Sunday, April 21, 2024

Palestine’s Bid to Join the International Football Association FIFA 1945 - 1998


Issam Khalidi

    Throughout different historical stages Palestinians sought through football sense of national identity, independence and world recognition. In 1998 Palestine joined the International Football Association FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association).   Palestinians have been striving to achieve this goal for more than half a century since the 1940s until the 1990s. This achievement was reached after a long process that mirrored Palestinian efforts to be regarded as a sovereign nation and take its rightful place in international sporting events as well as in other international realms. [1] The purpose of this article is to demonstrate Palestine's journey to FIFA as well as the challenges it faced during that journey. Additionally, it highlights the benefits that Palestine enjoys as a FIFA member.


Early Days

    Since the beginning of the Jewish immigration to Palestine Zionism saw in sport a way for achieving the dream of the “National Home”; a pivotal mean for promoting the Jewish national sentiments.  Since early 1910s the Zionists started establishing clubs such as the Maccabi. In 1925 the Maccabi World Organization was moved to Palestine. In 1926 the ha-Poel organization was established then followed by the Beitar headed by the Zionist revisionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky who struggled for state recognition. These organizations took sports as a cover for their political and paramilitary activities.

     In 1924, the leadership of the Jewish Maccabi Athletic Organization attempted to gain membership in the International Amateur Athletic Federation. According to FIFA’s rules, his initiative ended in failure, as it was determined that Maccabi did not represent Arab, British and Jewish sportsmen in Palestine equally. However, this unsuccessful attempt did not discourage Maccabi leader Josef Yekutieli, who in the early 1925 attempted to gain Maccabi membership in the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Yekutieli decided to employ a different tactic this time -- he first established the Palestine Football Federation. [2]

    According to FIFA rules, only associations representing states could be accepted as members. Thus, Maccabi officials were compelled to invite not only their Zionist political adversary, ha-Po’el, but also Arab teams to join the Palestinian Football Association (PFA). Therefore, in addition to the fourteen Zionist representatives that participated in the first meeting of the new soccer-association directorate, one Arab delegate took part—a member of the Nusseibeh family (Ibrahim) representing the Arab Sports Club of Jerusalem.[3] However, despite his involvement in this first session, Nusseibeh’s name never again appeared in the directorate’s protocol.[4] Nevertheless, during the first years of the PFA, Arab teams participated in the games of the Association. A report submitted to FIFA in 1929 describes three soccer divisions in Palestine: ten teams in the first, twenty in the second (five of them Arab), and thirty-nine in the third (six of them Arab).[5]


   Later PFA adopted Zionism’s blue and white colours and dropped Arabic as one of its languages within three years of its founding. The Zionist anthem “Ha-Tikva” was played alongside Britain’s “God Save the King” at the start of official matches. The Palestine Olympic Committee followed a similar pattern with its nine members, seven of which were Jewish.

    In fact, Arab sports lagged behind Jewish sports. The Jews came to Palestine from developed industrial societies. Definitely, they brought with them physical culture and the culture of sports. They had good understanding of administrative organization in all aspects, including sports. The yishuv, and the Zionist movement that represented it, in consequence received powerful external support, both from many of its coreligionist elsewhere and from the greatest imperial power of the day, as well as from the League of Nations. [6]

   The exploitation of PFA by the Jewish athletic officials and the continued marginalization of the Arabs were among the Zionist goals, especially after joining FIFA in June 1929; therefore, the Palestinians announced their dissatisfaction with the Jewish practices in seizing this Association. [7] The Association’s joining FIFA was a valuable opportunity for the sake of making the Jewish identity prominent and representing Palestine as a Jewish nation on the international level. With this the Jews, with the cooperation and support of the British, were able to represent Palestine as Jewish nation on the international level in the World Cup in both 1934 and 1938.  [8]

    Resulting from the gross transgressions by the Jews in the Palestinian Football Association and also resulting from the 1929 Revolt, many of the sporting leaders established the Arab Palestinian Sports Federation PSF in April 1931. Because of the 1936 revolt, the activities of the PSF were hindered and PSF totally paralyzed at the end of the thirties. Few of its members joined the Jewish-oriented PFA. [9]

