Football Under the Auspices of His Majesty

When Jewish and Arab teams faced off against footballers from the Royal Air Force...

The King’s Own Royal Regiment v. Hapoel Tel Aviv, November 21st, 1931

During the years of the British Mandate in the Land of Israel (1917-1948), thousands of British citizens including government, police and military personnel found themselves stationed in the region, living alongside its Jewish and Arab residents. Although football, (or soccer, for American readers) was played here before the British conquest, the sport received a significant push under the nation considered to be the birthplace of the game, as all three major population groups participated, each with their own football clubs competing against each other in tournament play. British, Arab and Jewish teams from this period had names such as The Paymasters, Shabab al-‘Arab and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

In 1928, the Eretz Israel Football Association was founded (at the suggestion of Egypt), and one of the conditions for its acceptance into FIFA was the inclusion of all population groups in the country. League matches were held between Arab, Jewish and British teams, and, in principle, if not always in practice, players from the three populations were even selected for an all-star national team that played against teams from other countries.

Common Ground

When thinking about the relations between population groups in  Mandatory Palestine, one tends to get the impression that a state of constant confrontation and conflict existed between Jews and Arabs. A similar image of hostility between the Jews and the British during the Mandate Period also comes to mind, mainly with regard to the struggle of Jewish groups such as the Irgun (Etzel) and Stern Gang (Lechi) against the British authorities, as well as opposition to British treatment of illegal Jewish immigrants (ma’apilim) during this period. Nonetheless, the sporting ties between Jews, Arabs and the British, as manifested in football, suggest that at least in the realm of sport, a single complex reality existed in which cooperation was the rule and not the exception. While national identity remained a key characteristic of sports in Mandatory Palestine, athletic events served as an arena for encounters between diverse communities.

This does not mean that the tension did not affect the relationships between athletes. For example, due to the protests sparked in the Yishuv (the Jewish community in the Land of Israel) following publication of the Passfield White Paper in 1930, games between British and Jewish clubs were halted; and in 1934, in protest against the treatment to which they were subjected, the Arab teams left the Eretz Israel Football Association, establishing a short-lived parallel organization of their own. It must also be noted, though, that crowds were known to extend warm receptions to teams from other population groups. For example, a newspaper report on a game between the Muslim Club of Jaffa and Maccabi Rehovot held at the Rehovot Soccer Field in 1941, stated: “The Arab team was welcomed with friendly enthusiasm by the football fans in Rehovot.” Throughout the Mandate period, the rulings of the Association were made in the spirit of good sportsmanship and without any evident bias in favor of the Jewish teams.

A New Middle East

Football was played not only within the borders of Mandatory Palestine, but also on the international stage. Local Jewish teams were playing against clubs from Arab countries such as Egypt, Lebanon and Syria as early as 1927. No confrontations were reported in newspaper accounts of these games which were still taking place in the early 1940s.

Kicking Around during Wartime

Over time, a process of gradual separation between the Jewish football institutions and  clubs and those of the Arab and British sectors became apparent. This took place mainly during the period of WWII, when relationships with both the Arab and British teams  grew sour.

While games against “foreign” teams naturally came to an end with the departure of most of the forces and government personnel from the region at the end of the war, the decision to cease holding matches between Jewish and Arab teams was a political one taken by the Association.

A Red Card

In the 1942 League Cup games, Maccabi Haifa was scheduled to play against Greece’s Royal Hellenic Army team in the quarter-finals, but the Greeks left Mandatory Palestine prior to the game and Maccabi Haifa was automatically promoted to the next round. One of the three remaining games in the quarter-finals, between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Shabab al-‘Arab, ended with a victory for the Jewish team, which had added to its roster two players slated for conscription. As such an addition was forbidden according to the rules of the Association, Maccabi Tel Aviv was disqualified from tournament play. Nonetheless, it was not the Arab team that benefitted from this disqualification. Maccabi Haifa, which had already been automatically bumped up to the semi-finals, was now automatically placed in the final. Shabab al-‘Arab’s appeal of this decision was rejected by the Association. Following the decision, a conflict ensued between the Arab teams and the Association, leading ultimately to their renouncing membership in 1943 and establishing the Arab Sports Association in May 1944.

