Israeli Arab footballers keep Israel's World Cup dreams alive

Published: 3 April 2005
Briefing Number 136

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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 national heroes

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 many Israelis.

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.