Nov 05 2013

Palestinian Government Boosts Sports as Means of Resistance

Published by at 1:43 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics



By Daoud Kuttab

Throughout the ages, political leaders have used sports as a tool to unify a nation and to provide the people with a sense of nationalistic pride. The case of Palestine is no different.

Despite years of indifference by the Palestinian leadership, few Palestinians will disagree that sports received a huge boost when Jibril Rajoub took over as the head of the Palestinian football [soccer] federation and the Olympic committee. He has introduced and supported women’s sports and exposed Palestine to the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and Arab sports, as well as supervised the building of new stadiums. His efforts have succeeded in raising the profile of Palestinian athletics.

Rajoub was an honored guest on Oct. 31 at the 50th anniversary of the Beit Sahour Orthodox Club. His speech at the conclusion of the club’s festivities summarized his thinking, ideology and his practicality.

The Palestinian sports leader was elected along with jailed leader Marwan Barghouti and Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan at the sixth congress of Fatah to its highest body, the Central Committee. He mixed politics with sports to stress the importance of national athletics to the Palestinian resistance. He has repeated many times, including to the New York Times, that sports can achieve a lot for the Palestinian cause.

Although his speech was very political, he made it clear that politics should not interfere in the workings of sports, saying, “We must separate politics from sports.” This was a clear reference to attempts to factionalize sports and especially national teams.

“I am … a senior member of Fatah, but for me, Fatah is a means to support Palestine and Palestinian sports,” he said in the speech, aired live by the Palestine Live satellite station, owned by the Palestinian government.

He used the occasion of the Arab Christian club’s golden jubilee to reiterate the importance of national unity, saying that sports is a vehicle for every Palestinian, whether Muslim or Christian, and from any faction. Rajoub also addressed the difficulties facing Palestinian sports clubs in Jerusalem, as they are unable to host home games with fellow West Bank clubs.

Rajoub vowed to support the Beit Sahour Orthodox Club’s ambitions to build a large sports complex in the city south of Bethlehem. He also announced a contribution to the club of $10,000 on behalf of the Palestinian presidency and another $10,000 on behalf of his own Fatah movement, showing that he means what he says.

Harsh attacks, however, came from the Islamic clergy, who are not happy with his strong push for women’s sports in Palestine.

“Women are half of our society, and they have every right to participate in sports,” he told the Arab Christian audience of men and women. Rajoub criticized those religious leaders who claim that they have a “direct line of communication to God.”

Rajoub was also very tough on the Israelis, whom he attacked for continuously trying to disrupt the freedom of movement of Palestinian athletes, especially those from Gaza. In April of this year, Israel barred Palestinian athletes from participating in the Bethlehem marathon.

He told the audience that if the present efforts of FIFA President Joseph Platter to gain ironclad guarantees from Israel that it would stop its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian athletes fail, Palestine will have no choice but to go to the FIFA congress and plead its case. Unspoken in this threat was the possibility that Palestine will demand the ouster of Israel from the international body if it doesn’t heed international demands to permit free movement to Palestinian sports teams.

National sports have been shown to help revive nationalist spirits and were well used in South Africa toward the cause of national liberation. Palestinians hope to be able to repeat the South African model and bring about what politicians and fighters have failed to do.

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