his attendance for unknown reasons.[13]  However, al-Habbab decided to travel to Egypt in July 1946, where he met with the Chief of the Arab League and Haidar Pasha, the head of the Egyptian Football Association (EFA).  Both expressed their sympathy with the PSF and denounced FIFA’s rejection for not allowing the Palestinian secretary to attend its meeting.  After consulting with the council of the Arab League, they decided to send a telegram to FIFA asking for the registration of the PSF.  This telegram was followed with a detailed letter by al-Habbab explaining the stance of the Arab football associations toward the PSF.  It stated that those associations were planning to form a united Arab association; that the  Arab associations were in full support of the Arab teams in Palestine. [14]
   In August, Mr. Habbab received a letter from the secretary of FIFA informing him that, in accordance with the request of the Egyptian and Lebanese football associations, FIFA discussed the issue of registering the PSF in FIFA.  FIFA decided to form a special committee for reviewing this application from all aspects, so the committee could best decide its recommendation. PSF offered its gratitude to the EFA and the Lebanese Football Association for their efforts,[15] unfortunately, things went in another direction when, in just few days, FIFA decided to reject this application.

   The PSF’s memorandum, which was addressed to FIFA, implied the main issues about the conflict with PFA.  It mentioned the reasons behind the conflict on the sport arena, which had a political background, as the cause for the increase in the Jewish immigration and colonization in Palestine.  It indicated the political aspect of this problem in Palestine, mentioning the wrong policy of the British Mandate, which was considered the source of all the problems.[16]  This policy was the reason for the escalation of the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews.  The memorandum mentioned that, in the beginning of the thirties, there were good relations between the Arab teams and the Palestine Football Association, which was when the Jews constituted the minority of the population.  When this association was in its early stages, the Jews pursued and attempted to get the lion’s share of the representation in the central committee. [17]  

     As Arabs we have a full confidence in Palestine as an Arab country, we do not see any logical or legitimate justification for the arrogance…. It is easy that [sic] any foreign monitor with good intention to be a victim for fake impressions that Palestine is “Jewish” … no wonder that some of you had this thinking….. This was the attitude of the PFA who ignored the Arabs and their right and tried to steal illegitimately their rights…. Of course the Palestinians could not tolerate this behavior; through their statements they denounced this association and withdrew their membership.[18]

   The issue of the PSF’s application was discussed at the FIFA conference in Luxembourg in August 1946.  At this conference, the representative of the PFA spoke, saying that his association, with a Jewish majority, was democratic.  He argued that if Arab clubs will become a majority in the association, this would prove the group’s “democratic” intention. Also, he claimed that the number of Arab clubs in Palestine did not exceed four or five, and claimed that this issue is completely athletic.  In the end of his speech, he suggested the rejection of this application. [19] 
   All of the facts confirm that, prior to 1948 there were some 65 social athletic clubs in Palestine.  Approximately 55 of them were members of the Arab Palestine Sports Federation, which was established in 1931, and re-established in 1944; this included athletic clubs from all over Palestine.[20]  
   At this conference, the Lebanese representative made it clear that the PSF included the sixty Arab clubs in Palestine.  He also made it clear that FIFA’s two main tasks are as follows: its concern about the good relationship with all the member countries, and the pursuit to allow every official party that practices football to join FIFA.  The formation of two associations in Palestine, and the recognition of the government in them, is nothing but resentment between the parties.  It’s a result of the political conditions in the country.  He added that when some of the clubs tried to join the PFA, they failed because of the political conflict between the two peoples.  He also mentioned that these conditions resulted in sanctions by the Arab football associations in Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon against the Jewish association (PFA).  Therefore, it is required from FIFA to find a solution to these (sports) conditions in Palestine.[21]

