Friday, August 5, 2022

The Origins and Evolution of Social Athletic Clubs in Palestine


Issam Khalidi

   The emergence of associations and clubs cannot be studied in isolation from the political conditions before and after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. There were various factors behind the establishment of associations and clubs in Palestine, including missionary activities, modernity and westernization, and the emergence of nationalist sentiments during the last period of the Ottoman Empire that were caused by the Jewish immigration and the Balfour Declaration. Nonetheless, national, and political factors continue to be the key drivers behind the establishment of these institutions.[i]


    The second half of the 19th century saw an increase in the establishment of missionary schools and associations in Palestine, which not only helped to plough the soil against colonialism, but also contributed to education, culture, and modernity. From the later part of the nineteenth century until World War I, the entire Middle East experienced deepening European influence and domination. While Christian missionaries had little success in converting local Moslem and Jewish populations, the schools they set up played a significant role in producing a modern, educated intelligentsia. From primary to secondary schools to modern postsecondary institutions.[ii]


   Associations and clubs grew out of a developed social trend (in the Palestinian society) to establish societies and clubs as voluntary associations, and out of a global trend to establish charitable organizations whose foundations were based on global thought prevalent at the time. [iii]


   Westernization influenced many intellectuals and politicians in many ways, including economics, politics, and culture. The acceptance of Westernization by many intellectuals laid the foundation for the emergence of sports consciousness. The Older Politicians and the Younger Politicians were influenced by the liberal thought of Europe. In the manner of the nationalists of the time, they believed in constitutional government, westernization, individual virtue, and the right of self-determination. Even though the two groups identified themselves with Islam, they had a strong tendency to secularism. From their perspective, independence was a step toward remaking Palestinian society in the image of the modern world. [iv]

       Social and athletic clubs that started to emerge in early 1920s were an extension of national-political clubs established in early 1900s. The Palestinian Younger Politicians entered Palestinian politics through two organizations: al-Muntada al-Adabi (the Literary Club) and al-Nadi al- ‘Arabi (the Arab Club). The two organizations represented a new generation of political activists. The careers of some of these activists, it should be recalled, had been stymied after the Young Turk revolution and further impaired by World War I. [v] As to al-Muntada al-Dajani, it was set up in Jerusalem sometime in the summer of 1919. It was led by Hasan Sidqi al-Dajani of Jerusalem, and its membership was confined to the younger members of the aristocratic family of al-Dajani.[vi]


   After the Balfour Declaration, 1917, there was a tremendous increase in the establishment of clubs, charities, scouting groups and women’s societiees in response to the Zionist threat. A manifestation of the political and cultural activities that took place between 1918 and 1920 in Palestine was the establishment of Arab clubs and societies. This was also a manifestation of the Palestinian national movement during these years.


   After the British took control of Palestine in 1917, they ruled under a military administration until 1920, when the government was converted into a formal mandate under the League nations as negotiated in the San Remo Conference following the armistice. [viii] The purposes of the mandate from the beginning were contradictory: to facilitate the establishment of the “Jewish National Home,” as declared in the Balfour Declaration, while simultaneously safeguarding the civil and religious rights of the “non-Jewish communities” and encouraging self-governing institutions.[ix]

     The dominance of British sports over ‘foreign’ systems of physical activity was based on the self-conviction of national superiority and on the fact that the newly introduced sports were welded to British taste. This attitude of superiority reached its peak towards the end of the nineteenth century. However, nations that were part of, or were touched by, the British Empire were also influenced by the British approach to sports in different ways. [x]


  In several of Martin Gilbert's works on Jerusalem, he argues that modernity arrived in Palestine with the arrival of the British.[xi] According to historian Karen Armstrong, only after the end of Turkish rule did Jerusalem finally see the light of modernity. [xii] The British brought with them modernity including sports to Palestine, some of which existed before their arrival, such as football which the British consolidated and accelerated its presence. They also introduced some new types of sports.

 The 1920s saw the emergence of new sports and an acceleration of sports activities. The Palestinian sports institution developed, including organizational and administrative activities, tournaments, and championships. However, the institutionalization of sports at that time can also be seen in the establishment of sports clubs such as those affiliated with British military, department, and companies, Jewish (Maccabi and Hapoel), and Arab sports Clubs such as the Carmel Union, White Star, the Salisi (Salezian) Club in Haifa, Orthodox Club, the Islamic Sports Club in Jaffa, and Arab Sports Club in Jerusalem. As a result, social athletic clubs have contributed to the dissemination and promotion of sports consciousness, which in turn contributed to the rise of sports clubs. 

     Arab clubs took on a new social and charitable form, some took up sports activities while others focused only on national, political, social, cultural, and charitable, or sometimes all of them at once. Some clubs emerged as sports clubs since sports constituted most of their activities (such as the Islamic Sports Club in Jaffa and the Arab Sports Club in Jerusalem). At the same time, sports activities also served to promote cultural and social activities. To avoid rejection, a few clubs applied for licenses as athletic clubs, but their primary goal was nationalistic and political. 