      The Jewish effort to solidify ties with the British as well as with other nations through soccer was boosted by Palestine’s admission in 1928 to world soccer body — FIFA. Within a decade of its founding, the PFA sought FIFA’s permission to play regional teams that were not members of the world body in a bid to strengthen Zionist ties with its non-Palestinian Arab neighbors as well as with British colonial teams in the Arab Middle East, and to obstruct Arab Palestinian teams, which it had alienated or excluded from the PFA, from competing with teams from other Arab counties.” [10]  To this end, the PFA in the mid-1930s used its authority as the national association to prevent Palestinian teams from playing neighboring Arab squads on the grounds that they were not members of the PFA.

    Since its re-establishment in September 1944, the Arab PSF strived to join FIFA.  In order to achieve this task, the PSF, since the beginning, strengthened its links with the football federations in the neighboring Arab countries.  It gave the brotherly federations in these countries a detailed explanation of the sport conditions in Palestine, the conflict with the Zionist-dominated PFA. The desire of enrollment in FIFA came at a time of escalation in the conflict between the Arabs and the Zionists.  Through this membership, the Palestinians wanted to prove that they were the real legitimate representative of Palestine, and they constituted the majority in the country. [11]

   The issue of the PSF’s application was discussed at the FIFA conference in Luxemburg in August 1946. All of the facts confirm that, prior to 1948 there were some 65 social athletic clubs in Palestine.  Approximately 55 of them were members of the Arab Palestine Sports Federation, which included athletic clubs from all over Palestine.[12]


   The secretary of the Palestinian Sports Federation, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Habbab planned to attend the FIFA meeting in Luxembourg which was scheduled to be held between the 25th and 27th of July 1946 to discuss with the sports circles and to explain the point of view of the Arabs of Palestine regarding registering their federation in the International Association. However, the International Federation refused him to attend for unknown reasons.[13]


   Al-Habbab received a letter from the FIFA stating that as a result of the request of both the Egyptian Football Association and the Lebanese Football Association, the International Federation, at its last meeting held in Luxembourg, studied the issue of registering the PSF internationally and decided to form a special committee to study this issue in all its aspects and submit its recommendations to the Executive Committee so that the Committee can register the Palestinian Federation internationally. [14]


   During the Congress, the Palestine Football Association opposed itself to the demand of the Palestine Sports Federation (supported by the Association of Lebanon) invoking the formal terms of the regulations and insisting on the fact that the Palestine Sports Federation had an extremely limited amount of activities.[15] 


    On October 3, 1946, the Palestine Sports Federation forwarded to FIFA a memorandum and enclosed file. It mentioned the reasons behind the conflict on the sport arena, which had a political background, as the cause for the increase in the Jewish immigration and colonization in Palestine.  It indicated the political aspect of this problem in Palestine, mentioning the wrong policy of the British Mandate, which was considered the source of all the problems.[16] This policy was the reason for the escalation of the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews.  The memorandum mentioned that, in the beginning of the thirties, there were good relations between the Arab teams and the Palestine Football Association, which was when the Jews constituted the minority of the population.  When this association was in its early stages, the Jews pursued and attempted to get the lion’s share of the representation in the central committee. [17]

     FIFA instructed Mr. Seldrayers and Mr. Drewry (they were from Belgium and England; both were later FIFA Presidents after Jules Rimet) to write a report on the situation, which was later approved by the Executive Committee of the FIFA at the meeting in Glasgow on May 9th, 1947. [18] 

  This report stated that:


    PSF is made up of Arab only, excluding any Israel element and on the other hand, the PFA no longer has any Arab members and only counts Israeli affiliates, according to its status, it is open to all inhabitants of the Palestinian territory. In vain the Palestine Sports Federation reported various incidents which, according to it, proved that the Palestine Football Association had infringed on the rights of certain Arab clubs. But these are not sufficient reasons to justify the question. Indeed, when the facts of which it complains occurred, the injured Clubs should have contacted FIFA, which could have examined the cases and possibly intervened. In reality, the current situation is that the Arabs no longer want to be under the jurisdiction of the Palestine Football Association and this, not for sporting reasons, but purely for political reasons.