   In his speech, the Yugoslavian representative stated that the Palestinian Jewish Association does not represent Palestine in whole.  He stated it is the duty of FIFA to take care of the game in the world as a whole, and since Palestine has no ability to solve this problem by itself, it was suggested that there must be two committees in Palestine.  The first committee will take care of the Arab clubs, while the other will take care of the Jewish clubs.  This suggestion was supported by the British and Polish representatives.  It was agreed upon, and required that the executive committee would present this suggestion to FIFA for its next conference.  However, it was clear that FIFA members opposed the entry of the PSF, and the motion was rejected. 
   In August 1946, the secretary of the PSF received a letter from FIFA saying that FIFA had reviewed the application of the entry of the PSF in FIFA in its meeting in Luxembourg.  FIFA decided to form a committee for reviewing this matter from all its aspects so this committee could later provide its recommendations to the executive committee.
   Later, during a personal communication between Khalil Hilmi, the Lebanese representative, and FIFA’s president, the latter showed intent to agree on every application he receives concerning the games involving the Arab teams in Palestine.  In the conference, which was held in Glasgow on May 10th, 1947, it was decided to discuss the enrollment of Palestine in FIFA.  However, the final decision was that the Arabs and the Jews have to cooperate together, because it is hard to recognize two committees from one country at the same time.[22]

  Following the decision made by the Congress of Luxembourg, Mr. Seeldrayers and Mr. A. Drewry were designated by the Executive Committee to draft a report on the Palestine question (they were from Belgium and England; both were later FIFA Presidents after Jules Rimet) . This report was submitted to the Executive Committee during its meeting in Glasgow, dated May, 9-10th 1947 and approved by the Committee. The text was published in French.

………The statutes and the regulations of the FIFA are formal: On a given territory there can only be one body directing all the football matches that take place on that territory. Currently, the territory in question is that of Palestine which forms an internationally recognized political entity.
Therefore, one cannot allow two federations to exist on this territory as long as on this territory there are not two distinct political entities. This is the only possible solution. If the two federations refuse to have direct contact with each other, if their delegates refuse to meet, this inter-federal committee could be made up of neutral people who don’t belong to any of the races in conflict.
Each federation could appoint to its directing committee a neutral leader who would serve as a liaison agent and by doing this no Israeli or Arab leader would be forced to have any contact with a leader belonging to the other race. The Inter federal Committee would become affiliated with the FIFA and thus, each of the two federations could meet with all the associations or clubs affiliated with FIFA.
The only inconvenient and it is a practical one by excellence, is that neither of the two federations would be able to align a team under the name of the national Palestinian team. Only the Inter-federal Committee could do it, but in practice, this possibility will not occur since the Arabs refuse to play against or next to Israelis.
Any other solution is impossible, not only because the statutes and regulations of the FIFA prohibit it but also because that would represent an extremely dangerous precedent. In fact, every time serious political divisions would occur in a country, the dissidents would ask to be affiliated with FIFA.”

   The PFA was not pleased with the decisions made at FIFA’s Luxembourg and Glasgow conferences.  Therefore, expressing its resentment from such decisions it sent a letter to FIFA dated on May 5th 1948:  

    At the same time, we beg to call your attention to the fact that we have instructed our delegates to oppose the conclusions arrived at by Messrs. R. W. Seeldrayers and A. Drewry, which were confirmed by your Executive at the meeting in Glasgow on the 9th May 1947. In fact, we cannot understand how you could accept such proposals, which are contrary to the statute of the F.I.F.A and cannot be reconciled with the decisions taken in the question of Palestine Football at the last Congress in Luxemburg. We can only presume; that the facts and arguments, laid before you, were quite insufficient in order to obtain an impartial picture of the situation, the more that – strange enough – we as the most interested party had no opportunity to make our contribution.[23]
    It is worth to mention that, because of the efforts made by the PSF to join FIFA, the language of FIFA had shifted towards the Arabs in Palestine. FIFA recognized the organizational efficiency of the PFS; it realized the variety of sports activities, which were held by the Palestine Sports Federation.
   The continuous efforts of the PSF to enter FIFA presented struggling values; it set in place the cornerstone for the current membership of the PFA in FIFA.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the features of the current registration of PFA (in 1998) in FIFA started in the forties; it is a process that took decades to be realized.  The world recognized the current PFA after a struggle of about fifty years. [24]

