What is the one thing that unites Israel and Palestine? No, it’s not football. It is the fact that these two countries have a knack on stirring up a bout between each other on extraneous matters, while being oblivious to resolving the actual situation on hand. From who came up with Hummus (a Middle Eastern dish made up of Chick-peas) to who created the Keffiyeh (A traditional scarf that is a symbol of Palestinian resistance)?
This time, it’s a football player. Ali El-Khatib, a 22-year-old Arab-Israeli, recently expressed his desire on representing Israel on the international stage. Piece of news, which as of now is well acknowledged by the Israeli FA.
The only issue is that, the kid exemplifies Palestinian football. He had represented the nation in 29 internationals, including the recent 2014 World Cup qualifiers, netting 6 goals throughout. He had also been playing in the territories since 2009 with Jabel Mukaber in East Jerusalem. Based on this, even quite sure, that he will not be able to switch allegiance at this stage.
So what’s happened?
Earlier this year, El-Khatib signed up with Hapoel Haifa, a team participating in the Israeli Ligat Ha’al league, and which is currently 12th in the table.
The team credits its rise away from the relegation, mainly due to El-Khatib’s performances. And why wouldn’t they? He had managed to score four crucial goals in ten appearances, so far for the club. Not an easy feat to achieve when a player enters a new team midway through the season.
Now, the Palestinian team that he represented (Jabel Mukaber) and the people are fuming over his desire to play for Israel, hence referring him as a traitor. Their argument, away from the fact that Hapoel Haifa managed to secure his services in an inappropriate manner, is that he basically dissed the very establishment that raised his profile.
Looking at it from a larger perspective, Palestine, or in fact anyone has no right in getting upset based on what the El-Khatib wants to do. On the contrary, the nation and its people should be enlivened; because the very people they consider as their “enemy” are appreciating the talent of one of their own.
It’s not an easy task for a Palestinian to make it in an industry and more importantly, in a country where eyes are constantly watching you. Moreover, we all know how the sport has a stronger probability of bridging gaps between people. Now, this 22-year-old has a shot at doing the same when he matures. The reason I say this is he had signed a four-year deal with Jabel Mukaber earlier this year as well, only to break it a week later.
There are quite a few entities, most notable of them being the Israeli football team Bnei Sachnin and certain individuals trying to make a difference between the two communities, but with an unwitting attitude of certain people, what we hope of achieving will not be possible. And that is peace.
So Ali El-Khatib, I salute you for taking that bold step in achieving your dreams. One may criticize you but there will be ten others who will welcome your reasoning. And they are the ones, who really understand what football means.