Cinema | ‘Futbol Palestina 2006′

The recent campaign to reach the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, under the guidance of Austrian coach Alfred Riedel, began promisingly with an 8–0 victory over Taiwan and a draw with Iraq. Financial and political obstacles—such as the Israeli army not allowing five players to join their teammates for the important match against Uzbekistan—proved overwhelming, and Uzbekistan and Iraq advanced to the next round. Currently the team is under a new coach, Azami Nasser, and with recent political developments and moves toward a cease fire and the resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, perhaps soon the two sides will meet on the pitch.

Futbol Palestina 2006 focuses on several players. These include Shaker Suleiman Asad, who was born in Gaza and now lives in North Carolina, and who describes how wearing the Palestine uniform for the first time “gave me goose bumps everywhere. I have never been more proud of anything”; Chile-based Eduardo Tomas Dias Lama, who says that “one forgets everything else in his heart and fights to win something important for our people”; and Eduardo Abdala Montero, who feels that the players represent “so many people who are suffering. … We bring satisfaction and joy to these people.”

The desire to show the world that Palestine is not just about war is expressed by the coach and players and also by the filmmakers. Producers Soza and Piña grew up in Chile under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet but from a young age felt an affinity with other struggles for justice across the world.

In a recent interview Soza described how he became involved in student politics in high school. “It was a terrible time, but also a time of learning and action. In those days we saw Palestine as a sister struggle; Chileans were also fighting in the streets. The fact that we were not unfamiliar with the word ‘Palestino’ could have also helped. Palestino is a first-division soccer club in Chile, founded by Palestinian immigrants in 1939. The club has produced great players. It all kind of worked together.”

Soza grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Santiago, overlooking the Andes. “In the middle of our buildings there was a soccer field. This was pure dirt and stones, even glass, but we loved this field because every weekend our club played in it. I was in the team since I was probably five. Some of my greatest memories are set against that field. After many years in the United States, the picture of it in my mind is one of my dearest. Recently, visiting the Naher Al-Bared camp in Tripoli, I saw a field that could have been the one I grew up on, only this one had the Mediterranean 50 meters away.”

Asked about his hopes for the film, Soza, who is a journalist and union organizer—Piña is a filmmaker and graduate student in cultural anthropology—said that in the United States the fate of Palestinians and the harsh reality of their lives is ignored. “When we see coverage sympathetic to Palestinians it is usually focused on the tears and blood of the conflict, and although they are legitimate images, they appeal to a very small number of people. Our contribution will be to step back a bit and see Palestinians not through the daily resistance, but through soccer. We hope the audience can see the richness of Palestinian people and realize that they are like the rest of us and as such need the peace and freedom we all cherish.”

About the author

Alon Raab is a native of Jerusalem who teaches at the University of California in Davis.

Updates

  • The film, renamed Tiro libre (Free Kick), made its debut at the Festival del Cinema Latino Americano in Trieste, Italy, in Nov 07 (see 23 Apr 08).
  • A six-minute trailer screened for nearly 300 in Chicago on 2 May 2005, according to Soza, writing in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (July–August 2005, p. 85). The article stated that filmmakers are trying to organize additional screenings and to use the filmmaking process as a means of educating American audiences. “For reaching millions, few ambassadors would seem better suited than the game of soccer. Ultimately, the filmmakers hope to help people gain a better grasp of the issues, be prepared to challenge stereotypical views of Palestinians and Arabs in general, and, most importantly, do something about a great injustice,” Soza writes.

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  1. The Global Game | Cinema | In ‘Tiro libre,’ walls of separation and misunderstanding:

    [...] Raab, writing for the Global Game when the film had the working title Futbol Palestina 2006 (22 Apr 05), interviewed Soza three years ago as Palestine’s national team made its way through World [...]

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