   In 1951 the West Bank joined Jordan; Gaza Sector joined Egypt.  It is well known that the Palestinians who left Palestine left for Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Gaza Sector, West Bank and other Arab countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Gulf States.
  Many of PSF members dispersed out of Palestine. However, Abd al-Rahman al-Habbab the secretary of PSF after 1948 continued the pursuit to join PSF to the FIFA.  A letter from the Palestine Sports Federation to FIFA stated that  the PFA continued to exist, the documents which were found in FIFA’s archive show that even though the application of the PSF was rejected before 1948, the 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.[25]

    No further information about this application was mentioned; however, obviously FIFA rejected the application.
  In 1951 the West Bank joined Jordan. Subsequently, Palestinians athletes and former athletic administrators joined the Jordan Football Association (JFA). In 1956 Al-Habbab became president of JFA. Clubs in the West Bank such as Nadi al-Muwathafeen (Club of Employees) in Jerusalem and Shabab al-Khalil (Youth of Hebron) took part in the tournaments of JFA.

  In the 1950’s and 1960’s football in Gaza reached a reasonable level. Gaza Sector witnessed a rapid growth in sports. A solid organizational infrastructure was developed which its effects still exist until this day. 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. Proudly, the Palestinians in the Gaza Sector could represent Palestine in the international arena. [26]
     In 1962, the athletic leadership decided to form a football association [al-Ittihad al-Riyadi al-Falastini li Korat al-Qadam] (Palestine Sport Federation - Football) or Palestine Football Association PFA. 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 requiring up-to-date statistical information about football in Gaza Sector.[27]
   In August 1963 a letter was signed by the secretary of the PFA 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.

     Instantly, PFA sent a letter to FIFA, dated the 23rd of November, 1964:

     May I take this opportunity to refere 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 no excuses 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 the 2nd of December 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. 

   A letter from the United Nations to the FIFA (received 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. 

   On the 28th of May, 1965, the PFA received a telegram from FIFA informing it about the rejection of their 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. 
FIFA to PFA 2nd June 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.[28]

1965 - 1993
   The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was created in May 1964.  It was recognized as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”  Despite that, the PLO created, and founded, a number of organizations which fulfilled the demands of the Palestinian people.  However, in its resolutions, nothing was found mentioning sports or physical education, except what was mentioned in the session of the National Council in 1968 when a section called “popular organization” [al-Tanzim al-Sha’bi] was established aimed to organize social and cultural affairs.
   Political conditions in the countries where Palestinian refugees lived, and the relations between the regimes, and the PLO, had their impacts on sports and football.  In 1968, a decision was made by the PLO to form the Palestine Supreme Council for Youth Care.   Ibrahim al-Zard was assigned for secretary of the committee.  In 1969, few branch committees were established in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qattar, and the United Arab Emirates.  After 1970, the headquarters of this committee was moved from Amman to Lebanon.  A new supreme council was formed from qualified Palestinian athletic leaders in Lebanon.  The council started to remove the impacts of the war (Black September 1970); new clubs were founded in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Athletic and scouts’ activities started to rise.

   The first conference of the Supreme Council of Youth Care was held in Beirut in Suq al-Gharb in 1974 (later it was changed to Palestine Supreme Council for Youth and Sports).   The second conference was held in 1978. No other conference was held after that, due to the political conditions and the transfer of the headquarters from Beirut to Tunisia in 1982.  This was similar to the other popular institutions, which also suffered weakness and failures for the same reasons.[29]
Palestine Football Association
   As was mentioned earlier, after the transfer of the Supreme Council headquarters from Jordan to Lebanon, the executive committee started to re-establish sport associations.  Palestine Football Association was re-established in 1971. It developed new rules which stipulated the admission of players in Palestinian clubs exclusively.  This resulted in alienating a few qualified players who were playing for first league Lebanese clubs from the Palestinian national team.  Most of the formations of the national team were from the Palestinian clubs’ members of the football association.  Also, the selection of the national team was subjected to favoritism; the administrators selected players who were members of the clubs that they ran.[30]