 The statutes and the regulations of the FIFA are formal: On a given territory there can only be one body directing all the football matches that take place on that territory. One cannot allow two federations to exist on this territory as long as on this territory there are not two distinct political entities. This is the solution that Mr. Rimet advised the Palestinian federations to adopt during the Congress of Luxembourg. If the two federations refuse to have direct contact with each other, if their delegates refuse to meet, this Inter-federal Committee could be made up of neutral people who don’t belong to any of the races in conflict. The only inconvenient and it is a practical one by excellence, is that neither of the two federations would be able to align a team under the name of the national Palestinian team. Only the Inter-federal Committee could do it, but in practice, this possibility will not occur since the Arabs refuse to play against or next to Israelis. Any other solution is impossible, not only because the statutes and regulations of the FIFA prohibit it but also because that would represent an extremely dangerous precedent.


  In the conference, which was held in Glasgow on May 10th, 1947, it was decided to discuss the enrolment of Palestine in FIFA. The final decision was made that Arabs and Jews have to work together. This is because it's hard to recognize two committees from the same country at the same time. Consequently, as a result of this, the application was rejected by FIFA because the FIFA regulations do not permit the registration of two institutions from the same state or country.


    Afterwards, the Zionist-dominated PFA sent FIFA a letter dated on May 5th, 1948, expressing its dissatisfaction with Seldrayers and Drewry's report: [19]


  ……. At the same time we beg to call your attention to the fact that we have instructed our delegates to oppose the conclusions arrived at by Messrs. R. W. Seeldrayers and A. Drewry, which were confirmed by your Executive at the meeting in Glasgow on the 9th May 1947. In fact, we cannot understand how you could accept such proposals, which are contrary to the statute of the F.I.F.A and cannot be reconciled with the decisions taken in the question of Palestine Football at the last Congress in Luxemburg. We can only presume; that the facts and arguments, laid before you, were quite insufficient in order to obtain an impartial picture of the situation, the more that – strange enough – we as the most interested party had no opportunity to make our contribution.


   The fact that FIFA's language with the Arabs in Palestine had been more benign over the years should be noted. There is no doubt that FIFA recognized the effectiveness of the Palestine Sports Federation in terms of organizational efficiency, recognition of the large number of (Arab) clubs that were affiliated with the PSF, as well as recognition of the wide variety of sports activities the PSF organized.[20]



   After the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe), which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the displacement of 750.000 Palestinians into the diaspora, all sectors and activities of Palestinian society were affected, including sports.   In spite of these difficulties, Palestinian sports have been able to recover. Due to their previous experience and the severity of the dispersion, Palestinians developed and maintained this resilience over their lives. In the Shitat (Diaspora), Palestinians played football in the narrow alleys of refugee camps. Social athletic clubs were also formed in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. At the same time, UNRWA set up service centers that used sports as part of their activities. The growth of the Palestinian sports movement can be attributed to all of these social athletic clubs that were founded before and after 1948.


    In 1951 the West Bank joined Jordan, while Gaza Sector joined Egypt.  It is well known that the Palestinians who left Palestine left for Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Gaza Sector, West Bank and other Arab countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Gulf States.


   After 1948, the Palestine Sports Federation which was founded in Palestine in 1931 and was re-established in 1944 continued to exist.  FIFA's archives show that although the PSF application was declined before 1948, Abdel Rahman al-Habbab, the secretary of PFA, applied to FIFA in March 1951. FIFA didn't give any other details about this application. Presumably, it was rejected on the pretext that the West Bank wasn't an independent entity and was under the Jordanian rule.


