Thursday, April 14, 2022

Football Fields in Mandate Palestine


Issam Khalidi


   In order to comprehensively examine sports in Mandate Palestine, we must address the issue of sports fields there. The emergence of sports fields in Palestine was associated with the spread of sports in general. Both sports and sports facilities were part of the processes of modernization and westernization that accelerated at the end of the nineteenth century. Since late nineteenth century until World War I, the entire Middle East experienced rapid expansion of European influence and domination. Part of this influence was the establishment of missionary schools and societies, which although they paved the way for colonialism, however, they also had a pivotal role in the advancement of culture and education in the region. Many missionary schools have incorporated physical education and sports into their curriculum.


  Sports entered Palestine in late 1800s. However, it is not known exactly when football games started. Many sources reveal that it emerged in the beginning of the nineteenth century when some schools such Rawdat al-Ma’aref, the Archbishop (St. George) in Jerusalem, and some Jewish schools adopted football and had their own football fields where they practiced the game.


  In another age, the sport might have been cricket or rugby, but by the turn of the twentieth century, the teachers who arrived in Jerusalem [missionary schools] tended to be football men. It helped that football is easier to play in a land where the soil is hard and compacted, and grass never lasts throughout a whole season. But the decisive reason that football took off in Palestine was its worldwide popularity, and the global infrastructure that had already grown up around it. [1]


Sports was part of the modernity that the British brought with them to Palestine, some of which existed before their arrival, such as football. The 1920s saw an emergence of new sports (boxing, cross country, hockey, polo and others) and an acceleration in sports activities' pace. During that period, Palestinian sports were also institutionalized. This was presented by the administrative organization, leagues, tournaments, and the emergence of social-sports clubs that adopted sports as one of their essential components. The majority of these clubs had their own fields. 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. In Palestine at the start of the ‘30s, Arab social athletic clubs numbered about twenty. [2]


  Football was not limited to sports clubs. Many played football on alleys and streets.  Others who had no headquarters or fields were forced to play on rough terrain which by time transformed into fields. At the same time, football games were held between neighborhoods Harat or between clans. Usually, a flat plot of land was chosen and cleaned from gravel and rocks. From these ‘fields’ players found their way to clubs.

The rapid spread of football games resulted in an increase of sports fields’ number. Prior to 1948, there were some 65 Arab athletic clubs in Palestine. Due to the scarcity of sources about fields in Palestine, it is hard to estimate the exact number of sports fields among Arab and Jewish schools and clubs. Many village clubs had their own fields which were donated by the villages’ councils or their dignitaries. In big cities, Scouts and sports performances were held on these fields, in addition to annual school parties, for example, public school annual parades were held in Jaffa at the Al-Bassa field, in Nablus at Al-Najah field, and in Ramallah at Friends Boys School.


   Several British Mandate’s teams, companies and government departments had their own fields. And often they competed on fields that were belong to Arab and Jewish clubs. In 1921, the British founded the Jerusalem Sports Club, which had its own field. On April 18, 1933, the new headquarters of the Jerusalem YMCA was inaugurated.[3] It had the best athletic facilities in Palestine. Its stadium was the city’s only sports stadium until 1991. It was the home of the Beitar Jerusalem Football Club until the construction of Teddy Stadium in Malha in the 1990s. It was razed by developers to make way for a luxury housing project, King David’s Court. [4]


    Sports fields were part of the Zionist policy of seizing land. Zionist leaders were fully aware that acquisition of a land base in Palestine would be essential to the realization of the Zionist project. [5] Among the ideological tools employed most ubiquitously by colonial movements in their efforts to justify acquisition of native lands were notions of “progress” and hierarchical schemes of social evolution. The Zionist also lamented communal forms of land tenure that Palestinians practiced into the twentieth century as causes of stagnation and waste in agricultural sector.[6]

In a document that Yekutieli titles “Memorandum of the Palestine Federation of Sports & Athletics ‘Maccabi’ World Organization,” Yekutieli outlined Maccabi’s aims and aspirations. He wrote how adequate sport facilities were still lacking. Some Jewish clubs had acquired access to suitable grounds, but only on one-to two-year rental agreements from Arab landowners. This was financially inefficient and did not solve the serious long-term problem of owning sport infrastructure. [7]  Occasionally, Palestinian magazines criticized some Arab fields’ owners for leasing their fields to the Jewish teams.[8]

    In 1933, a dispute occurred on the field between the Islamic SC in Haifa and Hapoel (founded in 1926). In this regard the Jami’a Islamiyya’s correspondent reported about this dispute mentioning that the Islamic SC decided to resort to court in order to resolve it.”[9]