There was a multiplicity and overlap of their work, and their activities were often organized in such a way that it was difficult to determine whether they were purely political, social, charitable, or even sporting, or whether they included all these elements. Associations and clubs performed many of the functions of the modern state, such as providing medical care and education, services that colonial powers did not provide. [xiii]

British community and the army have both had significant impacts on the sports sector, and football has become loved by fans due to its popularity. Early in the British Mandate, Arab communities in various cities took part primarily in activities associated with schools or associations of their respective religious faiths. Arab citizens underwent a transformation by watching sports games played by British people, or participating in activities such as swimming, running, jumping, basketball, tennis, and others.  [xiv]

    Despite the Zionists’ goal to build a Jewish homeland, Jewish sports had its impacts on sports culture in Palestine. Most of the Jewish immigrants in Palestine came from industrialized countries, which brought with them a lot of experience and culture. The members belonged to an industrial socialist society based in the West, with a central organization governed by an elite group of committed administrators and people who had a high sense of competence towards the natural environment. [xv]

 Johnny Mansour argues that the Jewish community in Haifa indirectly influenced the Arab community, as the Maccabi and Hapoel organizations were active in organizing sports events. These organizations were distinguished by the previous advertisements for sports activities to stir up Jewish public opinion and to increase competition between their supporters, and these activities were not hidden from the eyes of the Arab community, which listened to and sometimes watched many sports events and activities in the Jewish community in Haifa.[xvi]  

   In various fields, Palestine had exchanges and visits with brotherly Arab countries. In addition to delegations visiting these countries or Palestinians visiting them, Palestine was affected by what was going on in these countries, especially brotherly Egypt. It is known that Egypt was the first country to develop sports. Arabs from Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria reported sports news they saw while on their travels. Watching sports events in these countries was a very helpful factor in arousing and stirring the spirit of sports in Arabs.[xvii]

   Filastin and Al-Difa' are among the most popular Palestinian newspapers that covered sports activities in Palestine and neighboring countries. Promotion of these activities was greatly helped by the media, especially for Egyptian sports. A lot of information about sports teams in those countries was communicated in the local Arabic newspapers or through news that came from neighboring countries. 


Among the most significant influences on the spread of Orthodox societies and clubs in Palestine and Jordan has been the conflict between Orthodox Arabs and Greek spiritual leaders. The dispute continues to this day. There have been periods of ups and downs in this dispute, sometimes even to the point of boycotting the Patriarchate and trying to seize its headquarters, and bloody clashes and martyrdoms sometimes. There has been a dispute with the Greek "Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher" monastery, i.e., with the spiritual leadership that exercises authority over the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in practice, since 1534. 


This conflict began in 1872, and it was renewed in 1908 following the Ottoman Constitution. According to Issa Al-Sifri, it began with the Ottoman Constitution. Orthodox Christians urged the government to remove the yoke of injustice from their necks and restore the rights they had been robbed of by foreign monks. In the year 1923, the Orthodox problem arose again because a bishop in Nazareth was elected who did not speak Arabic, which is a legal requirement for this position. 

It was for this reason that the Arab Orthodox sect decided to hold their first conference in the city. The Orthodox Youth Club of Jaffa was the first club to be established in Palestine in 1923, and when it was founded, a thousand sports teams rented a private stadium and made their members spread sportsmanship among the public, until a large part of the population who did not think about sports became interested in them, and many became interested in them. Fans of the players attend all matches with great enthusiasm. [xviii] A delegation from the Orthodox Youth Conference was sent from the Supreme Committee in 1926 to visit Orthodox bodies and to establish Orthodox clubs and societies in Palestine and Transjordan following the first Orthodox Youth Conference held in the city of Ramallah, and in Ramle and Haifa in 1937, and in Gaza in 1944. [xix]


Similarly, this is another example of how nationalism motivated the establishment of social-athletic clubs. On September 30, 1934, the Arab Youth Club of Haifa was born, reflecting one of the factors contributing to the establishment of the clubs. From 1942 until the end of 1946, Palestine's stadiums witnessed many victories by this club, which was one of the strongest teams in Palestine. A major role was played by the Youth Conference in the establishment of the club, headed by Saeed Hawila. It was reported in Al-Difa' newspaper that there was a club in Haifa called the Salesian Club, whose members were uplifting, educated young people. This happened at the party the club held after it received the shield (presented to it by the Youth Conference - the writer). To avoid an insult to national dignity, the youth broke away from the Salesian club and founded the Arab Youth Club. The Arab Youth Club was welcomed by the Haifa and national communities. The club requested to be under the auspices of the Youth Conference Committee, which it agreed to cooperate with young people and create an association among them. [xx] In addition, this newspaper reported on the details of this club's opening ceremony and the presence of Yaqoub Al-Ghusain, the head of the youth conference. [xxi]  