    At that time Palestinians athletes and former athletic administrators joined the Jordan Football Association (JFA). In 1956 Al-Habbab became president of JFA. Clubs in the West Bank such as Nadi al-Muwazzfeen (Club of Employees) in Jerusalem and Shabab al-Khalil (Youth of Hebron) took part in the tournaments of JFA.

   In the 1950’s and 1960’s football in Gaza reached a reasonable level. Gaza Sector witnessed a rapid growth in sports. A solid organizational infrastructure was developed which its effects still exist until this day. 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. Proudly, the Palestinians in the Gaza Sector could represent Palestine in the regional and international arena. [21]


    Yet, even while living under harsh conditions in the Diaspora including in refugee camps lacking basic necessities of life (and adequate sport facilities), Palestinians continued their sport activities. This included participation in the Pan-Arab games (first held in Alexandria, Egypt in 1953) which expressed the emerging Pan-Arab consciousness of the 1950s and early 1960s and aimed to strengthen Arab solidarity and common interests. Palestine, though not an independent state, participated in the first games and in subsequent tournaments, held every four years. Te organizers sought IOC patronage, but this request was denied as they were deemed ethnic regional games and as such did not qualify. Still, Palestine’s participation in this well-publicized international event helped add to the legitimacy of the Palestinian case for joining international sports federations and the Olympic movement. [22]


     In 1962, the athletic leadership decided to form a football association [al-Ittihad al-Riyadi al-Falastini li Korat al-Qadam] (Palestine Sports Federation - Football). The clubs affiliated to the Federation were 15 in number.  Three other Federations in Palestine have been accepted in their respective Federations, name Boxing, Weightlifting and Basketball.[23] In August 1963 it applied to join FIFA. Later, FIFA required up to date statistical information about football in Gaza Sector. [24]


        Later PFA had been informed that its request for affiliation to FIFA will be submitted to the Executive Committee at their meeting of October 6th, 1964 in Tokyo.  Accordingly, it had delegated three representatives to attend this meeting in Tokyo.  In spite of the high expenses occurred for the travel of its representatives to Tokyo, they were faced with the fact that their request for affiliation to FIFA was not enrolled on the agenda of this meeting:[25]


“It will be highly appreciated if you would kindly advise us of the reasons for which its request [application] was omitted from the Agenda although al its documents, statistics, information, 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.” [26]


   FIFA considered that the status of the Gaza Sector was the main obstacle in the registration of the PFA.  FIFA informed the UN in Geneva 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.[27] Later PFA received a letter from FIFA dated 24 December 1964:


 “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.” [28]


  UNO responded that it was 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 (then 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 detailed information concerning the exercise of governmental authority within the Gaza area, this could be obtained most authoritatively from the Government of United Arab Republic. [29] 

   On the 28th of May, 1965, the PFA received a telegram from FIFA informing it about the rejection of its 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. [30] 

   Later, 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. [31] As part of its support for PSF, Saudi Arabia has asked FIFA to include PSF on its next conference agenda.[32]


1965 - 1993 

 The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in May 1964.  It is recognized as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”  Despite that, the PLO created, and founded, a number of organizations which fulfilled the demands of the Palestinian people.  However, in its resolutions, nothing was found mentioning sports or physical education, except what was mentioned in the session of the National Council in 1968 when a section called “popular organization” [al-Tanzim al-Sha’bi] was established aimed to organize social and cultural affairs.

   Political conditions in these countries where Palestinian refugees lived, and the relations between the regimes, and the PLO, had their impacts on sports and football.  In 1968, a decision was made by the PLO to form the Palestine Supreme Council for Youth Care (SCYC). In 1969, few branch committees were established in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.  After 1970, SCYC headquarters was moved from Amman to Lebanon.  A new supreme council was formed from qualified Palestinian athletic leaders in Lebanon.  The council started to remove the impacts of the war; new clubs were founded in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Athletic and scouts’ activities started to rise.


   The first conference of SCYC was held in Beirut in Suq al-Gharb in 1974 (later it was changed to Palestine Supreme Council for Youth and Sports SCYS).  New executive committee members were elected at this conference. No other conference was held after that, due to the political conditions and the transfer of the headquarters from Beirut to Tunisia in 1982.  This was similar to the other popular institutions, which also suffered weakness and failures for the same reasons.


