«NO. 290 CONSTRUCTING NATIONAL IDENTITY: THE MUSCULAR JEW VS THE PALESTINIAN UNDERDOG JAMES M. DORSEY S. RAJARATNAM SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES ...»
Once it started publishing again after the six-year closure, Filastin expanded its coverage to include sports. It used its football coverage to deepen national sentiments and helped, according to Khalidi, to “maintain the Palestinian national identity… Sports began to be viewed in the Palestinian community as an important element for raising social consciousness and as an essential component of national 119 culture.” The paper did so in the context of a drive promoted by Isa El-Issa to carve out a Palestinian national identity that was separate from that of Syria, which traditionally was seen to incorporate Palestine. It was based on Isa’s notion that Palestinians needed to shape their identity before seeking independence — a proposition that positioned Filastin’s brand of Arab nationalism against Islam-based concepts of ummah, the community of the faithful.120 Filastin’s coverage tackled Zionist domination of sports and refuted assertions that the Palestinians lacked the cultural, social and athletic attributes needed for sports. The paper’s influence increased despite British censorship. Its sports coverage went in tandem with the revival of Palestinian sports federations in the 1940s.
Sports, a term in Arabic derived from a word that denotes domestication of animals, amounted in Filastin’s view to a national duty, according to Israeli sports historian Sorek who analysed Filastin’s sports reporting in the 1940s. Filastin propagated soccer’s emphasis on discipline and obedience.
“Soccer teaches us to obey the team’s manager, and the referee teaches us to adhere to law and justice… Obedience is one of the most important qualities that the soldier in the battleﬁeld must equip himself with. The war will not be fought without obedience,” the newspaper said. 121 To bolster its campaign, Filastin enlisted medical personnel to propagate the individual and national health benefits of sports and provide guidance for taking care of one’s body — similar to concepts pushed by its Zionist counterparts.
In an appeal to the Supreme Muslim Council in 1946 to encourage sports, Filastin said it was “calling upon you as a soldier active on the sport ﬁeld for many years... I would ask you to direct the attention 116 Yousef El-Issa, ,وجد ام ال وجدFilastin, January 14, 1911 117 Youssef El. Issa, ,نفس السنةFilastin, July 15, 1911 118 Ibid. Bracey, p. 59 / Issa El-Issa. 1914. Filastin August 8 119 Ibid. Khalidi, The Coverage 120 Bracy/Filastin. 1921. July 9 121 Ibid. Sorek, The Sports Column 22 of the preachers in the mosques, and the speech-givers in the houses of God, so that through their speeches they may point the nation to sport, to urge them to care for their bodies, to ensure its cleanliness and activeness, to strengthen its limbs and to behave according to the rules of health, and
its health will advance with us…in the struggle….”122 In a similar appeal to school principals, it said:
“Remember that history urges you to raise an army of well-educated and healthy people, which will defend this country against the demon of colonialism.”123 The newspaper’s campaign reflected the views of nationalist leaders at the time. “The youth is to the nation as the heart is to the body... I see sport as the best means of equipping the nation with the youth it longs for,” Gaza mayor Rushdi alShawa told the paper in 1945.124 Fast forward to 1998 when Palestine became the first non-state entity to become a member of FIFA and soccer re-emerged as a building block in the Palestinians attempt to create a state regardless of peace talks with Israel. Soccer, despite lack of funds and disruptive Israeli travel restrictions, flourished in Israeli-occupied Palestinian areas. Stadiums were built or refurbished across the West Bank and the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) hosted international tournaments. The Palestinian national team in 2014 qualified for the Asian Cup finals for the first time.