Al-Salesi won the Shield of the Youth Conference for the 1933-1934 season after winning the Youth Conference tournament organized by the Youth Conference. A football match sponsored by Arab Youth Conference head Yaqoub Al-Ghussein led to this separation. However, when the Salesian team advanced to the podium to receive the cup, the team official instructed the players to shake hands first with the Italian Consul, then with Ya'coub Al-Ghusain. [xxii]


 These clubs were almost exclusively attended by Arab intellectuals. They were considered educational after schools and colleges. They had their own libraries, cultural, social, and sports committees, and some even had a political committee. Several clubs held lectures, discussions, and events celebrating religious occasions, and this cultural organization gave lectures against Zionism to warn the public of its dangers. Rashid al-Hajj Ibrahim writes in his memoirs that Haifa has its own clubs for scouting, sports, and literature where useful lectures are given. These clubs were well managed, had a library and entertainment facilities. Lectures were given by authors from outside the city.[xxiii]


In a way, social-athletic clubs and scouts’ organizations were responsible for shaping and refining the Palestinian personality, as they played a pivotal role in fostering rapprochement between the people of Palestine, and by fostering the overlap of various activities (cultural, social, sports) among them as well as the dedicated and voluntary work of their members, who dedicated themselves, their time, and their efforts for the club’s benefits. These clubs' loyalty was an instrument to keep discipline and dedication among members. 


The members of these clubs participated in multiple activities, and many were on different committees, whether they were social, athletic, or cultural in nature. National, intellectual, aesthetic, religious, physical, moral, and mental aspects were all incorporated into education of these clubs, Historically, there were no institutions in Palestine capable of raining the younger generation in this manner, such as clubs and scouts’ organizations, and this is still true today, although some of the clubs have had to adapt to the restrictions imposed by cultural and economic globalization (which includes sports) and have lost some of their authenticity. 

Additionally, the founding of clubs gave a boost to the national movement which sought from the start to oppose the Mandate policies and the Zionist scheme in Palestine. There was clear mutual support and close cooperation between these clubs and the  national movement.[xxiv] Most of those who contributed to the founding of the clubs were the elite of educated patriotic  youth. This was the case for the Islamic Sports Club and the Orthodox Club in Jaffa, as well as the Islamic Sports Club and the Arab Youth Club Shabab Al-Arab in Haifa.[xxv]


 Muslims and Christians joined Christian clubs, and some clubs accepted members from another faith because of the superiority of national awareness among their leaders to sectarian awareness, or to erase the stain of sectarianism from them. Various clubs have sectarian names in many Palestinian cities, including the Salesian, the Orthodox, and the Islamic clubs in Jaffa and Haifa. In most clubs, sectarianism was not predominant.    


The families had teams and clubs and sports teams that competed against one another and with community clubs. The teams were eventually incorporated into other clubs. Additionally, many villages had clubs bearing the names of their villages, and their loyalty to these villages strengthened the position of these villages in their community. Clubs in these villages are typically named after their villagers. 


    The feeling of belonging and loyalty of these clubs to their villages was aimed at strengthening the position of this village among the rest of the villages, whereas its people, who were forced to leave their villages due to the Nakba and their displacement to the diaspora and their living in refugee camps, established social sports clubs bearing the names of their villages. In most clubs, sectarianism was not prevalent. There were clubs of purely secular nature, such as Al-Arabi Club and Al-Dajani Club in Jerusalem, the White Star in Haifa, and other sports clubs and teams. 

By 1948, there were some 65 athletic clubs in Palestine; approximately 55 of them were members of the (Arab) Palestine Sports Federation PSF which was established in 1931 and reestablished in 1944. 




Since early 1920s until 1948, social athletic clubs played a vital role in bringing together Palestinian youth from cities and villages.  Furthermore, they were the most influential and integral part of the Palestinian sports movement. With the re-establishment of the Palestine Sports Federation PSF (established in 1931 and reestablished in 1944), the number of social athletic clubs increased dramatically. Social sports clubs served as a center for youth and national activities. In 1944 members of the Islamic Sports Club founded Al-Najada. It was the first paramilitary organization modeled on the Lebanese Najada Organization. Palestine Sports Federation decided to support Al-Najada. The PSF players’ identity cards stated that they could be considered members of the sports and paramilitary teams of Al-Najada. There was a great turnout by young people to Al-Najada. [xxvi]

Today, all social-athletic clubs are extensions of those established before 1948. They share the same organization structure and features. Due to the demands of globalization, some clubs favored professional sports over amateur sports, but their primary mission is to promote the welfare of their communities. 