Al Bassa Field

   The Arab Palestine Sports Federation (APSF), which was established in April 1931, in coordination with the scout leadership and the Youth Congress, decided to hold an athletic skills exhibition on al-Bassa esplanade in Jaffa in July 1935. This parade was held as a response to the Maccabiad (a Jewish Olympiad that was held in 1932 and 1935). The organizing committee had a great desire to set up this exhibition on al-Bassa field (today's Bloomfield) in Jaffa. It decided to build a temporary wall around it. But unfortunately, the municipality and the government opposed this idea. Some of the teams were all but prohibited from practicing in preparation. The committee was forced to rent the field from its Arab owner, Abu Ghoss, because it had been rented to ha-Poel, a Jewish sports organization established in 1926 and affiliated with Histadrut, the Jewish trade union organization. Some of this organization's members tried to prevent Abu Ghoss from renting the field. However, he stood up to this threat, and did not submit to their wishes. He threatened to compel them to leave the field, so ha-Poel submitted to his request.[10]


 In his memoirs (The Story of My Life in Palestine and Kuwait), Khair al-Din Abu al-Jabeen notes that in 1937 the Jaffa Endowment Department Al Awkaf Al Islamiyyah regained the land of the al-Barriyyeh field near our street [Abu al-Jabeen Street], which he frequently used to watch the Islamic [Sports] Club’s football matches. Al Awqaf transferred the aforementioned field and the adjacent lands to a site on which it established a large commercial market, Al-Isa’af Market in the city center. At that time, the club had to search for another alternative. It obtained permission from the Jaffa municipality to reclaim the land of Al Bassa in the east of the city to establish its new football field on it. The members made great efforts to settle the pitch and plant the land with grass, which required a large sum of money paid by the club its fund and from donations by members and some wealthy people in Jaffa. The club also had to get a loan from the Arab Bank to complete the project with the guarantee of one of the club’s supporters. Thus, the Al Bassa Field, or the Municipal Field” as it was called later, was built in late 1938. This stadium was of legal sizes and had a huge stadium of reinforced concrete. From the beginning of 1939 until the end of the mandate, all sporting and popular activities in Jaffa were held there. In 1947, the Jaffa municipality renovated this stadium and was inaugurated under the patronage of its mayor Dr. Youssef Haikal and Abdel Rahman Al Habbab, Secretary of the Palestinian Sports Federation, and in the presence of Izzat Tannous, Dr. Hussein Fakhry Al Khalidi, Fr. Rashad Al Shawwa, and Sheikh Mustafa Khairi. [11]


Al-Ittihad newspaper stated that Al-Bassa Field is one of the most beautiful and well-organized fields in Palestine. The Jaffa Municipal Committee has agreed to make it special for sports under the responsibility of the Islamic Sports Club, and work will be completed this week after a high wall has been raised around it and a nice stadium was built on its side. Its land was planted with palms, and it has become an important international stadium. [12] The opening ceremony took place on its land on June 7th 1946, with a football match between the teams of ISC and the Arab Orthodox Union of Jerusalem under the patronage of the head of the municipality committee and the presence of some mayors and dignitaries in Palestine.


   Following the creation of Israel, on 14 May 1948, the Basa was nationalized. In 1940, it became the home of Hapoel Tel Aviv. In 1962, the Basa lost its semi-obscene name and was renamed the Bloomfield Stadium to commemorate a gift from a Canadian benefactor, Louis Bloomfield, director of a Canadian Jewish labour fund. In 2000, Maccabi Tel Aviv also moved into the stadium,” wrote Nicholas Blincoe the author of ‘More Noble Than War’. [13]


Municipalities did not make sufficient efforts to help in providing courts, or reclaim lands and turn them into courts, at the time when creation of stadiums was part of the Zionist policy of land ownership.[14]   


    The (Arab) Palestinian Sports Federation was established in 1931. In late 1930s it was paralyzed due to the consequences of the Great 1936-1939 Revolt. It was re-established in September 1944. Due to the increased number of clubs, this federation and its clubs were in dire need for fields. Many called out the municipalities for new fields however these calls did not find sufficient attention.

The writings of Hussein Husni in Filastin are a good source on fields in Palestine. This distinguished educator, teacher, writer, and activist made some criticisms of the authorities and municipalities about the shortage of fields. Husni came to Palestine in early 1930s and worked in several schools as a teacher of physical education, such as Dar Al Aitam al Islamiyya the Islamic Orphanage, Rawdat Al Ma’arif and others. After the re-establishment of the Arab Palestine Sports Federation, he enriched the sports column in Filastin with his writings that were critical of the Mandate authorities and municipalities in their negligence of promoting physical education and sports in the country.


