Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Aquatic Sports in Palestine


Issam Khalidi

    Aquatic sports are not new to Palestine. There has been a culture of maritime sports since the end of the nineteenth century which included festivals and competitions, especially in cities located on the coast such as Jaffa, Gaza and Haifa.  
   Organized and institutionalized swimming competitions in Palestine started in 1920s. There was an annual swimming competition involving the British, Germans, Arabs and Jews that began in the 1920s. In August 1926, Palestine Bulletin reported a contest in swimming, announcing that H.E. the High Commissioner will not be able to attend the aquatic sports to be held in Haifa on August 22nd [1926].[i]

   In August 1927, Palestine Bulletin reported that “seven sports clubs took part in the all-Palestine swimming contest which took place near the German Bridge here on Saturday: (1) the British Police - 9 men, (2) Acre Police - 4, (3) German Sporting Society - 6, (4) Hapoel–7, (5) Arab Sporting Club – 18, (6) Maccabee – 20, (7) Arab Club “Carmel” – 6, Col. G.S. Symes distributed the prizes. This contest continued the next year. Palestine Bulletin announced that the annual Palestine Swimming Contest will be held [in Haifa] on Saturday, the 18th August, British, German, Jewish and Arab swimmers will participate. The first and second prizes for a 1000 metre distance were awarded to the Arab Sporting Club, the first prize for a 400 metre distance to the German Sporting Society, and the 2nd and 3rd prizes for same to the Arab Club. The first prize for a 100 metre distance was won by a Maccabee and the first prize for swimming on the back 100 m. distance - by "Hapoel." The water-polo match took place between the Arab Sporting Club and the German Society resulted in four to two goals in favour of the Germans.” [ii]

   Festivals and maritime sports parties started at the initiative of the Orthodox Club in Jaffa. Filastin reported that the Scouts team of the Orthodox Club in Jaffa is holding a maritime race party on Sunday afternoon, September 2, 1928. [iii] This type of festivals lasted until 1947. The Gaza SC held an annual maritime festival that started in 1944 on the seaside, it included swimming, pole vault and running. Occasionally, the Beersheba Arab Youth Club took part in this festival.

In 1929 the cornerstone of the YMCA in Jerusalem was laid by Lord Plumer on a plot of land purchased from the Greek Orthodox Church Patriarchate.  The building opened on April 18, 1933. It contained sports facilities: stadium, tennis courts and a swimming pool.

In April 1933 Palestine Post reported that “At the Y.M.C.A. Swimming and Diving Championship events on Thursday evening last, the Maccabee First Team carried off the Challenge Cup for the team scoring the most points, while J. Auerback won the individual’s cup. Eight clubs, including the American University of Beyrout (Syrian Federation) had entered teams, but the finals on Thursday evening were confined to members of The Maccabee Sports Club (two teams). The Y.M.C.A., The American University of Beyrout and the Jerusalem Sports Club.”[iv]

Since 1937, YMCA in Jerusalem started its annual swimming championship which continued until 1947. These competitions included 50 and 100 meters free style, 100 m backstroke, 200 m breaststroke and 4 x 40 relay.

In September 1942 a Lebanese swimming team visited Palestine and competed with Palestinian athletes there. Palestine Post reported that “It is a long time, if fewer, since the Palestine Selected swimming team have had to bow to such a superior side as they met at the Aley Pool. Of the six swimming events, the Lebanese team won five, only the 200 metres free style being annexed by the Palestinians, although they registered an overwhelming success in water polo, to the tune of eight goals to nil.” [v]

Filastin reported in August 1943 about a competition in aqua games between the Selected Cairo Swimming Club and the Jewish teams in Haifa and Tel Aviv. The Egyptians won and hit a record by Zaki Abdel Rahim when he crossed 200 m freestyle in two minutes and 25.5 seconds.[vi] The newspaper also mentioned that a Jewish swimming team left to Beirut to compete with swimmers of the Lebanese clubs. The Lebanon SC won and the Lebanese swimmer scored a record in free style. The next day the Lebanese Najah SC won in water polo. [vii]

