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Bnei Sachnin: Unprecedented soccer victory and cautious optimism


It's been a hard week, what with all the terrible images coming out of Rafah. Yet the pain, anger and frustration caused by the ongoing entanglement in Gaza was somehow mixed with the joy emanating from the national stadium in Ramat Gan when Bnei Sachnin became the first Arab soccer team to win the Israeli national cup. Coverage of the game and the unprecedented victory dominated the print and electronic media for a few days, and not only on the sports pages.

30,000 Arabs from Sachnin (practically the entire town), and other Arab and Jewish fans from the Galil descended on Ramat Gan, as mythological sportscaster Zoheir Ba'alul noted in Yediot "not for a protest against the occupation, municipal conditions, human rights, etc., but for a sporting event..."

There was a lot of irony, of course, in the fact that all 4 Bnei Sachnin goals were scored by 3 Jews and one Brazilian (who deflected a shot by a Pole). And the rival, Hapoel Haifa, had as many Arabs as Sachnin in the starting lineup - 3 (one of them even lives in Sachnin). Leading Palestinian Israeli poet Samich El-Kassim noted this, in his celebration of the day, and all the Arab MKs were there too, to salute the achievement and the model for possible coexistence in the future.

I can imagine the pain that many Sachnin Arabs felt when they realized that their cousins in Gaza were suffering while they were celebrating. Still, I think the victory, the whole saga of the extraordinary Arab-Jewish-international team (the two Africans are outstanding players, Guinea national goal-keeper Komiko Kamara (a Moslem) and Etche from Cameroun), led by the very articulate local Chairperson Mazan Ghanaim, and the determined Jewish coach Ayal Lachman, captained by local hero and national team member Abass Suwan, captured the imagination of all.

If you haven't seen it, I'd like to attach this little gem written by Saguy Green in Ha'aretz, who sat with the Sachnin fans at the game, and followed the responses of a 9 year old boy.

The cautious optimism about the future that he expresses at the end of the article, reminds me of when I managed to be one of the few whites at an all-black rally in Newark during Jessie Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign. Green's observations about the 9 year old boy from Sachnin reminds me of the sense of pride and hope that I saw in the Black kids and teenagers at that rally in Newark.

Hillel Schenker

P.S. For those who don't understand the reference to the Bnei Sachnin cheer "Assulima", it's a combination of the names of their two prolific goal scorers, Israeli Jew Lior Assulin and the miniature Brazilian Gavriel Lima.

w w w . h a a r e t z d a i l y . c o m

Last update - 02:28 21/05/2004
So sweet, as Hamoudi takes the cup
By Saguy Green

On his left wrist he had painted a large blue heart and along his arm he had written "Bnei Sakhnin." Near his elbow he had painted another heart, also blue. His cropped hair was sprayed with a touch of red. On his forehead, someone had written the captain's name, Abbas, in lipstick, continuing the inscription along his right cheek with the information that Abbas is "the king." On his shoulders the team's flag was draped like a cloak with its ends tied around his neck.

He is called Hamoudi Adak al-Na'ami. He is a third-grader, nine years old, from the Gimmel Elementary School in Sakhnin. Long before the game began on Tuesday he was already sitting with his classmates at Gate 13 at the Ramat Gan Stadium. They were wearing white undershirts donated by a furniture manufacturer and were as noisy as they usually are. A friend sitting next to him had come from home with an improvised trumpet made of a cardboard cone and masking tape. The amateur trumpeter hooted into it nonstop but Hamoudi paid no attention. He concentrated intensely, his arms were crossed on his chest, even when everyone in the stands cheered the children who went onto the field bearing the flag of "The War Against Racism and Violence," even when the president of Israel made his entrance to the tasteless fanfare of a march played by Israel Defense Forces Orchestra and even when the national anthem was played to mixed responses: On the one hand, there was a fellow who made a rude gesture with his fingers in the air; on the other, someone waved an Israeli flag for a second. Most of the fans simply ignored the anthem or stood up straight holding their team scarves in the air and waited for the business to be over with.

