«NO. 290 CONSTRUCTING NATIONAL IDENTITY: THE MUSCULAR JEW VS THE PALESTINIAN UNDERDOG JAMES M. DORSEY S. RAJARATNAM SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES ...»
64 His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, “Report by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of Palestine and Trans-Jordan for the year 1936,” December 31, 1936 65 Filastin. ,أل-إتحاد أريد وال-عصبيةJuly 18, 1935 66
Syed Farid Alatas, “A Khaldunian Exemplar for a Historical Sociology for the South,” Current Sociology 54:3
(2006),397-411 67 Stephen E. C. Wendehorst, “Between Promised Land and Land of Promise: The Radical Socialist Zionism of Hashomer Hatzair,” Jewish Culture and History, 2:1 (1999), 44-57 12 A Primary Source Filastin, with its projection of Palestinian nationalism, has become a primary source of 20th century Palestinian history. Since Israel has captured significant Palestinian archives and Palestine’s sports history, historical sources has almost exclusively been written by non-Palestinian scholars and writers, with the exception of the work of Palestinian sports historian Issam Khalidi. Palestinian sports, despite its current political relevance, hardly ever emerges in Zionist or Palestinian collective memory.
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 neighbours as well as with British colonial teams in the Arab Middle East. In Khalidi’s words, “to obstruct Arab Palestinian teams, which it had alienated or excluded from the PFA, from competing with teams from other Arab 68 counties.” To this end, the PFA in the mid-1930s used its authority as the national association to prevent Palestinian teams from playing neighbouring Arab squads on the grounds that they were not members of the PFA.
Josef Yekutieli, the founder of the PFA and initiator of the Maccabean games, described the PFA’s membership “as a direct result of the Maccabiah Games.”69 The PFA, despite having been established as an organisation that grouped teams regardless of religion and race, projected itself as one of the driving forces of Jewish sports in British-controlled Palestine. Palestine in its view was Jewish and British; Palestinians did not figure in its nationalist calculations. Its mother organisation, the Palestine Sports Federation, adopted Zionism’s blue and white colours while the PFA 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. “By 1934, the dominance of Zionist officials meant that Arab clubs had no say in the running of the association, despite Arabs comprising over three-quarters of Palestine’s population,” Khalidi wrote.70 The quest for Zionist dominance was rooted in the effort to create under British rule the building blocks of a modern state based on the principle of “authority without sovereignty”.71
68 Issam Khalidi, “Sports and Aspirations: Football in Palestine 1900 – 1948,” Jerusalem Quarterly. 58, (2014), 74-89 69 Josef Yekutieli, .השתתפות ארצ -ישראל במשחק'מ האול'מפ''מHaaretz, March 29, 1935 70 Ibid. Khalidi, Sports and Aspirations 71 Dan Horowitz and Moshe Lissak, “Trouble in Utopia: The Overburdened Polity of Israel,” (Albany: State University of New York Press 1989), 232 72 Haim Kaufman, “Jewish Sports in the Diaspora, Yishuv, and Israel: Between Nationalism and Politics,” Israel Studies, 10:2 (2005), 147-167 13 domination sparked the initial creation of the Arab Palestinian Sports Federation (APSF) in 1931with Palestinians unwilling to legitimise Zionist colonisation or serve as a fig leaf for a Zionist dominated institution. The APSF was founded at a time when the Palestinian national movement had to grapple with the fact that its traditional leadership was ineffective in the face of a refusal by the British mandatory administration to accord Palestinians the same degree of self-governance that it had granted other Arabs such as the Egyptians and the Iraqis. This reality was brought into sharp relief in 1930 with the death sentence for three Palestinian youths accused of organising the 1929 uprising against Jewish settlements and the British colonial administration. It persuaded younger nationalist leaders that they had to be more hard-line if Palestinians were to achieve their national ambitions. 73 Divorce of Palestinians and Zionists was a key element of a more hard-line approach. As a result, the APSF vowed to boycott Zionist teams, athletes and referees. It’s opting for segregation paralleled efforts in other regions struggling with competing identities like South Africa and Ireland to assert identity through sports associations based on ethnicity or nationalism rather than the sport itself. The APSF’s policy however proved controversial. The Arab Sport Club in Jerusalem battled, for example, 74 for months against a decision by the Orthodox Club in Jaffa to bar Jewish referees.