Husni criticizes Rawdat Al Ma’aref for its shortcomings in many matters related to sports education including fields, “We lack fields, even one in every city that could be equipped with wooden seats and covered from the sun and rain for public’s comfort.”[15]

“The Terra Santa College field in Jerusalem attracts a large crowd every week and everyone is upset with its present condition, because the goal is not according to legal standards. And the ground is not clean, and there are no ropes to prevent the crowd, nor seats for its comfort, even though it charges a good fee for each match,” wrote Husni. [16]


The newspaper Al-Ittihad criticized the conditions of fields in the city of Nazareth.

There is no official or unofficial body in Nazareth that encourages sports. This negligence has become prominent in our town and some notables from Nazareth own a plot of land in a good location in the town that has been more than twenty years old. It is use as field for football and other games. All the clubs and societies in Nazareth have demanded that the government put its hand on this piece of land and turn it into a public field for the town. This issue is still under discussion, but there are many attempts by a group of people who do not care about the benefits of the town who want to establish a building on this land so that Nazareth will be deprived of this field. Its youth also will be deprived of physical activities that the new generation become so badly needed. We are calling the official’s attention to prevent this bad situation from occurring. [17]


Many clubs used to allocate part of their budget or collect donations in order to build a field. Filastin reported in October 1937 that Arab SC in Jerusalem had collected donations to build a field. Many teams used to rely on the Municipal field, which was offered by municipalities in different cities. Of course, this was based on the municipality itself and its efforts to promote sports.


In one of the meetings of the Shabab Al Arab in Haifa, its members donated twenty-five pounds, which were added to the sum of five hundred pounds previously in the fund to create a new stadium for the club. Some members of Shabab Al Arab in Haifa are considering organizing a five-year project to establish new stadiums and clubs, similar to the three-year project organized by the Islamic Sports Club in Jaffa.[18]


  Regarding the fields in the city of Haifa, Johnny Mansour indicated that the stadiums were concentrated in the western region of Haifa, which is known as the Mawaris (after 1948, it became Jewish residential neighborhoods bearing the names “Kiryat Eliezer” and Kiryat Shmuel”). Clubs were established and lined up one after the other. In the following order: Islamic SC, Shabab Al Arab, Tarsana, and the Orthodox [later the National Orthodox School was built on this field]. The fields are surrounded by raised wooden panels to prevent the infiltration of spectators without paying entrance fees. As for the Salesian field, it was bought by Sahaba Al Arab and surrounded it with concrete fence, while the rest of the fields were protected with woods. The fields also included Al Azizia, Al Nahda, Iraq Petroleum Company, National Sports Club, Al Ummah Al Arabi, Ain Ghazal, Ajzam Sports Team, and Palestine General Hospital. [19]

   Sports fields were not limited to football only, but also to basketball and volleyball courts since these types of sports began to emerge in the second half of 1930s and developed after the reform of the Palestinian Sports Federation. The Orthodox in Jerusalem, the Orthodox and Andoni Club court in Jaffa and Salesian stadium in Haifa.



[1] Nicholas Blincoe, More Noble Thank War: A Soccer History of Israel – Palestine (New York: Bold Type Books, 2019) p.26

[2] Issam Khalidi, “Body and Ideology: Early Athletics in Palestine: 1900-1948,” JerusalemQuarterly 27 (2007): 44-58.

[4] Jerusalem International YMCA - Wikipedia

The Arab Sports Club inherited the Jerusalem YMCA’s old building.

[8] Al-Mustaqbal 17 May 1946

[9] Al Jami’a Al Islamiyya, 21 August 1933

[10] al-Difa‘, 12 July 1935

[11] Khairedin Abu Aljebeen, Qissat Hayati fi Filastin and Kuwait, My Life in Palestine and Kuwait, (Amman: Dal-Al Shorook, 2002) P. 47.

[12] Al Ittihad, 2 June 1946

[13] Nicholas Blincoe, More Noble Thank War, p. 172.

[14] Nicholas Blincoe, More Noble Thank War,

[15] Filastin, 7 March 1945

[16] Al Mihmaz, 16 June 1946

[17] Al Ittihad, 4 August 1946

[18] Al Mihmaz, 10 March 1946

[19] Jonny Mansur, Al-Madina Al-Filastiniayya fi Fatrat al-Intidab al-Baritani [Palestinian City During British Mandate], (Ramallah: al-Ru'ah, 2009). p. 47. 

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