The International Football (Soccer) Association, or FIFA, almost banned soccer teams from Judea and Samaria from playing in the league last month, due to pressure from the international NGO Human Rights Watch.
FIFA initially seemed likely to agree to the ban –but has since declined to act on the issue.
And while some pro-Palestinian organizations and the media love to portray thick barriers between Israelis and Arabs in Judea and Samaria, it really does turn out that those barriers only exist on paper.
Three months ago, three Israeli Arab soccer players joined Ariel’s soccer team, Walla! News reported earlier this month – and they’ve become an integral part of the team. The Ariel team recently won the C league finals.
Walid Hesskia and brothers Yousef and Mahmoud Dahar, from the Israeli Arab town of Tira, told the news agency that political debates have no place in the world of sport.
Yousef, 25, told the agency that the head of the Ariel team approached him first. “In the end, they accepted me wonderfully […] I get respect here and everything works beautifully,” he said.
As for the fact that he’s playing with “settlers,” he noted “it really doesn’t bother me.”
“The only thing on my mind is getting to the soccer pitch,” he added. “I don’t look at anything else but the game, and that’s just what I needed: a warm team and nice people.”
Yousef also noted that while there have been many incidents of racism directed at Arabs and Muslims in local teams, Ariel locals welcomed him with open arms.
“Everything is in a good atmosphere – I haven’t had once racist incident,” he said. “No one asks me about it. I didn’t have any concerns about it and even if I had had any concerns, once I get out on the pitch my entire focus is on soccer.”
Walid tells a similar story. He, too, was approached by the team’s coach and offered a place on the Ariel team.
“I hesitated at first because of the distance,” Walid stated. “But when I got here I found a warm atmosphere and good people – friends, family, and a coach who knows how to coach. It’s fun for me here.”
Walid noted, as well, that in his 20+ years of playing soccer, he had played against the Ariel team and thought nothing of it.
“As a soccer player, I look only at the game and not at the politics, which have nothing to do with me,” he said. “People here know how to play and there’s never been any problem with racism.”
“The Ariel soccer team is a living example of how we can coexist and how soccer can build bridges between populations,” Mayor Eliyahu Shaviro stated to the press. “I’m happy that FIFA chose not to heed the Palestinian Authority’s request to oust Israel from the league because there are Israeli teams based in Judea and Samaria.”
“You can’t put soccer – which can build bridges – into politics,” he added.