Palestine Football Association

   As was mentioned earlier, after the transfer of the Supreme Council headquarters from Jordan to Lebanon, the executive committee started to re-establish sport associations.  Palestine Football Association PFA was re-established in 1971. It developed new rules which stipulated the admission of players in Palestinian clubs exclusively.  This resulted in alienating a few qualified players who were playing for first league Lebanese clubs from the Palestinian national team.  Most of the formations of the national team were from Palestinian club members of PFA.  Also, the selection of the national team was subjected to favoritism; the administrators selected players who were members of the clubs that they ran. [33]


    In 1974 PFA joined the Arab Football Association which was founded the same year. In 1978, the PFA submitted its application to FIFA.  The application was attached with all requirements, especially the PFA statutes. The PFA did not succeed in gaining the membership.  However, in 1979, PFA made another attempt, but its application was again hobbled by different obstacles, such as the refusal of the affiliation of the Palestine Olympic Committee with the IOC. PFA continued its communication with the Arab Football Association (AFA) which offered support for the affiliation of PFA with FIFA. [34] 


   It is worth mentioning that in order to be affiliated with FIFA; a country must have at least five federations affiliated with international federations. Palestinians in Sector Gaza founded few sports associations and applied for their membership with their respective international federations. Further, this process continued into the 1970s and 1980s with many federations being founded and joining their international federations.

   FIFA status states that there is no strict requirement that an association’s headquarters or tournaments must be physically located within its own territory.[35] As a way to satisfy FIFA's requirements and gain legal consent, Iraq agreed in 1989 to have the PFA HQ on its land (in Baghdad). It also offered the PFA a field for tournaments. So, in this city, the PFA started holding tournaments on its own field. PFA asked AFA for support to get FIFA affiliation.  Unfortunately, the bid to join FIFA failed again.  However, the PFA didn't give up. Based on changing political conditions (ratification of the Oslo Agreement), it applied again in 1993, after the Palestine Olympic Committee was admitted to the IOC as an observer. The application was again rejected by FIFA.



  The following is the letter PFA sent to FIFA President Joao Havelange on November 20th, 1993:


   For a long time, the Palestinian Football Federation has hoped to be affiliated to the Federation Internationale de Football Association. Football has always been played in Palestine, and our teams are known to be well trained and organized in the area. Prior to this date, our application for the affiliation into FIFA was not accepted, due to our status in the International Olympic Committee. On September 27th, 1993, we have become officially affiliated into the International Olympic Committee. The Palestinian Football Federation wished to be affiliated into FIFA, and become an active member, as soon as possible.


  In May 1995, the PFA was granted the status of provisional member in FIFA.  Considering the prevailing situation regarding Palestine, the Executive Committee nevertheless made the following two restrictions: [36] First: The Palestinian Football Federation may only play friendly matches. Second: The Palestinian Football Federation may only play these matches in the territory of another national association affiliated to FIFA (provided that the national association concerned gives their authorization). In June 1998, PFA was affiliated to FIFA as a full member at its 51st Ordinary Congress, held in Paris on June 8th, 1998. [37]


    There were certain criteria that Palestine Football Association had to meet in order to become a member of FIFA. The FIFA statutes state that any association which is responsible for organizing and supervising football in all of its forms in its country may become a member association. Consequently, it is recommended that all member associations involve all relevant stakeholders in football in their own structure.[38]

Thus, although membership in FIFA is technically not based on statehood, the process is based on statehood and defers to recognized national organizations.[39] The Palestinian Authority gained political importance after being established as the interim governing body in 1993. As a result, FIFA and other international organizations began to view Palestine as a state and as a sovereign nation. Because of this, there has been a significant acceleration in Palestine's admission to FIFA (as well as the International Olympic Committee) as a result of the Oslo Accords.