   In 1943 the Federation of the Amateur Sports Clubs of Palestine (founded in 1931 by the Jews and included various sports) contacted Arab athletes from neighboring countries such as Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Competitions in swimming had been agreed to be undertaken in September 1943 in Beit Galim in Haifa. However, Egyptian and Lebanese swimmers did not attend these competitions for unknown reasons. They agreed to compete in Beirut without the Jewish team. The competitions in Haifa were canceled.[viii]

    In March 1946, the Federation of the Amateur Sports Clubs of Palestine invited swimming teachers and instructors have been to a preparatory conference for the discussion of the resumption of swimming events in the coming season. The conference was held in Tel Aviv on March 1, also discussed Palestine’s participation in the next Olympic Games.”[ix] It is worth noting that the Palestine Olympic Committee was founded in 1934 and was dominated by the Zionists until 1948.

In water Polo PP reported that the second round of the Mediterranean Cup Water Polo competition saw both Palestine and Egypt run out easy winners, both winning by the easy margin of seven to one. Palestine were up against the United Services team and in the early stages went into the lead. [x]

There is no evidence that aqua sports had been developed in Gaza Sector during the period 1948 – 1967. In the West Bank, in 1965, the new [East Jerusalem] YMCA facilities at 29 Nablus Road were built. The building consisted of a hotel, an auditorium, and the physical department, which housed the first indoor swimming pool and the first squash court in Palestine, besides an indoor volleyball court, a basketball half-court, a weight room, and a youth lobby for table tennis and indoor games.[xi]

In 1968 the EJ-YMCA grew rapidly and began to hold training courses in swimming, gymnastics, squash, track and field, judo, wrestling, boxing, aerobics, and general fitness. Sports teams for all ages were formed for basketball, volleyball, handball, football, and table tennis. Women’s sports were encouraged as well by the formation of girls’ basketball and handball teams. In addition, social, recreational, cultural, and music programmes were also offered.[xii]

In 1968, a decision was made by the PLO to form the Palestine Supreme Council for Youth Care.  In 1969, few branch committees were established in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.  After 1970, the headquarters of this committee was moved from Amman to Lebanon. New clubs were founded in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Athletic and Scouts activities started to rise.  At its first conference at Suq al-Gharb in Beirut in 1974, the Supreme Council made a decision to change the name to Supreme Council of Youth and Sports.  In 1970's and 1980's number of federations were established. However, this did not include a swimming federation because of the lack of swimming facilities.
Founded in 1993, the Palestinian Swimming and Water Sports Federation is a member of the International Swimming Federation (FINA), the International Diving Confederation, International Life Saving Federation (ILSF) and the Asian and Arab Swimming Federation. Ibrahim al-Taweel, president of the Palestinian Swimming Federation for two consecutive sessions, represented Palestine at the Olympics in Greece and China. Jamil Hashlamon was the first Palestinian swimming referee to participate in a world championship. At present, the Palestinian Swimming and Water Sports Federation is headed by Fawaz Zalloum.[xiii]

[i] Palestine Bulletin, 14 August 1926.
[ii] Palestine Bulletin, 15 August 1927.
[iii] Filastin, 28 August 1928.
[iv] Palestine Post, 23 April 1933
[v] Palestine Post, 1 September 1942.
[vi] Filastin, 19 August 1943.
[vii] Filastin, 25 August 1943.
[viii] Filastin, 26 September 1943.
[ix] Palestine Post, 19 February 1946.
[x] Palestine Post, 17 October 1944.
[xi] Michel W. Asfour, From Humble Beginnings... The East Jerusalem YMCA. This Week in Palestine, Issue No 122, June 2008.
[xii] Michel W. Asfour

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