Palestinian soccer drama—‘Team’ building for social change

Editor’s note

Football-based soap operas or, in Latin America, telenovelas, like the game itself, reflect culture and a culture’s self-image. Italy’s Mediaset used the reality-show format to produce Campioni, concerning a hodgepodge side’s attempt to avoid relegation from one of Italy’s lower divisions. In Mexico, El juego de la vida (The Game of Life) focuses on a team of comely 17-year-old girls and their love interests. There are countless other examples. The nonprofit Search for Common Ground has helped create versions of football dramas—all titled The Team—as a tool for conflict resolution in Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya and Morocco. The Palestine edition, about which Alon Raab writes below, is in post-production. Similar series are at various stages in Angola, Congo, Indonesia, Liberia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. Radio programs have aired in Ethiopia and are planned for Burundi and Guinea.

The Kenyan show, which aims to help redress violence following 2007 general elections, is available online via LinkTV. In an interesting departure, the side is co-ed.

Production on The Team, what the show’s creator calls “a soap opera for social change,” began in 2008.

by Alon Raab | Bethlehem, West Bank

In Bethlehem’s Manger Square, under a full moon, two lovers recite poetry—Palestinian national bard Mahmoud Darwish’s words of affection and longing. Shadows cast on the stones of Christ’s birthplace unite. The scene shifts to an acrimonious meeting at a sports club. Debate flares over which game to watch—Real Madrid v. Barcelona or Zamalek v. Al-Ahly? Conversation spills over to politics. One club member, nicknamed “Platini,” declares that “we should live the way we believe.”

Welcome to The Team, a 30-part dramatic series recently completed in the West Bank and soon to be broadcast on Palestinian television station Ma’an.

Last fall I traveled from Jerusalem to meet the series creators and to watch filming. Leaving Mount Zion, legendary resting place of King David, I take a cab to the border. After passing the Jewish neighborhood of Talpiot and the new and politically contentious settlement of Gilo, I arrive at the checkpoint. In a large concrete and barbed-wire structure, in front of glaring soldiers, rows of Palestinians present their documents and wait to be fingerprinted. On the Palestinian side I enter another cab, whose young driver volunteers to point out places from the gospel narratives—King Herod’s imposing palace-fortress Herodium and Shepherds’ Field, where an angel appeared to reveal “good tidings of great joy.”

Near the station I walk past two powder-blue Mercedes, each flying the flags of Real Madrid and Barcelona. I pass a sign, “Palestinian Conflict Resolution Office,” and another, “Committee for the Freeing of Political Prisoners.” In a stationery store a young woman sells me locally produced notebooks with a large globe on the cover.

I meet first with the show’s creator, writer and director, Nabil Shoumali, who studied film in Prague. He directed and produced episodes for the Palestinian version of Sesame Street, The Stars—Palestine’s first televised university quiz show—and documentaries including A State of Fifty Years and Potash, about the destructive effects of dredging minerals from the Dead Sea. He also has taught screenwriting at Bethlehem University.

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