The PFA’s intent was evident when it dubbed the squad it sent to Egypt for a friendly match, the Land of Israel. The team was made up of six Jewish and nine British players. No Palestinians were included.75 Neither were Palestinians part of the team which fielded in qualifiers for the 1934 and 1938 World Cup. When Palestinians revolted in 1936 against Jewish immigration, sports served to further bind Jews and Brits. “Efforts to dominate athletics, marginalize the Arabs, and cultivate cooperation with the British at any price were the main traits that characterized Zionist involvement in sports,” Khalidi wrote.76
A Well-oiled Machine
The Zionist effort to forge close relations with the British stumbled when ties with the colonial power frayed in the wake of the Second World War as Jews geared up for independence and extreme nationalist groups attacked British forces. Beitar, the right-wing nationalist group that encompassed Beitar Jerusalem, a storied club notorious until today for its anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim attitude, played an important role in the push for independence. Beitar, which was the product of the 1935 split between the revisionists and the main Zionist movement, was particularly pronounced in the postWorld War Two run up to independence. The various Zionist youth movements intensified their focus on the concept of sports in the service of the nation and as a projection of nationhood. HaMashkif, the Beitar newspaper, argued in 1945 “that nations take part in international tournaments not only to 73 Mustafa Kabha, “The Palestinian press and the general strike, April–October 1936: Filastin as a case study,” Middle Eastern Studies, 39:3 (2003),169-189 74 Filastin. January 21, 1933 75 Ibid. Harif and Galily 76 Issam Khalidi, “The Zionist movement and sports in Palestine, The Electronic Intifada, April 27, 2009 (accessed Aprl 27, 2009)http://electronicintifada.net/content/zionist-movement-and-sports-palestine/8198 14 display their sporting skills, but also to demonstrate their national traits and their national flag.” HaMashkif went on to note that sports teams serve “to glorify the name of their people in public.”77 Beitar adopted obedience as one its core principles so that it would operate as a well-oiled machine.
Its members were obliged to become skilled in the use of weapons. Its philosophy was in line with the militaristic principles of legionism, the notion of collective revival based on an inherited defensive tradition; strict discipline; hadar or dignity; and mobilisation.78 The duty of a Beitar member was to be ready to defend the Jewish settlement of Palestine. In Beitar’s vision, its members were destined to join a military unit that would emerge from five volunteer battalions known as the Jewish Legion of the British military that fought the Ottomans in the First World War. Almost two decades later, Jabotinsky, to who sports was a utility rather than a passion negotiated through intermediaries the training of 134 Beitar members in Mussolini Italy’s Maritime School in Civitavecchia in the province of Rome. The Beitar members were trained by Il Duce’s Black Shirts — paramilitary squads established after the First World War — and were visited by Mussolini himself. In a letter to Leone Carpi, one of his intermediaries, Jabotinsky, aware of the rise of fascism under Mussolini, wrote that his movement 79 preferred to have the training in Italy.
Sociologist Shlomo Reznik noted that “in Jabotinsky’s words, Beitar was militaristic in the sense of knowing how and being ready to take up arms in the name of defending our rights. As an educational movement, the goal was to create a ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ citizen of the Jewish nation instead of the stereotypical ‘Diaspora Jew.’ The concept that captures the new Beitar type is Hadar (a Hebrew word that was used by Jabotinsky to denote outer beauty, pride, good manners, dignity, loyalty, and the like). Like its mother party, Beitar vowed to work for the establishment of a Hebrew state with a Hebrew-speaking Jewish majority, on both sides of the Jordan River, by means of mass settlement funded by national loans.”80 The Jerusalem branch of Beitar founded the Beitar Jerusalem sports club in 1936, the year of the second Palestinian uprising. The club has been supported throughout its history by right-wing Israeli leaders, including current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It initially drew many of its players and fans from Irgun, an extreme nationalist, para-military Jewish underground. Its players and fans were active in various right-wing Jewish underground groups that waged a violent campaign against the pre-state British mandate authorities. As a result, many of them were exiled to Eritrea in the 1940s.