The story of football in Mandatory Palestine illustrates how at the personal level, as manifested in athletic encounters, hostile relations did not always prevail between the Arab population and the Jewish Yishuv, and between both of these groups and the ruling British. In the 1930s and 1940s, Jews, Arabs and others continued to meet on the football field, almost through the end of the Mandate Period. During these years, it can be seen how, gradually and unfortunately, football came to function increasingly as a tool for political struggles rather than for cooperation and coexistence.

Curated by Yoram E. Shamir and Rotem Kislev

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The Father of Hebrew Cinema and His Lost Film

Ya'acov Ben-Dov is considered the founder of silent cinema in Israel. This is the story of the few remaining segments of his legendary first film, Judea Liberated.


On a Tuesday afternoon in early December 1917, the second night of Hanukkah in the Hebrew year 5678, General Edmund Allenby entered the old city of Jerusalem, and the British conquest of the Land of Israel began. This was also the moment, according to the late cinema scholar Ya’akov Gross, that ushered in the age of Hebrew cinema. The Jerusalemite photographer Ya’acov Ben-Dov stood at the Jaffa Gate with his silent film camera, documenting the historic events. The segment was incorporated into a film Ben-Dov produced that year: the first Hebrew motion-picture, titled ‘Judea Liberated’ (Yehuda Ha’meshukhreret). The film’s production was an arduous process, and its fate afterwards is a rather open-ended story of many twists and turns… Let’s start at the beginning.

Ya’acov Ben-Dov was born in Ukraine. He attended the Academy of the Arts in Kiev and was already making a living as a photographer by then. He immigrated to Israel and was one of the first students to attend the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts. He later became the head of the school’s photography department. As early as 1912, Ben-Dov reached out to Arthur Ruppin, the director of the Palestine Office of the Zionist Organization, asking for a loan of 2,500 francs from the national treasury to acquire a “cinematographic machine”, as he called it. Ben-Dov stressed that his films would serve the cause of “important propaganda.”

Though his efforts were futile, a few years later Ben-Dov won an award for his devoted service in the Austrian military during WWI – his first silent film camera. It was with this camera that he filmed Allenby in Jerusalem as well as many short scenes filmed all around the young Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine. These scenes made up Ben-Dov’s first silent film, completed in late 1918. The name of the film was “Judea Liberated” and ahead of its release an elegant program was produced listing the scenes in order.


The program produced ahead of the release of “Judea Liberated” featured an outline of the film’s scenes

Several movies were produced in Israel even before “Judea Liberated” was completed, yet Ben-Dov was the first to successfully persist in his work for years, earning him the title ‘the pioneer of silent film in Israel’. However, the movie was damned even before its release. The production did not receive any support from the national institutions as Ben-Dov had hoped. Though it was eventually bought by theatres, and most likely screened, the film was not commercially successful. One of the film’s few copies stood at the heart of an ongoing trial involving Yehiel Weizmann (brother of Chaim Weizmann’s, Israel’s first president, and father of Ezer Weizmann, Israel’s seventh president). This copy made its way to London, South Africa, and its tracks were eventually lost in the United States in the 1930s. Only a few scenes survived and were fortunately incorporated into other films created by Ben-Dov.

The scenes, which were tracked down and identified by film researcher Ya’akov Gross, are all held at the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive and include the following:

  • Allenby’s historic entry to Jerusalem, and a reception held in honor of the British general in the summer of 1918.
  • One scene depicts the reception held in Jerusalem for the Zionist Commission chaired by Chaim Weizmann. The commission was formed following the Balfour Declaration and visited Israel in April 1918. The full movie, its quality outstanding, shows the members of the commission touring the Western Wall and other sites.
  • In another scene, thousands of Muslim pilgrims gather at the Temple Mount (the al Aqsa Mosque compound) before the traditional Nabi Musa procession. The pilgrims would travel from Jerusalem to a site in the Judean desert where, according to tradition, Moses is buried. In the film’s program, the scene is titled ‘The Sacred Space’.
  • The Hebrew University cornerstone-laying ceremony attended by Chaim Weizmann, July 24th, 1918
  • An assortment of scenes from the last part of the film, recording life in Jewish colonies in Israel, including Rishon LeZion, Ness Ziona and Gedera

The scenes were edited by Ya’akov Gross, who integrated them into a short biographical film about Ben-Dov. Watch the scenes here:

Click here to watch the full movie, produced in cooperation with the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive.

