|Israeli Arab footballers keep Israel's World Cup dreams alive
Published: 3 April 2005
Briefing Number 136
Summary: Two Arab footballers scored
Israel’s crucial goals in matches against Ireland
and France to keep alive Israeli dreams of qualifying
for the 2006 World Cup finals. While it would be over-hasty
to read too much into these events, the achievement of
these instant national heroes is significant. It shatters
the myth that Arabs in Israel are non-citizens, without
rights, respect or opportunities.
How Israeli Arabs Abbas Suan and Walid Badir became
Israelis are passionate about football. And there is no greater
ambition for any country than to play in the World Cup finals.
Israel last did so in 1970.
To qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals, Israel’s national
team face formidable opposition in their qualifying group in
the form of two of Europe’s top teams, Ireland and France.
Within the space of 4 days in March, Israel played both countries
in Tel-Aviv. Both matches ended in 1-1 draws, with Israel’s
performances (as the underdog) surprising many observers, and
Not only were the results noteworthy, but so were the scorers
of Israel’s goals in the two matches: Israeli Arab members
of the team. Abbas Suan scored against Ireland, and Walid Badir
scored against France (each doing so in the last ten minutes).
Both Suan and Badir became instant Israeli national heroes.
Lessons about Arabs in Israeli society
Some have been quick to claim that this “proves”
that Israeli Arabs are integrated into Israeli society. That
would be over-hasty. Discrimination in Israeli football is quite
widespread (though reducing over time); and it is debatable
how far football is a benchmark for society as a whole.
Nonetheless, the achievement of Abbas Suan and Walid Badir,
and the adulation they received from Israeli fans, both Jewish
and Arab, is significant.
Suan had recently been on the receiving end of racist taunts
from some so-called “fans” in a local match in Jerusalem,
so his comments to journalists after the match against Ireland
(reported in Haaretz, 30 March 2005) are noteworthy:
“After what happened to me in Jerusalem, it was very
moving to hear 40,000 fans cheering me. My goal is dedicated
to everyone in Israel. It is time to stop talking of Jews and
Arabs: we are all one people…”
This echoes recent comments by the Arab deputy mayor of Tel-Aviv,
speaking about the success of Israeli Arab football team Bnei
Sakhnin, who won a major Israeli domestic competition in 2004:
“… This proves how much sports can help peace and
improve the connection between people….” (Jerusalam
Post, 28 May 2004).
While it would be over-hasty to read too much into the achievement
of Israel’s Arab football stars, these events are significant.
They shatters a myth about Israel - that Arabs in Israel are
non-citizens, without rights, respect or opportunities.