[I] Sport has been part of the Arab culture and was an activity in our region for a long time. Among the most popular games in Palestine were action games and wrestling, known as Arab Tabban. In Arab history, there are a variety of sports that are described and documented, including equestrian sports, archery, fencing, and camel and horse racing. Also, Arabic literature is filled with stories about strong heroes such as Antara which call to tame the body, and proverbs about how to achieve goals in society at the time, particularly wars and invasions, using physical strength. 

[ii] Michael Gasper, The Making of The Modern Middle East.

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[iii] Ellen L. Fleischmann, The Nation and its “New” Women, The Palestinian Women’s Movement 1920 – 1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) p

[iv] Muslih, Muhammad Y., The Origins of Palestinian Nationalism, The Institute of Palestine Studies Series, (New York: Columbia University Press 1988), p. 221.

[v]  Muslih, Muhammad Y., The Origins of Palestinian Nationalism, p. 163 – 166.

Al-Muntada dominated much of Palestinian political life in 1919 and early 1920. It started originally as an Arab association which was founded in Constantinople in the summer of 1909. Al-Nadi al-Arabi, the second organization through which the Younger Politicians engaged in politics, shared with al-Muntada several features, notably the fact that it was set up by young Palestinian members who hailed from local aristocratic families. Unlike al-Muntada, however, al-Nada was founded by the younger members of al-Husayni family and those related to it, and by young members of other prominent Jerusalem Arab Families. The club was originally set up by Palestinian Arab nationalists in Damascus as an offshoot of al-Fatat. The Damascus central organization of the club was dominated by Arab nationalists from Nablus

[vi] Muslih, Muhammad Y., The Origins of Palestinian Nationalism, p. 171.

On February 11th, 1913, Filastin reported: In October 1911, a group of young men in Jaffa established a sports club, and they later presented their programs and laws, and asked those who wanted to assist this club to contact one of their members (the Sports Forum). The club is considered the first social and cultural sports club in Palestine. This forum later became known as the sports club in Jaffa or the Circle Sportive (circle sportif). Since the beginning of the mandate in Palestine, the military apparatus has dominated this club, which was active in tennis, and has begun to hold competitions in this sport with the participation of soldiers and British officers. With the departure of the British from Palestine and the handover of its keys to the Zionist opponent in 1948, the club was dissolved. The club was founded by Arabs and some foreigners working in this city.

[vii] Encyclopedia of Palestine, Vol. IV, Damascus, 1984, p 425.

[viii] Ellen L. Fleischmann, The Nation and its “New” Women,

[ix] Ellen L. Fleischmann, The Nation and its “New” Women,



[xiii] Ellen L. Fleischmann, The Nation and its “New” Women, p. 40.

[xiv] Jonny Mansur, Al-Madina Al-Filastiniayya fi Fatrat al-Intidab al-Baritani[Palestinian City During British Mandate], (Ramallah: al-Ru'ah 2009). p. 44.

[xv] Walid Khalidi, Palestine Reborn, (I. B. Taurus & Company: London, 1992). 

[xvi] Jonny Mansur, p. 45.

[xvii] Jonny Mansur, p. 45.

[xviii] Hasan Al-Bawwab, Mawsu’at Yaffa Al-Jamila, Jaffa Beautiful Encylopedia, V. II, Beirut, 2003. P. 1179 – 1182.

[xix] Issam Khalidi, Al-Andiya al-Orthothoksiyya was Dawruha fi Tatawwor al-Haraka al-Riyadiyya fi Filastin 1923 - 1948. Orthodox Clubs and their Role in developing Sports in Palestine 1923 _ 1948.

[xx] Al-Difa’, 25 September 1934

The Salesian Club was affiliated with the Salesian Schools founded by the Salesian Fathers, a Catholic monastic order founded by Saint John Bosco in 1840 in Turin, Italy.

[xxi] Al-Difa’, 25 Septmber 1934.

[xxii]  Khaled Ijjawi, Tarikh al-Haraka al-Riyadiyya fi Ashatat, (Al-Dar Al-Wataniyya al-Jadida: Damascus, 2001). 

[xxiii] Al-Difa’ a’n Haifa, Muthakkarat Rashid al-Haj Ibrahim 1891 – 1953, Memoirs of Rashid al-Haj Ibrahim, Introduction by Walid Kalidi (Institute for Palestine Studies: Beirut, 2005). P. 227.

[xxiv] Khalidi, Issam. Body and ideology A Short History about Athletics in Palestine 

(1900-1948), Jerusalem Quarterly, fall 2006.

[xxv] Khalidi, Issam. Body and ideology.

[xxvi] Khair al-Din Abu al-Jibin. Kissat Hayati fi Filastin wal-Kuwait. The Story of My Life in Palestine and Kuwait (Amman: Dar al-Shorouk, 2002) p. 471-488.

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