“Ours is more than just a game,” said PFA secretary general Abdel Majid Hijjeh. “It breaks the siege on Palestinian sports and the Palestinian people.”125 “When teams come to play on our land, it’s a way of recognizing the Palestinian state. That benefits the Palestinian cause, not just Palestinian sports,” added player Murad Ismael in an interview with the Associated Press. 126 Palestine’s soccer effort fits into a Palestine Authority campaign spearheaded by President Mahmoud Abbas to ensure popular support at a time of popular revolt, upheaval and sectarian violence in the Arab world and to reduce Palestinian dependence on failed U.S. efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Leading Palestine’s charge on the soccer pitch was PFA President Jibril Rajoub, a 62-year old tough anti-Israeli activist, former security chief and member of the central committee of Abbas’ Al Fatah guerrilla group-turned political party. Rajoub, who served 17 years in Israeli jails for throwing a grenade at Israeli soldiers when he was 17 years old, worked hard to get Israeli consent to upgrade a soccer stadium in Al-Ram, a Jerusalem suburb a stone’s throw from the barrier that separates the West Bank from Israel, and to get FIFA funding for its refurbishment. He also convinced FIFA to allow Palestine to play its first ever match on home ground in 2008 rather than in a neighbouring Arab capital. The crowds in the Faisal al Husseini Stadium shouted “Football is nobler than war” as
“We can achieve a lot for our cause through sports. The world is changing and we have to push the legitimacy of our national aspirations through sports. I hope sports will help Israel reach the right conclusion. We are 4.2 million people living under Israeli occupation; I hope that I can convince the Israelis that we should open a new page that recognizes the existence of Palestinian people,” Rajoub said.128 Conclusion
Nationalist fervour and the impending partition of Palestine in the late 1940s produced a galvanising figure, Hussein Husnu, in many ways the equivalent of early modern Turkey’s legendary author and athlete Selim Sirri Tarcan and Zionism’s Yosef Yekutieli. An Egyptian physical education teacher who became Filastin’s sports editor, Husnu was, in Khalidi’s words, a rarity who had a keen understanding of the importance of sports and education for the “health, ethical, national, cognitive, pedagogic and aesthetic benefits of sport at a time when many thought that sport was merely an amusement or recreational activity.”130 The emphasis of Filastin and Husnu on sports as a driver of modernity paralleled trends elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, including Zionist parts of Palestine as well as Iran, Ottoman and modern Turkey, and Egypt.131 Husnu emerged as a nationalist critic of Palestinian and British official neglect of Palestinian sports and physical education, and a major voice in countering conservative opposition. “The more the Palestinians will sacrifice for the sake of athletic progress, the faster they will reach a level of development and civilization. Every Palestinian must know that for every cent he pays for the growth of sport, he will achieve glory and honour for his country,” Husnu argued in his Filastin column.132 In doing so, Husnu and Filastin were aligned with more modernised segments of the Palestinian elite as opposed to conservatives like al-Husseini with whom Filastin editor Isa el-Issa had parted ways.
Filastin found common ground with Ahmed Hilmi Pasha, an Ottoman general and finance minister in Faisal’s short-lived government in Damascus, director of Husseini’s religious endowment, and founder 127 Ibid. Dorsey 128 Interview with the author 129 Ibid. Khalidi, Sports and Aspirations 130 Ibid. Khalidi 131 Wilson C. Jacob, ‘Working out Egypt: Masculinity and Subject Formation between Colonial Modernity and Nationalism, 1870 – 1940’, (Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, 2005) 132 Ibid. Khalidi 24 of a bank. Hilmi Pasha parted ways with Husseini with the establishment of the secularist Istiqlal Party in 1932 to which El-Issa was close. By the mid-1940s, Hilmi Pasha had emerged as a major patron of soccer which he hoped would help garner support for his bid for political office and mobilise a grassroots base. Hilmi Pasha was not alone in recognising the political value of soccer in Palestine at a time of increasing disunity and factionalism. Founders of the People’s Party, a breakaway group of younger members of the Husseini clan’s Palestine Arab Party (PAP), operated secretly through a network of sports clubs in Nablus and other cities.133 The moves by Hilmi Pasha and the PAP dissidents underscored the role soccer had already played in nationalist struggle and nation-formation in the Middle East and North Africa and was destined to play in the years to come.
So did the graduation of Jewish Israelis from nation formation to nation building with the 1947 United Nations partition resolution that established the State of Israel and could have established an Arab/Palestinian state had Arab states not rejected the notion of a territorial compromise. As a result, Palestinians post-1948 remained preoccupied with nation formation in the absence of an identity that was fully delineated from that of the broader Arab world and particularly concepts of Greater Syria.
That delineation took final shape with the takeover of the Palestine Liberation Organization, founded five years earlier by the Arab League, by Palestinian guerrilla groups in 1969. The creation of the Palestine National Authority in 1994 as a product of the Oslo Israeli-Palestinian peace process launched the Palestinians on their ongoing convoluted and messy nation building process. The Ottomans and Turkey as well as Iran were spared the convulsions of nation formation. Nevertheless like in Palestine, sports influenced by the notions of the German Turnbewegung played a key role in their nation building efforts.
273 Managing Tensions in the South China Sea: Comparing the China-Philippines and the China- (2014) Vietnam Approaches Li Jianwei
270 The Diaoyu/Senkaku Dispute in the Context of China-U.S.-Japan Trilateral Dynamics (2014) Zhang Yun 269 Old Society, New Youths: An Overview of Youth and Popular Participation in Post-Reformasi (2014) Indonesia Jonathan Chen and Emirza Adi Syailendra
267 Of Auxiliary Forces and Private Armies: Security Sector Governance (SSG) and Conflict (2014) Management in Maguindanao, Mindanao Maria Anna Rowena Luz G. Layador
Visit the RSIS website at www.rsis.edu.sg/?p=48639 to access the full list of past RSIS Working Papers.