Friday, November 24, 2023

Sports Fields in Mandate Palestine


               Issam Khalidi


    There can be no complete study of sports in Mandate Palestine without addressing the issue of athletic fields, especially those used for football, as well as other sports. A correlation was observed between the emergence of sports fields in Palestine and the general increase in participation in sports.


   Sports and sports fields were both part of the modernization processes that accelerated at the turn of the 19th century. From the end of the nineteenth century until the end of World War I, the entire Middle East experienced a significant increase in European influence and dominance. Several missionary schools have incorporated physical education and sport into their curriculum, and some of them even have their own sports fields that they used for their sports activities. Among these schools were the archbishop St. George School in Jerusalem, the Friends Boys School in Ramallah, and the Salesian schools in Bethlehem and Haifa. In addition, there were Jewish schools that had their own football fields where students could practice their skills and take part in games.


   Since 1920s, Palestine witnessed an acceleration in the emergence of social-athletic clubs. 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. [1]


  As a sport, football was not confined to schools and 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. On flat land that was convenient to play on, football games were also played between neighborhoods harat or between clans. Usually, a flat plot of land was chosen and cleaned from gravel and rocks. From these streets players found their way to clubs. 


  The rapid spread of football games resulted in an increase of sports fields. 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 sport fields. Most village clubs had their own fields which were donated by the village councils or their dignitaries. In big cities, Scouts and sports festivals and parades were held on these fields, in addition to annual school athletic shows  for example, public schools annual field days were held in Jaffa at the Al-Bassa field and in Nablus at Al-Najah field.


 At the same time 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.


   In 1909 the YMCA was founded in Jerusalem. On April 18, 1933, the new headquarters was inaugurated.[2] 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. [3]


      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. [4] 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.[5]


  In a document that Yekutieli (leader of the Maccabi Sports Organization) 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. [6]Occasionally, Palestinian magazines criticized some Arab fields’ owners for leasing their fields to the Jewish teams.[7]


    In 1933, a dispute occurred on the field between the Islamic SC in Haifa and ha-Poel (founded in 1926 was affiliated with the Jewish Working Organization Histadrut). In this regard the Jami’a Islamiyya’s correspondent reported: “I wrote to you about the dispute between Islamic SC and Hapoel on the field, and today I remind that the representative of the Northern District appointed Tuesday as date to consider this dispute and the judgement in this case. It should be noted that the lawyer Mr. Hanna Asfour volunteered to defend the sports club in this case which pleased the members of this club.”[8]


Al Bassa Field in Jaffa

  As a response to the Maccabiad (a Jewish Olympic event that was held in 1932 and 1935), the Arab Palestine Sports Federation (APSF) (founded in April 1931), in coordination with the Scouts movement and the Youth Congress Mu'tamar Ashabab, planned to hold an athletic show on the al-Bassa esplanade in Jaffa in July 1995 to answer the Maccabiad. The organizing committee had a great desire to set up this show on Al-Bassa field (today's Bloomfield) in Jaffa. It decided to build a temporary wall around it. But the municipality and the government opposed this idea. Some of the teams were all but prohibited from practicing in preparation. Especially for this event, the committee was forced to rent the field from its Arab owner, Abu Ghoss, because it had been rented to Ha-Poel. Some of this organization's members tried to prevent him from renting the field. However, he didn't give in to Ha-Poel's demands, which ultimately complied with his request.[9]

   In his memoirs (The Story of My Life in Palestine and Kuwait), Khair al-Din Abu al-Jabeen notes that in 1937 the Jaffa Al-Awkaf Al-Islamiyyah Islamic Endowment regained the land of the al-Barriyyeh field near our street [Abu al-Jabeen Street in Jaffa], which he frequently used to watch the Islamic [Sports] Club’s football matches. Al-Awqaf transferred the 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 the 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. 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 Palestine Sports Federation. [10]


   Al-Ittihad newspaper reported in June 1946 that Al-Bassa Field is one of the most 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 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. [11] The opening ceremony took place on its land on June 7th, 1946, with a football match between the teams of Islamic Sports Club of Jaffa 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 Bassa was nationalized. In 1950, it became the home of Hapoel Tel Aviv. In 1962, it 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. [12]


  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. 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.[13]   


    In late 1930s the (Arab) Palestinian Sports Federation 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 in 1944, 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 criticized the school of Rawdat Al Ma’aref (founded in 1906) for its shortcomings in many matters related to sports education including field, “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.”[14]


“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. [15]


  The newspaper Al-Ittihad reported on the conditions of fields in Nazareth too:


    There is no official or unofficial body in Nazareth that encourages sports. This negligence has become prominent in our town. 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 organizations in Nazareth have demanded that the government must put its hand on this piece of land and turn it into a public [football] field for the town. This issue is still under discussion. However, there are many attempts being made by a group of people who do not care about the benefits of the town. Nazareth is in danger of losing this field as they wish to build a building on this land. 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. [16]


     Many clubs used to allocate part of their budget or collect donations to build a field. Filastin reported in October 1937 that Arab SC in Jerusalem had collected donations to build a field. In one of the meetings of 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 field for the club. Some members of Shabab Al-Arab in Haifa are considering organizing a five-year project to establish new stadiums and clubs, like the three-year project organized by the Islamic Sports Club in Jaffa.[17]


   Haifa's stadiums were mostly located in the western part of the city, known as the Mawaris. After 1948, it became Jewish neighborhoods called Kiryat Eliezer and Kiryat Shmuel.

  The Islamic SC, Shabab Al-Arab, Tirsana, Salisi (Salesian), Ittihad Al-Carmel, as well as the Orthodox (later the National Orthodox School was built on this field) all had their fields surrounded by raised wooden panels to prevent spectators from entering the fields without paying the entrance fee. As for the Salesian field, it was bought by Sabab Al-Arab and surrounded with concrete fence, while the rest 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. [18]


   The 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. There were few basketball courts such as  YMCA and Orthodox Club in Jerusalem, the Orthodox and Andhoni Club court in Jaffa and Salesian court in Haifa. In addition, there were a plenty of them among the Jewish clubs' basketball teams.



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

[2] Jerusalem Int. YMCA - History (

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


[4] Bisharat, George. Land, Law, and the Legitimacy in Israel and the Occupied Territories. viewcontent.cgi (

[5] Ibid, 

[7] Al-Mustaqbal, 17 May 1946

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

[9] Al-Difa‘, 12 July 1935

[11] Al Ittihad, 2 June 1946

[12]  Blincoe, Nicholas. More Noble Thank War: A Soccer History of Israel – Palestine (New York: Bold Type Books, 2019), p. 172.

[13] Ibid, 

[14] Filastin, 7 March 1945

[15] Al Mihmaz, 16 June 1946

[16] Al Ittihad, 4 August 1946

[17] Al Mihmaz, 10 March 1946

[18] 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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