   As it was mentioned, the PFA had three attempts to join FIFA, but its applications were rejected.  In 1978, PFA once again submitted its application to FIFA.  The application was attached with all requirements, such as the PFA statutes. The PFA did not succeed in gaining the membership.  However, in 1979, PFA made another attempt, but its application was again hobbled by different obstacles, such as the refusal of the affiliation of the Palestine Olympic Committee with the IOC.  PFA continued its communication with the Arab Football Association (AFA), established in 1974 (Palestine joined AFA in 1974), which offered enormous support for the affiliation of PFA in FIFA.  In order to fulfill FIFA’s requirements, in 1989, PFA was able to get permission from the Iraqi Football Association, allowing it to have its headquarters in Baghdad. In addition, PFA started to hold its own tournament, on its own field, in this city. PFA asked for support from the Arab FA to request from FIFA the affiliation of PFA. However, it failed again. But, the PFA did not lose hope. In 1993, it applied again, depending on the new political conditions - the Oslo Agreement - and on the admission of the Palestine Olympic Committee in the IOC as observer. Again, FIFA rejected the application. 

   On the 20th of November 1993, a letter from PFA to FIFA President Joao Havelange: 

    For a long time, the Palestinian Football Federation has hoped to be affiliated to the Federation Internationale de Football Association. Football has always been played in Palestine, and our teams are known to be well trained and organized in the area. Prior to this date, our application for the affiliation into FIFA was not accepted, due to our status in the International Olympic Committee. On September 27th, 1993, we have become officially affiliated into the International Olympic Committee. The Palestinian Football Federation wished to be affiliated into FIFA, and become an active member, as soon as possible. 

  In May 1995, the PFA was granted the status of provisional member in FIFA. Considering the prevailing situation regarding Palestine, the Executive Committee nevertheless made the following two restrictions: [31]

1)      The Palestinian Football Federation may only play friendly matches.
2)      The Palestinian Football Federation may only play these matches in the territory of another national association affiliated to FIFA (provided that the national association concerned gives their authorization).  
       In June 1998, PFA was affiliated to FIFA as a full member at its 51st Ordinary Congress, held in Paris on June 8th 1998.[32] The fifth attempt was the successful attempt.  As it has been mentioned, Palestine had been waging a long struggle to get their association admitted to FIFA since 1946.  Four attempts went in vain; however, joining FIFA in 1998 was the result of long efforts that gave results in the end. In fact, FIFA is the first international sports organization to admit Palestine as a member of its association.  Having the ability to be recognized by FIFA, by itself, was a great victory not only to Palestinian sports in particular, but also to Palestine in general.  In fact, this membership helped to improve PFA’s performance in many aspects; it accelerated the growth and progress of football in Palestine and gave the Palestinian national team a chance to participate in the international arena. [33]
    While the United Nations has 192 members, FIFA (the governing body of football) has 208 [sic. 209] members.  One reason for the disparity in these figures is that FIFA allows some regions with special political circumstances to play alongside other “de jour” recognized states in the world.  One example of this is Palestine.   What is most important is that the continued participation of the national team helps to retain a sense of national identity amongst Palestinians and gives them a positive cause to celebrate. Secondly, football, especially at the youth level, also provides a mechanism for peaceful interaction with their Israeli neighbors, which could potentially help to build bridges between the two communities and to resolve the ongoing Middle East crisis.[34]

     This affiliation which came after four attempts, could be a historical step toward the statehood, it refuted the Israeli claims; such claims alleged that the Palestinians lack the ingredients to be represented in international organizations and associations. It became obvious, that the affiliation with the international organizations (such as FIFA and others) plowed the way for Palestine to become a non-member observer state in the United Nations in November 2012.   
   Now, there is a pressure on FIFA to take action over the presences of Israeli soccer clubs in the illegal West Bank settlements.    Since 1916 however, this issue has become a focal point due to the independent efforts of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions BDS groups and civil society more broadly. No doubt that the Israeli occupation is the main obstacle in front of the progress of the Palestinian sports (sabotage, killings, arrests, demolishing stadiums, checkpoints etc.). The former FIFA President Joseph Blatter once said that Palestinians deserve to live and practice a normal daily life, including football; that youngsters across the region need to have the opportunity to play football.  It can build bridges, bring young people in the region together, and give them hope.[35] "The road to the end of the occupation is long and winding. We've been on it for fifty years now, and I'm not convinced it won't require another fifty. But the occupation will end. And until that day, I suggest that anyone who wants to know were things are going follow Palestinian soccer. Using the power of the game, it is pulling the wagon, slowly, out the mud," wrote  Assaf Gavron, the Israeli sports journalist.