Though somewhat defeated, Ben-Dov was not disheartened and pursued his efforts to produce movies in Mandatory Palestine. He and a partner established the Menorah Film Company. His second movie, the first film to be produced by the company, was titled ‘The Land of Israel Liberated’ (Eretz Yisrael Hameshukhreret) and was more highly regarded. Ben-Dov created at least thirty films, both through Menorah as well as later on with the support of the Jewish National Fund and Keren HaYesod. Most of these, like “Judea Liberated”, were lost.


“By Popular Demand!” A poster promoting a special screening for children of the Menorah film – ‘The Land of Israel Liberated”

And yet in the late 1920s Ben-Dov’s star began to fade. The sound revolution in filmmaking and technological advancements left this pioneer cinematographer behind. The JNF and Keren HaYesod opted not to purchase his films, and he eventually sold his film library to the producer Baruch Agadati who freely incorporated Ben-Dov’s materials into his movies. And so, just like his first film, the memory of Ben-Dov’s work in silent film cinema was lost; only years later would it again be widely recognized.



Nathan Gross and Yaacov Gross, The Hebrew Film: The History of the Silent Film and Cinema in Israel [Hebrew], Jerusalem: authors’ edition, 1991

Hillel Tryster, Israel Before Israel: Silent Cinema in the Holy Land, Jerusalem, Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, 1995

The videos in this article are courtesy of the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive.

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Rare Images: When the Land of Israel Shook in 1927

Rare Images: When the Land of Israel Shook in 1927

These photographs document the powerful earthquake that led to hundreds of deaths in 1927.

On the 11th of July, 1927, Mandatory Palestine and Transjordan were struck by a powerful earthquake. The tremor measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. This was the most significant natural disaster in the region in the past century, as well as a seismological research milestone – the first earthquake in the area to be documented by scientific instruments.

Hundreds of people were killed and hundreds more were injured. Damage to property was severe. Nablus, Ramla and Lod were heavily affected. Jerusalem, Jericho, Amman and Al-Salt also suffered, on a smaller scale. In Nablus alone, more than one hundred people were killed. In Jerusalem, the Hebrew University buildings on Mount Scopus were badly damaged, including Gray Hill House, the temporary home of the Institute of Jewish Studies.

That fatal summer saw preparations for construction of the Jewish National and University Library building on Mount Scopus. At the time of the earthquake, the precursor of today’s National Library of Israel was still located in its old building at Beit Ne’eman (at the end of Habashim Street – now Bnei Brit Street in Jerusalem’s Musrara neighborhood). According to one report, the Library building was not damaged at all and the books within were also unharmed. Life in the library continued as usual. To attest to this fact, only a few days after the terrible disaster, the library staff hastened to hold a small exhibition on the subject of historic earthquakes in the region.

Naturally, on the day after the disaster, the daily newspaper, Doar Hayom, devoted its pages, above all else, to the earthquake.


“A Great Tremor in Eretz Israel – It started at seven past three – the greatest tremor in its history – felt in all of the land’s cities and villages…” The article in Doar Hayom on the day after the earthquake. Click on the image for the full edition



The National Library Presents: The Earthquake of 1837

On July 13th, alongside a feature on the damages caused to various public buildings in Jerusalem, was an announcement in the paper that the Library had put together an exhibit on the history of earthquakes in the Land of Israel.


