Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Coverage of Sports News in Al-Karmel 1920 - 1941

   Issam Khalidi

   The number of newspapers and periodicals established in Palestine from World War I to the end of the Mandate was striking: is totaled 200, with 48 founded by 1929, 85 in the 1930s, and 67 between 1940 and 1948. [1] By the late 1920s and early thirties, Palestinian journalists played a central activist role in enticing the public to rebel against British rule, in concert with other struggles in the rest of the Arab world. Indeed, as the Shaw investigation of the causes of the 1929 riots concluded, Palestinian journalists were the chief inciters of the uprising and hence, according to the report, ought to be subject to increased scrutiny and censorship. Third, significant strides in education and the number of Palestinians seeking it created a continually developing readership base for the newspapers.[2]

    Named for Mount Carmel in the Haifa district, Al-Karmel was founded in 1908, by Najib Nassar (1865 - 1947), a Palestinian Christian and staunch anti-Zionist, whose editorial warning of the dangers posed by Zionism to the Palestinian people were often reprinted in the Syrian newspapers. After the demise of the Ottoman empire in the wake of World War I, Al-Karmel continued to be published during British Mandatory. It was closed in 1942, as a result of economic difficulties and burdens that have accompanied Nassar. Writing of Al-Karmel and another early Arab Palestinian newspaper, Filastin, Rashid Khalidi characterizes them as "instrumental in shaping early Palestinian national consciousness and in stirring opposition to Zionism."[3]
   It was not coincidental that Jaffa should have been a center for the Arab reaction to Zionism, or that Haifa should have been the venue for another newspaper that devoted extensive attention to the danger posed by Zionism, Najib Nassar’s al-Karmel (named of Mount Carmel, which overlooks the port of Haifa), which first appeared in 1908. [4]

    Compared to Filastin and Al-Difa’, this newspaper did not publish much about sports. Sports news appeared marginally, narrative and non-analytical. However, Al-Karmel was distinguished for its national tendency in bringing up sports news. Its national attitude was clear on many issues such as Zionist sports and the exploitation of the latter of sport in achieving its political goals. It called for boycotting Zionist sports; expressed its support to Arab clubs and societies and warned against falling into sectarian quagmire.

   Beginning in the 1920s, Jewish clubs in Europe and the region came to Palestine to compete with Jewish clubs there. They flew flags that resembled the Zionist flag, a provocation that local Arabs vigorously protested. In January 1925, for example, the executive committee of the Muslim-Christian Association sent the High Commissioner for Palestine a protest against the flying of the Zionist flag at a football match held in Jerusalem, claiming that the ordinance regulating the flying of flags – issued in 1920 and banning the carrying or exhibition of “the flag or emblem of any State … for the purpose of any partisan demonstration” – had been violated.[5] Al-Karmel reported on a game related to this issue:

The contest of a ball game took place on Sunday afternoon in Haifa.  We were told the British were winners; that the Zionist flag was flying alongside the British flag. Is it true that it is permissible for people to raise their own flags, or the outsider [the Zionist] has a special treatment in the policy regarding the management of Palestine? [6]

   This newspaper expressed its dissatisfaction regarding the smuggling of Jews through the exploitation of the Maccabi games, and the sale of lands in the Jordan Valley:

At the time when the Jews entered Palestine, and amidst the disclosure of the smuggling of weapons by Jews in big shipments, following the demonstration of the Maccabi of its teams of tens of thousands, and after the Jews revealed the cover of their real policy that they want to build a strong Jewish kingdom in the Arab countries. And after killing Al-Qassam and some of his company, and arresting others. In the midst of the people's intellectual agitation and the government's attempt to settle them and numb their nerves. Here came the selling of Ghor Nimrin in the Arab Emirate [to the Zionists], and the Emirate's [Transjordan] government was forced to allow this after its withdrawing the draft law that prohibits the transfer of lands to foreigners to replace it with a better, as it said.[7]

  As a reaction to the Zionist domination on sports arena and the marginalization of the Arabs from the Palestine Football Association (established in 1928) by the Zionists, some Arab young men established the Arab Palestine Sports Federation APSF in 1931, it stopped functioning at the end of 1930s. In September 1944 it was re-established and continued functioning until late 1947. Its re-establishment was a turning pointing in Palestinian sports.  PSF prevented Arab teams from meeting with its Jewish counterpart. This newspaper supported this decision. In October 1932, it reported:

 We were informed that the Nadi Al-Ittihad al-Adabi Al-Ittihad Literary Club team has met last Saturday and Sunday with the Hapoel Sports team in Tel Aviv. We were very upset to see this club violating the agreement of the Arab clubs, which states that it is a shame for any Arab team to meet with Zionist teams. Arab teams have to take the Mu’awiya Damascus Club team as example, it has rescinded of meeting with the Zionist teams after submitting to the request of the Arab teams. The blame falls on the governing body of this club.[8] 

   It is important to understand in this regard that Palestinians did not see Jewish immigrants to Palestine primarily as refugees from persecution, as they were seen by most of the rest of the world. They saw them instead as arrogant European interlopers who did not accept that the Palestinians were a people or had national rights in their own country, believed that Palestine instead belonged to them, and were coldly determined to make that belief into reality. There was further a stubborn insistence on the part of most Arabs on seeing Jews as members of a religious rather than a national group (this attitude was to linger on among Arabs generally for several decades). Thus, while an attempt to come to some sort of accommodation with Zionism might have been diplomatically wise, it was most probably doomed to fail because of both the drive of the Zionist movement for supremacy in Palestine, and the natural resistance to this drive of the indigenous population." wrote Khalidi. [9]

