First Sirriyeh of Ramallah: The Bride of al-Tireh
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 31.08.2007:
By Khaled Elayan
Is the city of Ramallah in need of sports clubs? Or does it have enough clubs to accommodate athletic men and women?
In spite of the existence of firmly established sports clubs in Ramallah City, such as the First Sirriyeh Club of Ramallah, the Ramallah Orthodox Club, and the Ramallah Islamic Club, the number of youth clubs still remains inadequate in comparison to the number of young people and their needs. The population of Ramallah is rapidly increasing, and according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the youth sector between the ages of 15 and 29 comprises 27 percent of the total population; yet, there are not enough clubs to meet their athletic and cultural needs.
Palestinian youth in Ramallah possess extraordinary potential for self-development in spite of the lack of institutions that cater to their needs and talents and gear them toward professionalism, as well as the shortage in material and logistic sources. We see that young people make great personal efforts to excel in sports, the arts, and literature.
The situation of Palestinian youth is discouraging. As soon as they develop their talents and strive for innovation and fame, the political situation turns topsy-turvy and a political earthquake takes place, which shatters all their dreams. This reality reminds me of a song by the Egyptian singer, Farid al-Atrash, which I had to listen to repeatedly in the Negev detention camp because it was the only song that the camp administration broadcast on the radio: “I am an age without youth, and a life without spring. I am an illusion and a mirage.”
In spite of this sad beginning, it is worth noting that sports in Ramallah have a special flavour particularly in summertime. Due to the lack of indoor courts, sports have become Palestine’s “summer fruit.”
In this article, I will talk about First Sirriyeh Club of Ramallah as an example of a firmly established club in Ramallah City. The club has generously contributed to the welfare of youth through offering opportunities for development in sports, scouts, and art. This institution depends on its own efforts and resources for most of its programs. The club’s strength is represented by 77 years of service and activities in spite of the challenges, difficulties, and problems it has faced. Sixty of its members were arrested in 1989, and many attempts have been made to burn down and rob the club.
First Sirriyeh Club of Ramallah was established in 1930 and was among the first scout institutions in Palestine that offered athletic and art activities for youth. It has always sought to enhance the spirit of national belonging among Palestinian youth. Gradually the programs and facilities expanded, and the club was transformed into a civil institution that offers services to the young people in the region. About one thousand young men and women are members, and they are the target of its services and activities.
Scout activities, a priority for the club, teach young Palestinians the importance of voluntary work and solidarity and imbue them with disciplinary values and creativity through organized recreational, educational, productive, and entertaining activities. The club also organizes scout camps and participates in national and religious celebrations.
Moreover, the Sirriyeh has a long history in the field of arts. A folklore dabkeh group was established at the beginning of 1960s, which used to supervise al-Tireh Festivals in cooperation with the municipality of Ramallah. Unfortunately, this experience ceased at the beginning of the June 1967 War. In the 1970s, however, drama thrived at the Sirriyeh, and the club hosted several drama groups and produced a play called The Head of Jaber the Mamluk, written by the Syrian playwright, Sa’adallah Wannous. In 1985 the Sirriyeh established the First Sirriyeh Club of Ramallah Music and Dance group, which became one of the most important groups in Palestine. The group produced six shows and founded a theatre and dance school that included 160 male and female students. In addition, the group organized the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, which has become a high-quality fine arts festival in Palestine. This year similar Arab joint festivals were organized in Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine.
In the field of sports, the First Sirriyeh Club of Ramallah has become a haven for basketball, swimming, and women’s soccer. The club organizes several sports programs in order to develop the skills of Palestinian youth and contribute to the creation of an athletic generation that is able to compete and represent Palestine. The club’s sports department organizes several basketball and swimming activities. One of its sports tournaments is called the Martyrs Basketball Tournament.
The Sirriyeh established basketball and swimming schools, where children and young people learn the skills of both activities. The schools were instrumental in keeping the club’s sports group alive and active. The men’s basketball team is one of the most powerful sports teams in Palestine. In addition, the club gives special attention to women’s sports teams and recently started a women’s football team, which has gained popularity in a very short time. The Sirriyeh has a new indoor sports court that accommodates one thousand spectators. The court is used for games and cultural activities and exhibitions.
The Martyrs Basketball Tournament
Following the year 1967, the Sirriyeh initiated the Martyrs Basketball Tournament, which later became a significant sports event that brings together Palestinian basketball teams and fans from the West Bank and Jerusalem. Every year basketball teams compete in this tournament, which provides young people from Nablus, Ramallah, al-Bireh, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Jericho an opportunity to meet together.
In 1972 the Sirriyeh opened the first swimming pool in Palestine, and local and international voluntary work camps used it as part of their activities. In 1987 the pool was inaugurated as the first educational and recreational spot in Ramallah, where the Sirriyeh teaches swimming to children and young men and women. Several young people have graduated and become star swimmers in Palestine, and some of them have become lifeguards at local swimming pools.
Finally, athletic men and women in Palestine have extraordinary talents, much enthusiasm, and a strong sense of belonging to their country. In spite of the difficult circumstances, they spare no effort to give the best of what they have. Our young people need more care, and they need support and encouragement to excel and go forward. The other alternative for them would be to head to foreign embassies and representative offices to ask for immigration visas to allow them to look for better chances outside the country.
A message to official youth institutions: Do not let our young people repeat Farid al-Atrash’s song.
Khaled Elayan is executive director of Al-Kasaba Theatre and Cinematheque, dance choreographer and artistic director of Sareyyet Ramallah Troupe for Music and Dance, and director of Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival.
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