The article in Doar Hayom was published on the 13th of July, 1927. Click on the picture for the full newspaper

This article gives us a rare glimpse into what was offered in the improvised exhibition put together by the Library staff. The majority of focus in the exhibition was on the powerful earthquake that had preceded that year’s quake – this was the famous earthquake of 1837 which mainly affected the cities of Safed and Tiberias.

What was displayed in the 1927 exhibition?

The article in Doar Hayom explained that the exhibition presented three letters sent from the Land of Israel after the 1837 earthquake. They were written by Mr. Israel Mashkelov, Mr. Aryeh Yerachmiel, and Mr. Raphael Yitzchak Alfandari.

It appears that printed versions of letters sent from the Land of Israel to members and officials of the Amsterdam Jewish community were presented at the exhibition. The original letters made a great impression on the Jews of Amsterdam at the time, and they rushed to publish them in a small, three-page booklet. The booklet was widely distributed throughout Europe and became well known in the Jewish world. In these letters the earthquake is described in great detail. They also include a list of the villages and towns that were affected by the natural disaster, as well as the number of dead and injured in each locale.

This was how one of the survivors described the disaster of 1837:

“On the 24th of Tevet, during the afternoon prayer, a great and terrible tremor rose up, and any who looked upon the land could see the shaking, and here [Jerusalem] some houses and courtyards were also damaged and the whole city was afraid, but thankfully no one was hurt. And in Nablus houses fell and all the shops and sixty people perished and not one of them was of the People of Israel thank the Lord, but in Holy Galilee, ahh! Safed and Tiberias were left in ruins…Fallen and destroyed were all the houses, and all the synagogues, the Sephardic community, the community of Hasidim and our community of Pharisees were destroyed, and no house or street or marketplace was longer visible, even the wall of Tiberias fell, a fire broke out and the Sea of Galilee flooded the city.

O that my head were (full of) waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people, for we have lost two hundred souls, and I have been sent the list of our remnant, left naked, except for those who went with me to Jerusalem and who had departed from there before…”

The article also reveals that the exhibition featured a first edition Jerusalem printing of the book Seder Avodat HaKodesh, printed after the Israel Back printing house moved its printing press from Safed to Jerusalem in the wake of the earthquake. The book deals with Kabbalistic issues and was originally written by Chaim Yosef David Azulai. The1841 edition was accompanied by an unusual introduction from the printer. Israel Back was one of the pioneers of the art of printing in the Land of Israel, and he saw fit to preface the book with a long apology. He tells of the hardships he suffered, which forced him to move his printing press from the city of Safed, which was destroyed in the earthquake, to Jerusalem.

Forward by the publisher describing the earthquake in the book Seder Avodat HaKodesh.


Back’s “apology” gives readers of the book, almost one hundred and eighty years after its writing, a firsthand account of the devastation caused by the earthquake.

“…a great tremor which the Lord inflicted upon his land and his people… And the doorposts quaked from the voice of him who called, and the holy cities of Safed and Tiberias were destroyed and twenty-one souls were struck down in one moment. O that my head were (full of) waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the House of Israel … And it came to pass after that tribulation, the Children of Israel were dispersed to all corners of the Land of Israel …”

The Doar Hayom article, also mentioned another book displayed in the exhibition – Ahavat Tzion by Rabbi Simcha of Volozhin – which also adds to the recorded history of the earthquake in Safed and Tiberias.

The book includes an account of the 1837 earthquake described from a tourist’s point of view:

“And the doorposts quaked from the voice of the tremor and two hundred courtyards were ruined and in each courtyard several homes, some of which fell to their foundations…and some 120 souls perished. And before the tremor one Hasid of the Land of Israel was told that great trouble would come to Safed but they did not know what it was. They arranged prayers and study as is customary in our country, but our sins were such that the verdict was not torn. And some wise scholars were found dead with their faces on their books, and the Hasid was among them. And in the morning light they found a few more people alive, but several days later the tremor returned and some twenty more were killed.”

Unfortunately, we have no documentation of the public’s reaction to the Library exhibition. However, it is likely that it aroused great interest, and it seems that its success encouraged the Library’s management to collect documentation of the more recent 1927 earthquake.