Then the game began. On the opposite side of the stadium, the fans of the rival team, Hapoel Haifa, jeered in the best tradition: "Bnei Sakhnin sons of bitches," and in Stand 13 they replied "Bnei Sakhnin has soul, Bnei Sakhnin has soul, Bnei Sakhnin has so-o-oul," and from there they went on to the team's war cry Assoulima- Assoulima-Assoulima and handclapping and cheers of encouragement, an activity in which it happened that Hamoudi was unable to participate for the simple reason that his fingers were stuck in his mouth. He gnawed his nails anxiously, thoroughly and persistently and only once did he pause in this occupation. This was when they tripped one of his team members and the referee did not whistle a foul. The 9-year-old stretched his arms out to the sides and spread his fingers and in a single word expressed his opinion of the referee.

Half-time came, and with it overtime, a single minute in which Sakhnin suffered a goal and a bleak and heavy silence blanketed the bleachers. And Hamoudi, the third-grader from Sakhnin, opened his mouth wide in astonishment and stayed rooted to the spot for a long time, until he came to his senses and sat back down and took from his Batman knapsack a packet of Barbecue Bissli and began to munch the salty snack quietly, with as much concentration as when he chewed his nails a moment before.

In the end he finished the contents of the packet and on the field the gyrations of the jazz dancers had ended and the second half began. Now Hamoudi clasped his hands together in an unconscious or conscious gesture of prayer. He followed the game, even when some big guy blocked his view and even when two girls much taller than him came and stood right in front of him. Hamoudi did not take his eyes off the ball as minute followed minute followed minute - 61 minutes that seemed to all the Bnei Sakhnin fans and everyone from Sakhnin like all eternity.

In the 62nd minute Lior Assoulin lifted a corner kick and Avi Danan headed in the equalizer. In a fraction of a second Gate 13 was literally up in the air and people began to run and shriek and rush back and forth in the aisles and someone knelt and began to call out Allahu akhbar in Arabic and after that, perhaps in order not to take unnecessary risks, also in Hebrew, "God is great," and one father threw his little son so high in the air that there was a reasonable doubt that he would not be able to catch him back in his arms. Another man who was a total stranger to me came up to me and planted a kiss on the corner of my eye.

In all the tumult I saw the boy Hamoudi take the flag that until now had been tied around his neck and quietly go down to one of the aisles and only when he was standing on firm ground he began to wave the white strip of cloth imprinted with the logo of his beloved team. He jumped and jumped and jumped, and at the precise moment when he decided to go back up to his seat, Lior Assoulin slotted the second goal for Bnei Sakhnin into the net and what transpired thereafter in Gate 13 is really hard to describe in words. People started to faint like flies, one guy lost consciousness for several minutes. He revived and tried to ascertain in sign language that the score was still 2:1, but learned that Sakhnin was already leading 3:1 from a goal by Gabriel Lima. And in the 88th minute, when Assoulin hammered in the fourth goal on a penalty kick, among all the people who were dancing and hugging and crying and clasping their heads in disbelief was one kid wearing a red and white
keffiyeh and waving and waving the Israeli flag.

In all the tumult that prevailed in the bleachers at the end of the game, and later when President Moshe Katsav awarded the Israel State Cup for soccer to "the king," captain Abbas Suwan of the Arab team from Sakhnin - the city whose lands were stolen and whose sons were killed on Land Day in 1976 and in the disturbances of October, 2000 - one boy called Hamoudi who is only 9 and a third-grader at the Gimmel Elementary School in Sakhnin was nowhere to be seen. And only when the stadium was brightly illuminated by the fireworks he suddenly reappeared, standing among his friends with his arm, on which he had painted two blue hearts, clutching in a very strong grip the flag of his beloved team and with a huge smile of happiness spread across his face from ear to ear. Which is also perhaps an indication for optimism. Cautious optimism.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000263.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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