Beitar’s initial anthem reflected the club’s politics, glorifying a “guerrilla army racist and tough, an army that calls itself the supporters of Beitar.” The movement’s links to the underground ultimately 81 prompted the British to ban it on the grounds that it was “recruitment source for (a) terrorist group.” Said an Israeli journalist: “This was a team with an ideal. Everybody was a member of (the Jewish 77 Ben Eliehu, ,'הםשק'פ הספורט'בHaMashkif, January 14, 1945 78 Ze’ev JabotinskyState Zionism, Hadassah Newsletter, October 1945, 9 79 Daniel Carpi, Attilio Milano and Alexander Rofé (eds, “Scritti in memoria di Leone Carpi: Saggi sull'ebraismo italiano a cura,” (Jerusalem/Milano: Mosad Shelomoh Meir, Makhon Le-Made Ha-Yahadut, 1967). 42 80 Shlomo Reznik, “Betar: Sports and Politics in a Segmented Society, Israel Affairs, 13:3 (2007), 617-641 81 David Niv, (,'הםיארוח מארגונ הצבא' הלאוםTel Aviv: Klausner Institute, 1965), 277 15 underground movement Ha’Etzel) with the Menorah (Jewish candelabrum) emblem, which was something of a sacred symbol. The public was aware of the connection between Beitar and Ha’Etzel.”82
Despite the willingness of teams of neighbouring Arab countries to play Zionist squads prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, resistance to the Jewish national project spilled onto the soccer pitch, long before Israel’s expulsion from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 1974. Filastin reported in 1929 at the time of the Palestinian uprising that Arab fans, provoked by Zionist flags and the singing of Jewish nationalist songs during a match in Damascus played by a Hapoel club, clashed 85 86 with their Jewish counterparts. Elsewhere, fans fought over alleged bias of referees. The Muslim and Christian Association asked the British mandate authorities in 1925 whether the flying of Zionist flag alongside the British flag during soccer matches violated regulations governing public display of flags. The British governor of Jerusalem and Jaffa ruled that club flags did not violate the ordinance which was designed to curtail “any partisan demonstration.”87 The query followed a visit to Palestine by Hakoah Vienna, a team that was inspired by Nordau and widely viewed at the time as the best Jewish squad ever.
Ironically, Palestinians were not the only ones threatened by Zionist sports endeavours. Orthodox Jewry was vehemently opposed to defining Judaism as a national entity. To them Jewry was solely a religious community and would remain so until the Jews were redeemed from exile. The Orthodox leadership failed however to counter the attraction of youth movements with their emphasis on sports.
Religious youth either joined Bnei Akiva, the largest religious Zionist movement, or often became members of Maccabi. The Orthodox Jewry nevertheless fought the fact that sports activities, particularly soccer, took place on Saturdays — the Jewish day of rest. Police repeatedly clashed in the 1930s with Orthodox protesters who sought to prevent games from being played.88 It was a th struggle that continued to be waged throughout the 20 century, with the Orthodox Jewry battling 82 Amir Ben-Porat, Oh Beitar Jerusalem: The Burning Bush Protest, International Journal of the History of Sport, 18:4 (2001), 123-139 83 Ze’ev Jabotinsky,, Hamashkif, April 3, 1939 84 Filastin.. ,برنامج جابوتنسكي: اطالق النارApril 6, 1939 85 FilastinApril 16, 1929 86 Filastin,. .اشتباك التي انتهت تقريبا مع الثورةApril 6, 1926 87 The Palestine Bulletin. March 24, 1925 88 Israeli Daily Picture. “The Tensions between Jerusalem's Religious and Secular Jews Go Way Back, January 26, 2012 (accessed January 26, 2012), http://www.israeldailypicture.com/2012/01/tensions-betweenjerusalemsreligious.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+IsraelsHistoryAPictureADaybeta+%28Israel%27s+History+-+a+Picture+a+Day+%28Beta%29%29 16 plans for the construction of a stadium in Jerusalem. Much like militant Islamic clerics, ultra-Orthodox rabbis feared that sports would distract students at yeshivas, Jewish religious schools, from their study of traditional texts. Similarly, they also opposed sports because it was performed in clothes that allowed athletes to exhibit parts of their body.89
Fuelling Nationalist Friction