On March 5th, 1929, around a year and a half after the great earthquake of July, 1927, the following announcement appeared in Doar Hayom:


The public announcement published in March, 1929 in Doar Hayom. Click on the picture for the full newspaper


“The National and University Library is assembling a collection of valuable photographs from the earthquake of 1927. Anyone who has historical material is requested to present it to the library as a gift or for copying. It is recommended to attach to all photographs the name of the photographer, the name of the location in which the photograph was taken (city, village, street, building) and the exact date on which the photograph was taken.”

This public call was a success and the Library received an influx of very interesting photographs, creating a unique record of the damage caused by the earthquake in July, 1927.


What was captured in these rare images?

The most intriguing group of photographs is comprised of thirty-two silver prints of various sizes, which were apparently photographed with the same 6 X 9 cm camera. These photographs were taken by members of the “delegation” seen in some of the pictures. They captured the damage throughout the Land of Israel, as well as Transjordan. Members of this group (Mr. Reiser, Mr. Neumann and three members of the Badian family) traveled in their cars and documented the destruction caused by the earthquake. The captions were inscribed in Hebrew and English.

The photographs were donated to the National Library in 1929. Who were the five travelers who decided to tour the country and its surroundings in their car during the great earthquake? Unfortunately, no additional documentation beyond the names has surfaced to provide an answer to this intriguing question.

​​​ ​​ ​ ​

Earthquake damage in Nablus


Earthquake damage in Lod


A picture of the photographers who toured the country in the wake of the earthquake.


Earthquake damage in the village of Reineh Village in northern Israel


Earthquake damage in the village of Reineh Village in northern Israel


A street in Tiberias that was damaged in the earthquake

Another set of photographs includes 18 silver prints of various sizes, including photographs from the cities of Jerusalem and Nablus. The backs of some of the photographs are marked with the stamp of the German-based Internationale Foto-Aagentur press agency, as well as typewritten annotations in German. Apparently, these photographs were taken by various photographers and sent to the European press through the same news agency.

​ ​

Three black and white photographs from the city of Nablus were accompanied by a poignant letter from Yeshayahu Blechman, a loyal reader of Doar Hayom:

“… I am sending you three photographs that were taken a few hours after the tremors in Nablus. The photographs were taken by the manager of the Nablus branch of Spinney’s Ltd. The picture of the British police in the car seems to me to have been taken several days after the earthquake, and in the car we can see bread that was sent from Tel Aviv …”

Spinney’s was a supermarket chain that maintained branches across the Middle East. The chain supplied most of the products to the British colonies. It is, therefore, possible to infer that the shipment of bread that arrived in Nablus (in an open truck, without any cover) was taken by a representative of this company, who ordered the shipment from the branch of Spinney’s in Tel Aviv.

Another collection of photographs was donated to the Library by one of the photographers of the American Colony. The Colony’s photographers (chief among them, Eric Matson) documented the earthquake in various places throughout the country, including Jerusalem. The complete American Colony collection is kept in the Library of Congress, including photographs from this event.




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When the Mayor of Jerusalem Begged the British: Let Me Surrender!

With the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Jerusalem, the mayor's delegation set out to surrender to the British. Over and over, the mayor attempted to hand over his surrender, but his efforts were met with confusion and rejection.

General Allenby near the Jaffa Gate, the general would dismount his horse and enter the city on foot. Photo: Eric Matson, GPO

One of the highlights of the British campaign to take the Land of Israel was more of a symbolic victory than a military triumph – the conquest of Jerusalem. The rapid advance of the British Army through the Sinai, into Gaza, and then to the outskirts of Jerusalem showed the Ottoman Empire that the military situation was all but lost. Ottoman forces in the city received an order from the high command: total withdrawal from Jerusalem was to be carried out on the 9th of December, 1917.

As Turkish troops retreated from the city in droves, Mayor Hussein al-Husayni organized an official surrender mission. The mayor passed through the city’s American Colony on foot, searching for a photographer to document the historic event. When the mayor came across the Colony photographer, Lewis Larsson, he called out to him, “I’m going to hand the city over to the English, bring the camera!” On the way, they stopped at the Italian hospital, removed a white sheet from one of the beds, and tied it to a broomstick. The white flag of surrender was prepared!

