In 1987, with the start of the glorious Palestinian Intifada in the West Bank and Gaza, the occupation forces stormed social and sports clubs and arrested their members. As a precautionary measure, the clubs were closed within a short period of time. The suspension of sports activities had a negative impact on the growth of sports in Palestine. As national festivals, sports games were one of the biggest events to be held during the occupation period.
In order to understand the role played by clubs during the first Intifada, it is necessary to emphasize the social, cultural, and national role these clubs played prior to the Intifada. For several decades, social-athletic clubs have been the core of the Palestinian sports movement. The growth of sports has been driven by their effective engine. It is imperative to point out that such clubs are an essential means by which Palestinian national identity could be shown and preserved, as they focused on refining contemporary Palestinian youth's personality in the spirit of belonging and patriotism. Additionally, they promoted and strengthened inter-community bonds between Palestinian youth in every Palestinian village and city.
Considering that sport is involved in both competition and health, it is essential to examine this subject from both angles: competitive and health related. Sport has a significant ability to be used for the advancement of societies and bring about positive changes to them. Unfortunately, the Palestinian national movement has underestimated the role that sport can play at the national level for a long period of time, beginning in the 1920s and continuing to the present day. Particularly when it comes to confronting Zionist plans, as well as cultivating a healthy and strong Palestinian body, this is especially true. These tasks have not been included in the Palestinian national movement's national-ideological agenda. Prior to 1948 Palestinian nationalism in sports has been demonstrated as a reaction to Zionist dominance of sports in Palestine, as well as to the support given to Jewish sports by Mandate. As a matter of fact, sports had not been an integral part of the Palestinian national movement strategy.
As a matter of fact, taking care of the body is considered to be a national activity. It meets the needs of the society, such as the need for a healthy citizen. In the modern history of Palestine, there few examples of intellectuals (such as Khalil Sakakini, an educator and writer) who have made physical exercise and healthy lifestyle an integral part of their lives over the decades. Physical exercise is something that these individuals know the importance of, and the impact has on both the body and mind as a whole. Furthermore, they also advocated that citizen be encouraged to be physically active on a daily basis as part of their daily lives. The honorable teacher of physical education Hussein Hosni in the 1940s called through the newspaper Filastin for people to take good care of their bodies, to make physical exercise part of their lifestyles, and to give significance to sports in achieving national goals.
Another factor worth mentioning is that sport was an element of modernity that entered Palestine at the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century. Following World War II, the British brought modernization to Palestine as part of their mandate. This was evident from the fact that the adoption of this modernity (which includes sports) was a formal one and not merely an implied one. This means that only the shape of a modernization and its crust were accepted and taken without any consideration of its essence or core. It should be noted that sport not only serves as a competitive activity within society but also serves a number of functions (health, educational, social, moral, national, cultural, and etc.) that have been overlooked by society at large. In the end, this led to the failure of modernity. In addition to being attentive to the benefits and functions of sports, the Zionists harnessed these features and functions of sports in order to establish their national home in Palestine.
There has been a noticeable increase in the competitive aspect of sports in the aftermath of the Nakba. Since 1948 until 1967 Sector Gaza was the center of the Palestinian sports movement. Although the Palestine Football Association made serious attempts to be admitted to the International Football Association FIFA, despite the latter rejecting these requests, these attempts represent the insistence that Palestinian sports leadership has made to demonstrate the existence of Palestinian people as well as their national identity.
Sports activities that have taken place since 1967 have been indissolubly entwined with the national-patriotic activities that had taken place. It is due to the Israeli occupation and conditions in which the Palestinian people were living. At that time social-athletic clubs and civil societies institutions were mostly part of the national movement that its line was parallel to that of the PLO. This include clubs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip some of which were funded by Fatah. It is believed that the rise of nationalism in sports was a reaction to Israeli practices against the Palestinians. It was not because sports had been systematized as a fundamental part of the Palestinian national agenda.
Regarding the health aspect, it has been a matter of neglect on the part of the national and intellectual movement since the Nakba until the present day. It is due to a number of reasons, the most crucial of which, as mentioned previously, is modernity's failure. Second, the political and economic conditions that Palestinians experienced, as well as those that they were suffering from, were a major obstacle that prevented them from paying attention to activities such as physical exercise. Maslow's hierarchy of needs indicates that awareness of the benefits of physical exercise as well as its practice is at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs (physical, psychological, social, emotional, and the need for self-actualization). It is important to realize that self-actualization is a necessity for attaining achievements and engaging in creative activities, that is, self-actualization. It is clear, however, that this cannot be achieved until security needs are met (which include personal safety, job security, resource security, and property security). For this reason, many Palestinians aren't too concerned about knowing the benefits of exercise and practicing it. They are almost more concerned about being able to make a living and to be able to supply the necessities of life. Because of this, some even risk their lives to cross the apartheid separation wall to work in Israel. In the third place is society's view of sports and physical exercise as useless and empty activities, with no purpose or content. As a result of the political climate of the time, culture has witnessed a kind of politicization that has seized the attention of large segments of the national and intellectual movements as a result of the political circumstances in which Palestinian were and still living. There is no doubt that this caused other forms of social awareness, as well as health awareness, to be overlooked.
The role played by club members during the Intifada is undeniable, and no one disputes that. Because of their training and fitness, they were capable of evading and combating the enemy. With their people, they fought for freedom. However, on the other hand, during the Intifada athletes resorted to unorganized lifestyles without motor activity as a consequence. It was as a result of this that they were unable to maintain the physical potential and skills that they had developed during previous periods of training and competition. As a result of physical inactivity, not only athletes, but also the overwhelming majority of the population, including academics, were affected by this problem. They spent most of their time indoors, playing cards, smoking, and overeating.
The Unified National Leadership of the Uprising did not make any calls, during the period when physical activity was absent from the daily lives of citizens. In examining the statements issued by the UNLU (starting with the statement issued on January 8, 1988, and continuing until statement number 97) I found that the UNLU has not made appeals or calls to clubs, athletes, or citizens to take better care of their bodies, or to avoid physical inactivity due to their constant presence indoors.
We know from history that, in spite of the darkest circumstances, other peoples and revolutions have strived to make physical fitness an integral part of the citizens’ life, as well as to strengthen them physically and morally. As a result of my belief that promoting the health of our people is a national mission, I wrote an article about the health of our people in Al-Bayader Al-Siyasi in November 1988, during the Intifada, lamenting the side effects of the Intifada that were not fought but could have been prevented. I did this, as a means of appealing to the UNLU, to the intellectuals, as well as to the academics, in order to prevent this health epidemic.
It is my hope that considering one of the side effects of that Intifada will not be understood as being an undervaluation of the significance of the accomplishments the Intifada made on a political, national, and social level. At the end of the day, this phenomenon as well as the other side effects of the Intifada did not diminish the Intifada's importance as a social-political revolution in which the Palestinian people won. Unfortunately, it ended with the Oslo Accords, which led to Palestinians' fragmentation, hardship, and suffering.