    Glen Duerr argues that while the United Nations has 192 members, FIFA (the governing body of football) has 208 [sic. 211] members.  One reason for the disparity in these figures is that FIFA allows some regions with special political circumstances to play alongside other “de jour” recognized states in the world.  One example of this is Palestine. What is most important is that the continued participation of the national team helps to retain a sense of national identity amongst Palestinians and gives them a positive cause to celebrate. Secondly, football, especially at the youth level, also provides a mechanism for peaceful interaction with their Israeli neighbors, which could potentially help to build bridges between the two communities and to resolve the ongoing Middle East crisis.[40] FIFA has sometimes been credited with yielding more influence over certain nations that the United Nations. [41]

    As international law scholar Akehurst notes, there is general agreement in the international community that an independent state must possess certain characteristics in order to be internationally recognized. These include a determinable territory; a fixed population; a functioning government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.[42] Fellow legal scholar Francis A. Boyle has studied Palestinian claims for statehood and concluded that these criteria are met, despite the special circumstances of Palestinian history, and that the United Nation Charter article 80 and league Covenant article 22 (section 4) substantiate this. [43]


How Palestine benefits from FIFA’s membership

      Palestine's accession to FIFA in 1998 marked the beginning of a greater and more visible manifestation of Palestinian national identity in sports on an international stage. It is Palestine's name, its flag, and its people that cause Israel to be more worried than anything else. Despite the Oslo Accords, Israel has always feared Palestinian sports and the rise of Palestine at the local, Arab, and international levels. It is worth mentioning that Palestine's membership in international organizations (like FIFA, the Olympic Committee, and others) paved the way for its acceptance as a non-member observer state at the UN in November 2012. [44]


    Palestinian membership in this international body cannot be overstated since it has become a landmark within international sports. As a result of this membership, Palestine qualified for the Asian Cup in 2000 and the FIFA World Cup in 2002. It was in 2010 that Palestine entered the first round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. A year later, it was ranked 73rd by FIFA in February 2018, which is its highest FIFA ranking to date. In December 2010, the Palestinian beach soccer team, stationed in Gaza, participated in the Second Asian Beach Games in Amman as part of the Palestine delegation. In June 2012, the Palestinian team won third place in the Third Asian Beach Games, which were held in China. [45]

   There was financial and logistical support provided by FIFA to Palestinian sports. It has begun collecting donations for the construction of a stadium at Al-Ram, near Jerusalem, named after the late Palestinian national leader and activist Faisal Al-Husseini. In addition to the $1.4 million contribution from FIFA, Saudi Arabia, France, UAE, and Kuwait made a contribution. On October 26, 2008, the stadium was opened for the first historic international friendly match between Palestine and Jordan that was played on its soil for the first time in history. Aside from this, FIFA has also raised and donated funds to many Palestinian cities for the construction of stadiums and the purchase of stadium equipment. It includes Gaza, Al-Bireh, Nablus, Qabatiya, Jericho, Hebron, and Tulkarm to mention a few. [46]


  To raise the competencies of coaches and administrators, FIFA organized training and refresher courses for them. Additionally, FIFA built a "Tomorrow's Talent Academy" (which was named the highest-model academy) for young people under 15, under 17, and under 20 with weeklong training programs combining football and education.


   It is certainly true that joining FIFA has given the Palestinian Football Association the ability to contribute to the decision-making process within FIFA - the highest governing body for football in the world. In addition, it has enabled the PFA to communicate and coordinate with football federations all over the world, and this has contributed to its success. 


