By turns tragic and uplifting, the history of Israel and Palestine through the lens of the world’s most popular sport–soccer.
Soccer has never been apolitical. This is especially true for Israel and Palestine. The sport was introduced originally through the church, and then encouraged by the British Army, with Jews and Arabs playing on the same team.
After the creation of Israel in 1948, teams split down Jewish and Arab lines and tensions grew. For Palestine, soccer continues primarily abroad, where the top four teams in Jordan are refugee teams; while Israel has a thriving domestic league. But some of Israel’s best players are of Palestinian descent–creating a rare occurrence in which a Palestinian is heralded and praised by Israelis. In recent years, efforts are being made to bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians with mixed youth leagues. This is a vibrant and often shocking story filled with driven, even ferocious people who are inspired by nationalism as much as a love of the game. There are many sacrifices, as brilliant teams are scattered by wars, sidelined through boycotts, and stories of players arrested, expelled, driven to hunger strikes, and beaten or shot. It is a story not simply of Jewish-Arab rivalry, but also deep and often violent animosities within both communities.
In this unusual history of the world’s most intractable conflict, Nicholas Blincoe sets out to answer questions such as: it hopelessly romantic to think of soccer as a fourth field, beyond farmlands, graveyards and battlefields? Or will it always be just another space to be fought over and polluted?