Now that everything was ready for a traditional ceremony of surrender, the only question left was – who should they actually surrender to?

Around five o’clock in the morning, the mayor’s delegation happened upon two British cooks. These men had been sent to procure eggs from a village outside of Jerusalem the previous evening, and had lost their way back to the British encampment. The mayor and his companions hastened to surrender to the two flabbergasted sergeants and presented to them, as representatives of the mighty British army, the official decree and white flag of surrender.

This unusual situation became all the more strange when the two sergeants came to their senses and refused to accept the surrender. They asked the dignitaries to postpone the affair for a few hours and to join them while they went to look for their commander. Jerusalem’s surrender to its new imperial overlords was put on hold.

As the cooks made their way to the camp, two more sergeants from a British scout patrol suddenly appeared, armed with rifles and demanding, at gunpoint, that the members of the delegation identify themselves. The mayor kept his cool and tried, for the second time, to surrender to two minor representatives of the great British military. The sergeants refused the delegation once again, demanding that they wait until their commander arrived. However, being proper English gentlemen, they did agree to have their picture taken with the city’s honorable dignitaries.

The mayor’s delegation with the two scouts who refused to accept their surrender, from the Library of Congress archives

Several hours later, a Colonel Watson arrived and was presented to the mayor and his party. Watson considered himself to be of sufficient rank and status, and he agreed to accept the dignitary’s letter of surrender. At the end of the hurried ceremony, the colonel turned to the photographer and asked him, “Where can I have a cup of tea?” From there, the group continued to Shaare Zedek Hospital to celebrate the city’s surrender over tea and biscuits.

The next day Larsson the photographer brought the pictures of Watson’s formal ceremony to Major General John Shea’s headquarters. Recognizing the importance of the historical occasion, Larsson asked the general about the proper way to transfer the photographs to London. “What pictures?” the general asked in incredulity. “Are you referring to the photographs from the ceremony in which I read the manifesto on the steps of the Tower of David?”

When General Shea heard about the events of the previous day from the photographer who had documented them, he was furious at Colonel Watson, who had accepted the surrender of the city on behalf of General Edmund Allenby. He ordered the photographer to destroy the pictures of Watson’s “unofficial” ceremony. He insisted that the “real ceremony of surrender” was the one that had taken place on the steps of the Tower of David.

Two days after Mayor al-Husayni’s surrender, the commander of the British Empire’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force, the officer now in charge of the entire region, arrived in Jerusalem. At the entrance to Jaffa Gate, General Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby descended from his horse and entered the city on foot, lest he be seen as a patronizing and cruel conqueror, looking down at the inhabitants from atop his steed.

General Allenby near the Jaffa Gate, the general would dismount his horse and enter the city on foot. Photo: Eric Matson, GPO

Allenby abruptly nullified all previous surrender ceremonies and demanded that a third (or fourth, depending on how one counts) surrender ceremony be organized. Mayor al-Husayni was not present at this final ceremony on the pretext that he had contracted pneumonia on the day of the long surrender, two days prior.

General Allenby accompanied by officers from the armies of three nations (the United States, France, and Italy) entered Jerusalem via the Jaffa Gate. The Prizker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Thus, in the absence of the mayor, the official ceremony of surrender was held in the city of Jerusalem. It was attended by General Allenby, leaders of the city’s various communities, and several thousand residents who came to see their new rulers. A few weeks later, Mayor Hussein al-Husayni died of pneumonia.

The ceremony of Jerusalem’s surrender to General Allenby. The Prizker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel


The quotations above are taken from the article – The Battle over the Photographs of Surrender by Dov Gavish, published in the book Jerusalem 5678, 1917/8: Destruction, Miracle and Redemption (Hebrew)

‘הקרב על תצלומי הכניעה מאת דב גביש, ‘ירושלים תרע”ח, 1917/8: חורבן נס וגאולה



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