    This membership has added to the PFA's responsibilities and improved its performance in both the Arab as well as international arenas because of this membership. The joining of FIFA had a positive impact on Palestinian football. The performance of the Palestinian national football team improved as a result. The Palestinian Football Association was required to comply with FIFA's requirements, especially when it came to professionalism. In the 2010-2011 season, the West Bank Premier League (for professional teams) was launched with 12 teams, with Al-Am’ari Club winning, and Jawwal Company signing the first commercial contract. As part of FIFA's policy to promote healthy lifestyles, the association-imposed restrictions on players who changed their diet, sleep pattern, smoking habits, etc. [47]

   Unfortunately, FIFA has refused to ban Israeli teams in the wake of ongoing Genocide in Gaza. Previously, FIFA failed to sanction six Israeli league teams based in West Bank settlements. This despite the international community considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal. Israel is a member of UEFA (Union of European Football Association). According to the UEFA statutes, ‘a Member Association, or its affiliated leagues and clubs, may neither play nor organize matches outside its own territory without the permission of the relevant Member Associations.’ [48]


Recently, sports, particularly football, have begun to play a small but steadily increasing role in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that targets Israel for its ongoing violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. Since 2016 however, this issue has become a focal point due to the independent efforts of BDS groups and civil society more broadly. [49]




[1] The first attempt was when the (Arab) Palestinian Sports Federation (founded in 1931 and reestablished in 1944) applied to join FIFA in 1946. It competed with the Jewish-dominated Palestine Football Association (founded in 1928), which represented Palestine in the International Football Federation (FIFA). The attempt failed because according to FIFA’s statute, no country has the right to be presented by to federations. A second attempt was made in 1951, a third in 1962, a fourth in 1978, and a fifth in 1989. In May 1995, the Palestinian Football Association got provisional FIFA membership (two years after the Oslo Accords).

[2] Haim Kaufman. “Jewish Sports in the Diaspora, Yishuv, and Israel: Between Nationalism and Politics”. Israel Studies - Volume 10, Number 2, Summer 2005, pp. 147-167.

[3] A member of the prominent (in politics and culture) Nusseibeh family whose roots in the holy city date back to the seventh century and who serve as custodians of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, his standing in the Palestinian community helped confer a measure of legitimacy on the committee.

[4] Tamer Sorek. “Palestinian Nationalism has left the field: A Shortened History of Arab Soccer in Israel.” International Journal of Middle East Studies – 35, (2003).


[5] The following article (Football in Palestine: World’s Football) appeared in the official Bulletin of the Federation Internationale De Football Association, 1931 28th January. It was written by Joseph Yekutieli (President of the Maccabi Sport Federation) and Percy C. Speed.

[6] Rashid Khalidi, The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007), p. 9.

[7] Issam Khalidi, “Sports and Aspirations: Football in Palestine 1900-948,” Jerusalem Quarterly 58, (2014), 74-89.

[8] Ibid


[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11]  In the sports section of Filastin on March 15, 1945, Hussein Husni published an excerpt. (The translation was quoted from Tamer Sorek’s article “Palestinian Nationalism has left the field: A shortened history of Arab Football in Israel”.  Middle East Studies, No. 35, (2003), 417 - 437). It was a message to the reader about the athletic conditions in Palestine and the domination by PFA on the sports arena. Hussein Husni asserts that this association must not be the representative of the Arab Palestinians this association (PFA) does not represent anyone but itself and its community, and not the Arab-Palestinian people.

Hussein Husni, an Egyptian teacher of physical education came to Palestine in early 1930s, he taught in few schools, among them Rawdat al-Ma’aref in Jerusalem. He was a member of the track and field committee, which was affiliated with the Palestine Sport Federation. He enthusiastically wrote for the sport column of Filastin. His articles were characterized with nationalistic traits, while at the same time he tried to stimulate the physical activity of the citizens.

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


[13] Al-Difa’, July 11, 1946.

[14] Filastin, 20 August, 1946.

[15] Al-Difa’, 22 August, 1946.

[16] The author obtained a copy of this memorandum from the Arab Studies Association which was headed by the late Faisal Al-Husseini, and was closed by the Israeli authorities in 2000. The PSF gave the honor of writing the memorandum to Livon Kishishian, Ahmed Zuheir al-Afifi and Fahed Abdil-Fattah. The memorandum was based on strong arguments. It was ten pages length, in English. Unfortunately, the writer lost this document after citing some paragraphs from it, and he couldn't find it in the FIFA archives or anywhere else.

