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Body and Ideology: Early Athletics in Palestine (1900 - 1948)
submitted by Jerusalem Quarterly

Issam Khalidi

Jerusalem Quarterly
Summer 2006
Issue 27

Prior to 1948, there were some 65 athletic clubs in Palestine; approximately 55 of them members of the Arab Palestine Sports Federation (APSF).1 Jerusalem and its environs alone boasted some 18 clubs (half of these were established in the ‘40s). These clubs had a tremendous impact on the lives of Palestinian young people (members were mostly, but not exclusively, male), shaping their character and preparing them for social and political involvement.

Further, these athletics teams provided a social, national and institutional base for Palestine’s political organization in the first half of the twenty-first century. They developed alongside and in response to Jewish immigration and the Arab-Zionist confrontation. Athletic clubs were important in evoking the Palestinian national consciousness, sustaining connections between villages and cities, and developing ties with groups across the Middle East and parts of Africa. As such, this trend was contested by Zionist forces in Palestine in a struggle played out on the international stage after the re-establishment of the defunct APSF in 1944.

Jerusalem ranked third after Haifa and Jaffa in the growth of sports clubs. Palestine’s first football team was organized in 1908 at Jerusalem’s St. George School. (Doctor Izzat Tannous, then a member of the Arab Higher Committee, was one of the players.) In 1909, this team defeated that of the American University in Beirut, then considered one of the best in the region. The result was the inauguration, one year later by a group of young people, of Palestine’s first ‘national’ football team, which competed against missionary teams in Palestine.2

In 1911, a group of Arab and European elites in Jerusalem founded a social athletic club they called Circle Sportive [al-Muntada al-Riyadi]. The club was located at the end of the Old City’s Ziqaq al-Batma.3 The club made one of its main goals the development of games to strengthen the body and enhance the spirit, which resulted in the staging of a 1,800-meter race through the streets of Jerusalem. Seven of the club’s members participated. There was, however, some controversy over which types of games fell under the group’s mandate. An article in Filastin accused the club of advocating gambling, while another written by a club member eschewed gambling but promoted card-playing in the dreary winter months.4

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