Thursday, December 26, 2019
Throughout decades sport was a mirror that reflected Palestinian reality; it portrayed this reality with all its details throughout different historical stages. Sports development has often been parallel to and overlapping with political developments. The Palestinian struggle has always been multilateral and sport was one of them.
The main reason in writing about leaders and activists in sports is to revive our memory about their achievements, struggle and heroism. Their names were hidden because of the negligence and forgetfulness. These people were able to make history at a time when the international community turned blind eyes on the Palestinian issue. They exploited sports to achieve national goals; desperately sought to demonstrate the Palestinian national identity to the world; to prove the existence of the Palestinian people. They believed that patriotism is not only about taking arms, rather about using all means of struggle - political, social and cultural (including athletic). What distinguishes these activists is their diligence, perseverance and determination to convey the message of the Palestinian people to the world and its sporting federations.
Elias Manneh was born in Jaffa. During the Nakba, he took up arms in defense of Palestine. Manneh and his family left Jaffa late during the Nakba, and due to the lack of transportation by land he had to flee to Gaza by sea with his family and others in a small boat that was going to drown at any time. They stayed at sea trying to reach the port of Ashdod in northern Gaza Strip. After arriving at the beach, they took a truck in Deir Snit area in Jabalya in northern Gaza – despite the dangerous conditions in this area. However, they could arrive to Gaza.
Manneh was a football player and an active member of the YMCA in Gaza. Later, he became a member of board of directors of this association. He worked for UNRWA and received many promotions until he became acting Commissioner-General in Gaza.
Compared to other Arab countries, Egypt had the prominent athletic prestige. Being under Egyptian administration since early 1950s, the Gaza Sector witnessed a rapid growth in sports. 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. Several other committees emerged from the regional committee such as national education and sports committees. Through these committees, the regional committee organized and supervised the sports movement, which included fifteen other departments, such as the Social Services Centers and Youth Care in Gaza, Deir al-Balah, Khan Yunis, Rafah, YMCA in Gaza, and the al-Awda Club for Arab employees in the UN. Palestinian sport found its way during that period; the Egyptian authorities provided sufficient support to the Palestinians in sports. This support was shown in Egypt’s assistance in training and preparing qualified coaches, as well as the exchange of athletic delegations. Proudly, the Palestinians in the Gaza Sector could represent Palestine in the international arena. There can be no doubt that Egypt offered its full support to the Palestinians in order to achieve this goal. During that time, Palestine participated in the Pan Arab tournament in Alexandria in 1953, where it won third place. 
In 1962, Manneh and Subhi Farah, Zaki Khayal, Ishak Nashashibi, Abdel Qader Judeh and Yahya Al-Sharif established the Palestinian Football Federation, or what was officially called (the Palestinian Sports Federation - Football Committee) in Gaza. This federation was a continuation of the Arab Palestine Sports Federation which was found in Palestine before the Nakba (the tragedy of 1948). Manneh became its General Secretary. One of its goals was to join FIFA, despite its expectations that the latter will pose obstacles in front of this request, especially since it was not the first time that the Palestinians have applied to join the International Federation. It is known that the Palestinian Sports Federation applied to join FIFA in 1946 and 1951, but its application was rejected.
Here is a review about the correspondence of Elias Manneh and the International Football Federation FIFA. The author publishes it as it is because of its historical value and great significance. Manneh and his companions were able tirelessly and determinedly to provide everything FIFA required in order to complete the process of affiliation which they saw as an essential national goal.
In August 1963 a letter was signed by the secretary of the Arab 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 is 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.
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:
With reference to our previous correspondence we should like to ask you to let us have an up to date statistical information about football in your area.”
Later, 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, informations, 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 2nd of December, 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 them 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.
In 1965, with Zaki Khayyal and Subhi Farah, he led the delegation that took part in the fourth Pan Arab Games in Cairo. Also, with Zakki Khayyal and Zuheir Dabbagh he led the delegation that took part in the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO) in Cambodia in 1966.
Every success that had been achieved later was a result of these men’s efforts. These heroes - like Elias Manneh - went into the historical records of Palestinian sports. They are the real ‘makers’ of its history, who without their sacrifices sports would not have been succeeded. That’s why they deserve respect and appreciation.
Notes and references:
 An interview with Elias Manneh’s son Sami Manneh with Nelly Al-Masri.
 Issam Khalidi, National Identity VS. Diaspora: Palestinian Sports 1948 – 1967. www.hpalestinesports.net
 Issam Khalidi, Palestine’s Bid to Join the International Football Association FIFA 1945 – 1998.
 FIFA Archive.
 FIFA Archive.
 FIFA Archive.
 FIFA Archive.
 FIFA Archive.
 FIFA Archive.
 FIFA Archive.
 FIFA Archive.February10th, 1966.