[17] This contradicts what was written on the first page. It is clear that the relations had deteriorated since the first days of the establishment of the PFA.

[18] Rodolphe William Seeldrayers, from Belguim, was the 4th President of FIFA, serving from 1954 to 1955. Arthur Drewry,from England, was the 5th President of FIFA, serving from 1955 to 1961. This decision made by the Congress of Luxembourg, Mr. Seeldrayers and Mr. A. Drewry were designated by the Executive Committee to draft a report on the Palestine question. This report was submitted to the Executive Committee during its meeting in Glasgow, dated May, 9-10th 1947 and approved by the Committee. The text was published in French.

[19] FIFA Archive, Zurich, May 5th, 1948.

[20] Issam Khalidi, ‘One Hundred Years of Football in Palestine’, (Amman:Dar al-Shorouk, 2013) p 71.

[21] Issam Khalidi, One Hundred Year of Football in Palestine”, p. 100 – 101.

[22] Luis Henrique Rolim Silva and Hans-Dieter Gerber, ‘Our Games. The Pan-Arab Games (1953–1965)’, Te International Journal of the History of Sport 29, no. 15 (2012), 2099–114.


[23] FIFA Archive, Zurich, A letter from PSF to FIFA, 23 August, 1963.

[24] FIFA Archive, Zurich, 23 November, 1964.

[25] FIFA Archive, Zurich, 30 November, 1964.

[26] FIFA Archive, Zurich, 30 November, 1964.

[27] FIFA Archive, Zurich, 2 December 1964.

[28] FIFA Archive, 24 December 1964.

[29] FIFA Archive, Zurich, 9 February 1965.

[30] FIFA Archive, Zurich, Telegram dated on 28 May, 1965.

[31] FIFA Archive, Zurich, 10 February,  1966.

[32] FIFA Archive, A letter to FIFA, 3 May 1966.

[33] After the move of the Palestinian militias to Tunis, the headquarters of PFA moved to Syria and then to the Tunisian capital Tunis.

[34] In order to be affiliated with FIFA, a country must have at least five federations affiliated with international federations. Palestinians in Sector Gaza founded few sports associations and applied for their membership with their respective international federations. Furthermore, this process continued into the 1970s and 1980s.


[35] FIFA Status file:///C:/Users/iskha/OneDrive/Desktop/viz2gmyb5x0pd24qrhrx.pdf

[36] FIFA’s Archive, Zurich, “Letter from FIFA to Palestine Football Federation.”  1 June, 1995.


[37] Minutes of the 51st Ordinary Congress, held at the Equinox Hall, Paris, France, 7 June 1998 at 16.00 hours, 8 June 1998 at 09.30 hours. The Deputy General Secretary said that it had been decided at meeting no. 11 of the Executive Committee in Zurich on 27 May 1998 to propose to the Congress that full FIFA membership be granted to the following national associations, in compliance with the statutory provisions regarding the admission of national associations applying for membership (articles 3 to 5 of the Statutes and 1 to 3 of the Regulations governing the Application of the Statutes).

[39] Glen M. E. Duerr. “Playing for Identity and Independence.”


[40] Glen M. E. Duerr. “Playing for Identity and Independence: Palestinian Statehood and the Role of FIFA.”


[42] M. Akehurst, A Modern Instruction to International Law (London: Routledge, 1987), cited in Francis A. Boyle, Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law (Altanta: Clarity Press, 2003) p. 31.


[43] Francis Boyle, Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law, (Altanta: Clarity Press, 2003), 31.


[44] Issam Khalidi. “Why is Palestine’s FIFA Membership Important?” February 10, 2024.

History of Palestine Sports: Why is Palestine's FIFA Membership Important? (

[45] Issam Khalidi, ‘One Hundred Years of Football in Palestine’, p 221 – 222.

[46] Ibid p 218.

[47] Ibid p 219 

[48] Alyn Smith. “Legality of UEFA Football Clubs in Israeli Settlements.” European Parliament, .May 10th, 2017.

[49] Sports and the Palestinian BDS struggle – Mondoweiss 

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