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] These efforts went parallel with Palestine’s efforts to join the International Olympic Committee IOC. The Palestine Olympic Committee was established in 1934. The process of its founding was similar to that of PFA. The Arabs were invited to be members in the board of the committee; then they had been marginalized from it.  In 1975, POC was re-established; it was affiliated to the Supreme Council of Youth and Sports which was established by the PLO in 1969.  It was recognized as a member of the Olympic Council of Asia in 1986.  In Monaco, on the 101st Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it ratified the decision taken by the IOC Executive Board on September 18, 1993, to grant provisional IOC recognition to the Palestinian Olympic Committee.  In 1995, POC was recognized as a permanent member of IOC.
[3]  Kaufman, Haim. “Jewish Sports in the Diaspora, Yishuv, and Israel: Between Nationalism and Politics”. Israel Studies - Volume 10, Number 2, Summer 2005, pp. 147-167.
[4]Sorek, Tamer. “Palestinian Nationalism has left the field: A Shortened History of Arab Soccer in Israel.” International Journal of Middle East Studies – 35, (2003).
[5] Khalidi, Issam. “Palestine Football Association, the Need to Streamline History.”
[6] As a reaction to the Maccabiah Festivals in 1932 and 1935, this Federation in cooperation with the Youth Conference held the Great Scouts Athletic Festival in July 1935.
[7] Football growth in Palestine was caused by the numerous social-athletic clubs prior to 1948; there were some 65 athletic clubs in Palestine, approximately 55 of them members of the Arab Palestine Sports Federation (APSF).  Jerusalem and its environs alone boasted some 18 clubs (half of these were established in the ‘40s).  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.  Football was the most popular game in Palestine (besides boxing).  It was played on streets, schools and clubs.  Fans were loyal to their clubs.  This game also witnessed a dedication by the members of the clubs, athletes and clubs’ leaders.  It was a main subject in the media; the two main newspapers Filastin and Difa’ gave copious amounts of reports about football; radio Palestine occasionally broadcasted games between well-known teams.  A big part of sport news in Filastin (established in 1911) was about football.  The growth of sports in general was proportionately correlated to the growth and increase of social-athletic clubs in Palestine.
[8] Hussein Husni, an Egyptian teacher of physical education came to Palestine in the mid-thirties, he taught in few schools, among them [Rawdat al-Ma’aref] in Jerusalem. He was a member of the track and field committee, which was affiliated with the Palestine Sport Federation. He enthusiastically participated in editing the sport column of Filastin with Ibrahim Sakkijha. His articles were characterized with nationalistic traits, while at the same time he tried to stimulate the physical activity of the citizens.
[9] The translation is quoted in Tamer Sorek’s article “Palestinian Nationalism has left the field: A shortened history of Arab Football in Israel”.  Middle East Studies, No. 35, (2003), 417- 437.
[10] Filastin,  6 March 1945
[11] Ibid
[12] Difa’,  22 January 1946
[13] Difa’, 11 July 1946
[14]  Difa’, 25 July 1946
Abd al-Rahman al-Habbab: 1908 – 1995, one of the most effective Palestinian athletic figures throughout the period of 1930’s and 1960’s. Played football with the Islamic Sports Club in Jaffa in 1920’s and 1930’s, he took part in establishing the paramilitary organization “Najada”. Al-Habbab played an effective role in re-establishing the PSF, as well as in its attempt in the affiliation in FIFA.
[15] Filastin, 20 August 1946
[16] The PSF assigned Livon Kishishian, Ahmed Zuheir al-Afifi and Fahed Abdil-Fattah to write the memorandum. It was based on strong arguments.
[17] This contradicts what was written on the first page. It is clear that the relations had deteriorated since the first days of the establishment of the PFA.
[18] A Memorandum from PFA to FIFA, Jaffa, 1946. The author got the original text from the Arab Studies Society in Jerusalem [Jam’yyat al-Dirasat al-Arabia], which had been closed by the Israeli authorities in 2001.
[19] Ibid
[20] Khalidi, Issam, “Body and Ideology: Early Athletics in Palestine 1900-1948.” Jerusalem Quarterly, No. 27, 2007, p. 44-58.
[21] Difa’, 22 August  1946
[22] The sources are scarce; the only three sources that the author relied on were Filastin, Difa and the Memorandum of the PSA to the FIFA.
[23] FIFA Archive May 5th, 1948. Rodolphe William Seeldrayers, from Belguim, was the 4th President of FIFA, serving from 1954 to 1955. Arthur Drewry, from England, was the 5th President of FIFA, serving from 1955 to 1961.
