Palestinian soccer drama—‘Team’ building for social change

“Everyone is playing with us, all the powers and states, but I am player, not a ball,” he says. He speaks of his training as an engineer and political activism that resulted in a prison sentence. In 1996, a poem by Syrian Nizar Qabbani, “A Drawing by Blood”—“I tried to pray to many Gods / at the end I discovered I pray for myself”—moved Otham to “think beyond the big slogans such as ‘the Holy Land.’ ” Other experiences, along with literary works such as Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist (see 8 Nov 07), convinced him to leave politics. Otham turned to culture, believing that “culture and justice bring peace.” He continues:

Palestinians always show the victims, the evils of the occupation. That exists, but we wanted to concentrate on the personal lives, what happens at home, relations between people. We are presenting a new look at the Palestinians. Many people in the West have images of Palestinians as bad people. With drama we can speak about our dreams, how to build things together, how we will be when we have our own state, the power of the group to shape its future. The team represents the

Palestinian society.

The Team is a co-production of Ma’an, an independent non-profit Palestinian news agency and media network, and Search for Common Ground. In eight years of existence Ma’an has excelled in news reporting and in producing dramas, including the popular Seriously Joking. Committed to Palestinian political and cultural independence, Ma’an has remained open to multiple perspectives. It regularly runs Israeli TV news broadcasts and interviews with leading Israeli journalists and scholars. Despite its professional and peaceful approach, in January Israeli authorities deported Ma’an’s English-language editor.

Search for Common Ground helps create radio and television programs that offer alternatives to conflict. Soccer provides a logical subject and common language in many places where ethnic and national enmity prevail. The Palestinian series will soon be followed by an Israeli series based in the city of Ramlah/al-Ramlah where Jews and Arabs live side by side, but not always harmoniously.

Later in the day of my visit, crews film several scenes at a match between Palestinian team Shabab Al-Khalil and Wahdat Amman from Jordan. The match takes place in the crowded Al-Hussein stadium in Hebron, and spectators include Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The importance of the sport to Palestinian national aspirations and sense of identity is also clear a month later at a game between the national women’s teams of Palestine and Jordan, witnessed by 12,000.

As I leave the studio and head back to the border crossing we drive past a half-built structure. “Hotel Paradise,” a sign declares.

Additional reading

On the history of Palestinian sports see Issam Khalidi, “Body and Ideology: Early Athletics in Palestine (1900–1948),” Jerusalem Quarterly 27 (summer 2006): 44–58; and idem, “The Zionist Movement and Sports in Palestine,” The Electronic Intifada, 27 Apr 09.

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1 comment on this post.
  1. Madiba Magic:

    Thanks, Alon, for this thoughtful contribution. I hope to show the Palestinian The Team series to my students. It is intriguing to see how quickly this series has spread outside the West. The one in Kenya is hugely popular. It is also fascinating to learn how this “football soapie” form has been used in so many locally specific ways to humanize the lives of people struggling to survive. Peace.

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