Let’s face it. The chaos that has long existed within Palestine threatens the Middle East, and most importantly, the Palestinians themselves. This needs no explanations, no examples and no justifications. It is crystal clear and well-chronicled, often with other heartbreaking images.
However, in recent years the tide has shifted towards the Palestinian cause as many have come to realize the 21st century apartheid, citizens of the Levantine nation, currently face on a daily basis. With the major change of heart occurring at the United Nations in October 2014, which is when 193 member states recognized the ‘State of Palestine’. The second largest political achievement in current times would have to be the ‘overwhelming vote in favor of a motion allowing the Palestinian flag to be flown in front of UN buildings,’ which took place a few days ago.
The situation from a football perspective is looking bright as well, especially after the emotional outburst by Palestinian FA President Jibril Rajoub who withdrew his motion to suspend Israel from FIFA, earlier in the year. The withdrawal was on the basis that Israel would work towards addressing the Palestinian needs when it comes to the occupiers hindering football activities and restricting the movement of players between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Since then, Palestinian football has seen progress though not without certain difficulties. Firstly both, Hebron based Ahli al-Khalil and Gaza’s Ittihad al-Shujaiyeh, were able to cross across the border to face each other in the two-leg Palestine Cup Finals. Secondly, the Palestinian national team (including the members from Gaza) has had relative success in travelling outside the territories to face their respective opponents within in their Group in the Asian World Cup 2018 Qualifiers having recently hosted United Arab Emirates to a tightly fought tie in Ramallah.
Therefore, things are changing.
But now that the world’s integrity has been triggered, certain proponents of the cause still remain adamant in their attempts to disrupt life within the football realms of the two nations. The current chaotic approach not only causes major nuances, it also threatens the existing upward trajectory of the overall Palestinian cause.
The recent withdrawal of a photography exhibition by the Cardiff City Council, which was projected to display how football can bring diverse communities together in Israel, was not appropriate. Though they refused to entertain the exhibition based on ‘operational issues’, it was clear that the council wanted to remain afar from the possible hostilities that could come with a pro-Palestinian protest. The question here is – What is the significance of a pro-Palestinian messaging in an event that showcases harmony between groups within Israel?
That is exactly what “Kadrugel-Shefel” founders Gad Salner and Vadim Tarasov aimed to achieve through the exhibition. The two had been working hard to spread the message of co-existence that presently exists in Israel, but does not get a lot of coverage.
“The message is to go on and enjoy old school football, support your local club. It might seem odd to audience from abroad, but Jews and Arabs are playing together on all levels and all leagues, so it’s not an ‘issue’ here, but more abroad, where people are surprised to find out that for example Bnei Sahknin, an Arab village from Galilee, won the national cup and represented Israel in Europe.”
The two fans craving lower league football, wanted to identify if a similar setup exists within Israel, and to their surprise, their motivation was blanketed by the abundance of Jewish, Arab and other communities involved in the country’s amateur football – something that media fails to cover.
“We were always into lower leagues, especially from the UK, and especially, well, because of that end-of-the-90’s Championship Manager game. So we wondered what it is like here, In Israel. It’s a very small country, but very diverse and full of energy. It didn’t even start as ‘a project’, we just wanted to feel the excitement and passion, something that was kind of lost from the ‘professional’ leagues in Israel and from what we consumed from European leagues on TV.”
Admirably, many have shown their willingness to support the cause by introducing a very hospitable environment.
“The biggest support we can get is the way we are welcomed and invited to see more matches, because this is what we’re into – watching and feeling the game. It’s really heartwarming. We actually try to avoid the media in Israel, because we want to keep it a bit ‘underground’, but the media covers us from time to time.”
And surely, both Gad and Vadim were not disappointed. Apart from the fact that they had the opportunity to experience the excitement that existed within the stadiums, they also count themselves as among the lucky few to have visited regions within Israel that one would normally not imagine traveling to.
“We found out an incredible world of colors, passion and most of all met people and got to places that we never thought of getting to. Our latest project, creating a club football museum in Rahat, Israel’s largest Bedouin is the best example. Many people have bad image of this place, and we visited there a couple of times to watch football, and the derby match has crowd of thousands. So we traveled all the way to the south, to pick up old shirts, old memorabilia from the teams, and set up as an exhibition along ours. We met the most amazing people there, that we had no chance of meeting without the project.”
And if you’d question whether there was risk involved in it! Yes. There was. Would always be when you enter the unknown, which is what made it more entertaining and worthwhile for the two, as they faced zero amounts of negativity when entering Arab towns as Jews.
“We’ve been to some places that were known for being a bit ‘hostile’ for us, as Jews. We were always welcomed, and it just encouraged us to ‘push’ a little bit further and reach out to the next place. Actually on the very first travel, we tried to go to a match on Umm El Fahem, an Arab city that borders with Palestine, and when we tried to enter the stadium, a policeman asked for our IDs, suspecting we were right wing extremists.”
And what they documented was not an Arab-Jew divide but when the groups get together and come on to the pitch not as people of different races but as footballers – even if it lasts only 90 minutes at the lower levels.
“It’s passion and true love for the game. It’s something that is really touching for us, to see how people are still into local football clubs, with crummy stadiums, to watch players that are just like you and me, but on one day of the week they become stars for 90 minutes. Fantastic.”
So what’s next for these two highly motivated individuals?
“We’re filming a documentary, starting an internet series, publishing a flip book: one side our photos, other side a flip book of a championship manager scene… something totally messed up. Our dream is to watch a football match in Palestine or present our exhibition in an Arab country, who knows, maybe someone will read this and make our dream come true.”
We hope their dreams will come true in the near future – to see the beauty of the game, which exist within Israel and which rarely, receives local and international appreciation. Though some have taken a blindingly singular, and more rebellious, tone on their beliefs of what is right or wrong, it needs to be understood that a larger piece of the pie is at stake here. Specifically at risk is the very cause these kind of pro-Palestinian supporters raise their voice for – the Palestinian cause.
PS: A heartfelt gratitude to Gad and Vadim for sharing their thoughts with me on this piece. You can visit their page on Facebook.