The Game of How Many Sides?

Football, Soccer, the glorious game of two sides.

It brings nations together in magnificent displays of festive flag flying, chants and fan loyalty.  What happens, though, when the two sides are not always so clear for the fans to pick who to support?

I have often toyed with the unlikely dilemma of who to support in a football match between England and Israel.  My heart, I must confess, when it comes to football, will always remain dedicated to England.

I may live in Israel, study and work in Israel, but, in football, you may never, NEVER leave your team for another. I was a British citizen and avid football fan long before i came to Israel and must remain loyal to my roots on the pitch.

My position is the following; I support England wherever possible. When England aren’t playing and Israel are, I support Israel. Simple. No politics, just football.

Last night the Palestinian Football Team won against the Philippines in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup final in the Maldives. They had reached the final after beating Afghanistan in the Semi final to play their biggest match in history in Manila.

Not only is the match the team’s first final in its 16-year history, but the victory earns them a place in next year’s Asian Cup in Australia, the continent’s equivalent of the European Championship or the Concacaf Gold Cup, which would be Palestine’s first major international tournament.

This historic and epic win for the Palestinians is fantastic news. However, with it comes some strange dilemmas for fan based football loyalty. The Middle East has a new dilemma and, as Middle Eastern dilemmas go, it is one I much prefer to awaken to the news of than the current political and military conflicts plaguing the region today.

Omar Jarun was born in Kuwait to an American mother and a Jordanian-Palestinian father. The family fled after Saddam Hussein invaded the country, sparking the first Gulf War, when Omar was 7. “In my heart, I feel like an Arab, a Palestinian,” he has said. He then joined the Palestinian national football team, visiting his grandfather’s home in the West Bank for the first time in 2011.

The teams entry into the Asian Cup places them in group D alongside Japan, Iraq and Jordan.

This raises the obvious question of who to root for? With the issue of Palestinian refugees constantly argued as to whether they are Palestinian or Jordanian and who they identify themselves as, many, including Jaruns own family, will be faced with the problem of not knowing who they want to win in next year’s match between Jordan and Palestine.

I thought I had a tough decision of which side to cheer for. The Jordanian – Palestinian refugees, on both sides of the border, face even tougher decisions in the lead up to the Cup.

Could the fans switch seats at half time? Move to sit in the stands of whoever is up on goals at that moment? If Jarun accidently kicks the ball into the Palestinian net is it considered an own goal?

Could Israel ever face Palestine in the most epic of football derbies ever known in footballing history?

These questions excite and intrigue me. For now, though, the Palestinian team has more immediate problems to face such as acquiring the release of one of their players from current incarceration in Israeli jail. This is not a new problem for them either.

Every team faces the difficult challenge of player injuries forcing sides to play without key players. The Palestinian team loses out on playing key players not because of injuries though. They have often had to pull out of competitions in the past due to Israel denying exit visas, inability to meet for training, arrests of players meddling in terrorist funding and worse, death in the conflict.

What does a team do when their manager and assistant manager are detained for two weeks?

In October 2007, the second leg of a crucial 2010 World Cup qualifier between Palestine and Singapore was not played due to Palestine’s inability to obtain exit visas. In May 2008, the team was not allowed to travel to the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup. After a 2011 World Cup qualifier against Thailand, two starters, Mohammed Samara and Majed Abusidu, were refused entry to the West Bank and therefore could not travel back with the team from Thailand.

Striker Ziyad Al-Kord was banned from travelling and had his house destroyed. Tariq al Quto was killed by the Israel Defence Forces and during the Operation Cast Lead three Palestinian footballers, Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtahe, were among the Palestinian casualties.

Mahmoud Sarsak was administratively detained by Israel in July 2009 for being a member of Islamic Jihad; following a hunger strike and international pressure on his behalf from FIFA President Sepp Blatter, he was released in July 2012. In 2012, Olympic Team goalkeeper Omar Abu Ruways was arrested by Israel for being a member of a terrorist cell.

Despite this, Palestine’s contribution to the footballing world has steadily increased since its founding in 1928. In 1998 they were accepted by FIFA after the creation of the Palestinian National Authority. The Palestinian Football Federation went on to receive the prestigious FIFA development award in 2009.

At a FIFA world ranking position of 116th, 16th in the Asian continent, the win followed 5 matches in which Palestine’s team played a ”clean sheet,” staving off the competition without conceding a single goal during the tournament.

“This is very important to all Palestine. We want to send a message to the world that we want sports and peace in Palestine,” their coach Jamal Mahmoud said last night.

The Palestinian side have much to celebrate today, and deservedly so.

About the Author
Born in NY, raised in London and moved to Israel in 2006/7, Daniel has recently completed his undergraduate degree in Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the IDC, Herzliya, specializing in Counter Terrorism and Conflict Resolution. Daniel served in the IDF in Golani 51 during Operation Cast Lead, has worked for the Jewish Agency, IDFWO and is currently an Intern Research Analyst at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism. Daniel is also a fellow of the Leaders for Israel, Public Diplomacy and Leadership Fellowship. Twitter: dmendelsohn99