Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Arabs and Israelis Find Togetherness with Soccer

After Hapoel Petah Tikva lost many of its players to Israel’s national squad, the founder decided to recruit Arab villagers, creating a positive atmosphere among Arabs and Israelis in the process

By: Daniel Koren

Published: April 24th, 2014 in Sports » Israel

Football (soccer) in Israel is no joke. Aside from matkot, it’s most likely Israel’s national pastime and most popular sport. And though Israel won’t be around in Brazil for FIFA 2014 – if only FIFA chairman Sepp Blatter heeded the advice of two U.S. senators proposing they suspend Russia from playing (Israel would have been next in line) – they do have a decent shot at the EURO 2016 qualifiers, and besides that, the sport is pretty much ingrained in the culture there, both for Israelis and Arab Israelis.

That’s why for the founder of one Israeli women’s soccer club, solving the matter of what to do after his top players headed to Israel’s national football club in ahead of the World Cup qualifiers was easy: recruit Arab villagers.

Rafi Subra, founder of Hapoel Petah Tikva, has, perhaps unknowingly, helped bridge a gap between Arabs and Israelis through sport. While the Men’s Premier League in Israel are chock full of Arab-Israeli players, they are scarce in the Women’s League, something Subra saw as potential to change.

Though his team has not advanced significantly in the rankings since the addition of the five Arab-Israeli women, it has enhanced their presence as a football squad to be reckoned with.

“The fact is, they integrated well,” Subra said. “They’re happy. We’re happy. The mix has been very successful.”

An Israeli player on Hapoel, and also the team’s manager, Shiran Schlechter, added that both the Jewish Israeli and Arab Israeli teammates have been getting along.

“It’s funny because within the team we don’t have” that hate, Schlechter said. “I think to our credit we all fought together against that. None of us liked it. It bothered us all.”

Noura Abu-Shanab, one of the Arab-Israeli players, said that, while she does face racism on the field, “The atmosphere of the team is positive,” and that’s really what’s most important. Abu-Shanab, who is now Team Captain, added that her Muslim family was supportive of her playing in a mostly Jewish women’s league.

“There is no difference between Arab or Israeli players. We are united; like one hand,” she said.

If only the leaders and politicians out there felt the same way.

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