[24] It is worth mentioning that the PSF asked the Higher Arab Committee (HAC) for its support in registering with FIFA, but, unfortunately, it did not receive any clear response, because the HAC was busy with political issues, which were considered more important at that time than this issue.  Also, the HAC was not fully aware of the essence of sports in bringing up a strong generation, and about the magnificent importance of sports as the mirror that reflects national pride.  It did not strive to use sports as a tool for ideological and national struggle, as the Zionists did.  Its support for the PSA [Palestine Sport Association] was limited to some financial support and attending competitions under its auspices.   
[25] FIFA Archive.  This letter was sent by the Football Committee which was affiliated to the PSA [al-Ittihad al-Riyadi al-Falastini – Lajnat Kurat 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.
[26]   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 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). 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).  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). 
   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.
   One of the main problems that the team faced during 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.
[27] FIFA’s Archive, 13 November 1964
[28] FIFA’s Archive, February10th, 1966.
[29]   The Supreme Council participated in youth conferences in Arab countries which emerged from the Arab League.  These conferences provided help for the Supreme Council to seek membership in different international athletic organizations.  In 1969, it participated in the first conference of Arab ministers of sport and youth which was held in Cairo.  The Palestinian delegation got recommendations that were directed to support the Palestinian youth in the Diaspora.  The conference offered big support to the Palestinian teams for developing their activities in all Arabic countries.  The conference also agreed to offer opportunities to the Palestinian youth to represent themselves in all athletic occasions.  The structure of Palestinian sports took hierarchal shape; on the top of the list was the Supreme Council, followed by the Conference, Executive Office, Central Committee, Olympic Committee, sport associations (including the football association), Scouts Organization, Public Commission, and the Committee of Social Activities and Youth Centers. The sports associations were managed by the club leaders from one side, and by the branch associations (except the branch council) in Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates on the other.  Some of these associations were established in the 1960s in Gaza, such as table tennis and basketball, which were recognized internationally in mid-sixties.
[30] After the move of the Palestinian militias to Tunis, the headquarters of PFA moved to the Tunisian capital Tunis.
[31] FIFA’s Archive, “Letter from FIFA to Palestine Football Federation.” June 1st, 1995.
In the meeting held in Zurich on 31st May 1996, FIFA Executive Committee decided to ask the FIFA Congress 1996 to confirm the status.
[32] Minutes of the 51st Ordinary Congress, held at the Equinox Hall, Paris, France, 7 June 1998 at 16.00 hours, 8 June 1998 at 09.30 hours. The Deputy General Secretary said that it had been decided at meeting no. 11 of the Executive Committee in Zurich on 27 May 1998 to propose to the Congress that full FIFA membership be granted to the following national associations, in compliance with the statutory provisions regarding the admission of national associations applying for membership (articles 3 to 5 of the Statutes and 1 to 3 of the Regulations governing the Application of the Statutes).
[33] In 2008, Jibril Rjoub was elected, he served as president of the Palestine Olympic Committee and as president of the Palestine Football Association, before being elected to the Fatah Central Committee in August 2009.  During that time, sports and football witnessed a quantum leap.  A remarkable and radical progression of football in Palestine occurred; the league continued non-stop; the attacks on the referees decreased.  Before, the players were complaining of the loose administration in the previous PFA.  This president of the PFA has arguably overseen the most successful period in domestic football in the West Bank history. 
[34] Glen M. E. Duerr. “Playing for Identity and Independence: Palestinian Statehood and the Role of FIFA.”
[35]  FIFA.  ‘Palestine Battling for the Development of Football’, posted September 22, 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment