HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Sports as a Bridge in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict

When I first thought about what I wanted to talk about in my blog post, I knew it had to be something about sports. And as I did some research about sports in the Middle East, I found that there is a major discussion going on about sports relieving the tensions between Israel and Palestine. Some even think that this could be a possible model of solution for the peaceful coexistence of each side.

I came upon three articles that addressed this issue in different ways. The first is In Search of a Voice: Arab Soccer Players in the Israeli Media by Eran Shor. In his article, he mentions the growing status of Arab players in Israeli major league soccer. He talks about the news coverage that Arab players receive as being a potential and rare opportunity for them to discuss their feelings about political issues. Yet, these interviews by reporters are highly policed by the Jewish-dominated media discourse. And it is often frowned upon for any Jew or Palestinian to talk about these issues with a viewpoint other than that accepted by Israel. In the cases where players do dare to express their views, “sports managers, journalists, and fans line up to denounce the player and make sure that he is aware of his breach and regrets it.” Therefore, players often tend to shy away from reporters, especially when the topic of politics arises. However, if the views expressed by the players are in favor of coexistence and assimilation to Jewish culture, it is gladly welcomed. The integration of more and more Arabs into the Jewish dominated soccer teams allows each side to develop friendships with the other and learn about the other’s culture. Shor states that, “the Hebrew media encourages these interactions, praising what many reporters see as a model for Arab-Jewish coexistence.” Yet, the pressure is put on the Arabs to meet this goal, by assimilating to Jewish societies and sometimes even denouncing their own cultural heritage.

In the next article, Walls and Goals: The Israeli-Palestinian Encounter in Football, Alon Raab, co-editor of The Global Game: Writers on Soccer and Jerusalem native, sheds light on the current situation between Israel and Palestine through the eyes of soccer by using film and literary works. Raab doesn’t necessarily talk about the progress made in the relations between Israel and Palestine, which is the focus of this blog, but more about how the conflict is reflected in the game. There were a few excerpts from his article, however, that mentioned the sport as a tool used for coexistence. Raab mentions a brief history of soccer and notes that even when tensions first started culminating in the mid-1940s, soccer maintained to be an arena of peace and sportsmanship between nations. In the article, sociologist Tamir Sorek is referenced by his claim that soccer is a major form of integration for Arab players into Jewish society. Several studies by Sorek indicate that there is a higher voting percentage among Arab fans of the game, than there is of non-fans, in favor of Zionist parties and watching Israeli television. Raab shows the effect of soccer on Arab-Jewish integration by pointing to the several documentaries that were made about the Bnei Sakhnin soccer team. He mentions that when the team, made up of Jews and Palestinians, won the 2004 State Cup, both Israeli and Palestinian flags were waved. In the last paragraph of the article, former leader of the PLO, Issam Sartawi, expresses his desire for peace in his talks to Israeli writer and peace activist, Uri Avneri, and says, “I know I would not come to my hometown of Acre, but my son will play football there with Jewish children.”

The third article studies the effect of a sports program on Jewish and Arab youth. In A Step on the Path to Peace: How Basketball is Uniting Arab and Jewish Youth in Jerusalem, Julie Younes discusses the successes of PeacePlayers International (PPI), an organization that exists across the globe and seeks to bring about unity and educate members of conflicting societies. PPI uses the game of basketball to teach participants to work as a team in order to complete a common goal. In the Middle Eastern program, Younes discusses the particular case of Efrat, a 13 year old girl living in West Jerusalem. Efrat joined the program one day after school. Her team consisted of all Jewish girls. During the first several months her team was taught the fundamentals of the game and eventually began participating in “twinnings,” or joint meetings with another Arab team who had been going through the same training. During these meetings, the teams did not compete with each other, but instead practiced drills and peace building activities. Soon the administrators of the program integrated the teams. Once the members of the integrated teams became acquainted with one another through twinnings, they started competing against other integrated teams.

An independent evaluator conducted a survey in each of the teams and found that the views each side had toward the other were improved and that Arab and Jewish girls expressed much more willingness to hang out with each other.

Can you think of any other sports with teamwork characteristics that could bring these two sides together? Do you think the unity developed within integrated teams, fans of these teams, and by programs such as PPI really makes a difference on the overall picture? Is there another aspect of playing sports you think might have an effect on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?


All of the articles mentioned above can be found at




  1. I enjoyed reading this article, as I can somewhat relate to it on a much smaller scale. Being on a division 1 springboard/platform diving team, I’ve had the opportunity to compete against many colleges and athletes around the country, and even though we compete against each other in the sport of diving, at the end of the day, we make new friends because we share the same interests. I definitely see this happening with soccer and similar sports, people who love the same thing will become friends in the end, even outside of the sport. So yes, I believe and hope that sports and other activities that many people share common interests, will help bring the Israeli-Palestine people some peace among each other.

  2. tdkohlbeck says:

    I love the concept behind the program discussed in the third article. At first glance it seems like such a program wouldn’t accomplish a lot, or wouldn’t influence enough people. But these sort of interactions spill over a great deal. Friends and family hear about or meet these new friends, and begin to think of them as individuals rather than “the other side”. And focusing on youth is a very effective strategy. Children and adolescents aren’t yet ingrained with hate, and eventually they grow up and begin to take up positions in society that are able to bring about change.

  3. I love this blog post! It reminds me about a match between South and North Korea I watched years ago. I still remember how South and North Korean were divided by police and fence, preventing them from fighting during the match. Actually, what I saw was not what people would image. I remember seeing them hold hands across the fence and sing a song, maybe the national anthem, together. I remember that they remained in the stadium long after the match ended, singing together like one united nation. I love soccer a lot, and I totally support the idea that soccer may one day bring peace to the world. South and north Korean express their hopes for unification during the match I watched (and I actually cried for that), and Israelis and Palestinians can start their communication through soccer. It suddenly reminds me about what we call “Pingpong Diplomacy” in China. A group of American Pingpong players became the first Americans who came across the broader of the People’s Republic of China, and this event really helped to release the tension between the U.S. and China during Cold War. I do not know what I want to say, but I hope that sport can bring more peace to the world.

  4. sstephenson3 says:

    While I would be loathe not to cite the Olympics as an example of how this could work, I do not think that this is a viable option. On the one hand, changing the conflict from a military one to an athletics based event is a good way to keep down the violence. However, I think that this particular conflict is too hateful and vicious to be represented in sports form. The main reason being that in most sporting events there are armed people whose objective it is to quash violence in and around the stadium, however in this scenario the opposite would be prevalent. In other words there would be several people who would use events like this in order to set off bombs and kill alot of people. Good idea, but ultimately the wrong place for it in my opinion.

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