  In early 1920s, the British established a horse racing club they called the Gymkhanna for the police, the Palestinian gendarme and the British administration staff. In April 1928, the name was changed to the Jaffa Race Club after a decision made to include Arab members who participated in its management. Later on, it became known as Nadi Al-Ittihad al-Yafi Jaffa Union Club. In 1926, a horse racing club Nadi Tashji’ al-Riyada (the Sports Promotion Club) was founded in Acre, few months later it organized a large sporting competition (bicycles, jogging, high jump) and horse racing. As historical documents indicate that, later on, this club turned into a betting center for horse racing. A series of articles by the writer Asma Tuba from Acre, the Lebanese writer Mustafa Al-Aris and the editor of Filastin began to appear at the end of the 1920s criticizing bets on horse races.

  Al-Karmel also contributed to the warning of the consequences of this type of sports:
  One of the means of extorting money from parents who have now nothing but paying for these races held by the Sports Promotion Club in Acre.  It does not take one month until we get the news of a new race. Is in Palestine a peace of mind and a stillness of thought that such races drive them to spend their money on every other month. Usually, [horse] races are held once a year, or one of the seasons of the year once, and this is enough.[10]

   Haifa was known for its flourishing economy and culture. Few social-athletic clubs were founded in mid and late 1920s: Salisi (Salesian), al-Nijma al-Baida’ (White Star), Ittihad al-Carmel, Islamic Sports Club.[11]The newspaper office located in Haifa; therefore, it reported a number of news about the clubs in this city, which characterized by its athletic growth.

   Islamic SC in Haifa became known for its active athletic young men. It became a destination for sport teams from different places to compete with. The last time it hosted the Air Force Squad from Amman and competed with. Unfortunately, the ISC was not lucky as usual, it lost 4 to 1.[1

These national positions of Al- Karmel made it far from slipping into the maze of sectarianism. In one article, Al- Karmel describes the reasons behind sectarian nomenclature and explains its position on missionary associations, and expresses its opinion regarding the closure of the Moslem youth societies their doors in the faces of the Druze and Christian youth:

      We hoped that the Islamic sports clubs would have included all young people and raise them to respect order and sports. Now we ask the Islamic sports club in Haifa whether it worked with [our] advice, and how many members it has and has this number increased? If not, why? Is the purpose of establishing the club only to provide fun and entertainment for some young people? Or its purpose is organizing young Arab generations, training and strengthening their bodies? So, if it is the first, call it a private club. If it is the second, make it include all Moslem and Christian youth.[13]

We believe that it was the establishment of Christian youth associations were behind the formation of Muslim youth associations in Arab and Muslim countries. Muslims noticed that Christian youth associations for young men and women are either missionary or colonial traps - although many young men and women of Arab Christian and Muslim communities are members in these associations for good faith - those members whose national affiliation is not impeccable. Muslims wanted to avoid Christian associations and form independent Islamic associations that have nothing to do with the colonialist and the vanguard of colonialism and his apostles and propaganda. This association was formed under the name of the Muslim Youth Associations, and its doors were closed by that name in the face of Christian and Druze Arab youths who put their Arab national before any other consideration or who firmly believe that religion is for God and the nation for all.[14]

      Also, Al-Karmel urges sports clubs and Muslim youth associations to work with perseverance in order to organize and integrate all young Arabs in its ranks.  Was our proposal [request] accepted? Will we hear that Moslem youth associations are beginning to hold meetings and show the criticalness of the situation arising from the corruption of morality? Do sports clubs make us feel that there is a movement that can organize and generate a desire in young people to integrate into sports clubs. [15]

   In general, Al-Karmel political and national orientation clearly reflected upon the way it treated sports teams, and dealt with the Arab and Jewish athletic meetings. Sport at that period was not based on institutional foundations that would qualify it to have its advanced journalism. Sports reports at that time used to be punlished spontaneously.

   Today, many intellectuals and academics pay particular respect to this newspaper for its national and anti-Zionist attitude, although its owner, Najib Nassar, complained at the time that his people did not appreciate what he was doing. The question here is: will we continue to neglect people like him and their achievements, then, many years after their departure we begin exploring their achievements paying tribute to them in recognition of their efforts? This happened not only in the case of Najib Nassar, but also in many similar cases, some of which covered with dust and ceased to exist due to negligence.


[1] Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007) p.26.
[2] Mujar al-Bahri, A Quick Journey into Palestinian Journalism. This Week in Palestine, Issue No. 196, August 2014.http://archive.thisweekinpalestine.com/details.php?id=1739
[3] Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007), 217.
[4] Rashid Khalidi, The iron cage 91
[5] Palestine Weekly, 24 March 1925.
[6] Al-Karmel, January 16 1924
[7] Al-Karmel 18 January 1936
[8] Al-Karmel 10 October 1932.
[9] Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage, p 120.
[10] Al-Karmel 9 July 1932
[11] The Salesians of Don Bosco (or the Salesian Society, officially named the Society of St. Francis de Sales) is a Roman Catholic Latin Rite religious institute founded in the late nineteenth century by Italian priest Saint John Bosco to help poor children during the Industrial Revolution. In Mandate Palestine Salesian societies were spread in Bethlehem and Haifa.
[12] Al-Karmel 1 May 1928 
[13] Al-Karmel, 14 September 1935.
[14] Al-Karmel 1 February 1936.
[15] Al-Karmel 15 February 1936

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