Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Qatar sponsors Arab-Israeli soccer team, Sakhnin

Haaretz, September 11, 2005:

The president of the Qatar National Olympic Committee, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, met yesterday in the Qatari capital Doha with an Israeli delegation led by MK Ahmed Tibi (Hadash-Ta'al) and Sakhnin mayor Mohammed Bashir to finalize the details of a $6 million donation to the Bnei Sakhnin soccer club.

Sakhnin is the only Arab Palestinian team in Israel's Premier Soccer League.
As recently as earlier this year, it was the only team without a home stadium.
Till today, it is the team that struggles most with finances.

But against all these odds, Sakhnin won last year's Premier League.

I only learnt about the team upon my arrival; but it hasn't taken me long to fall in love with them. Soccer is my game, and an Arab soccer team that makes it through with all the world's obstacles in place - wow. Respect. I look forward to watching a home-game in 10 days.

With regard to Qatari sponsorship of an Arab-Israeli team, I show support. There should be more support for Palestinian Arabs living within Israel. They're too often seen as 'collaborators' or 'Israeli' to warrant any help from Gulf nations. I appreciate Qatar's move and wish more GCC countries would see things in the same light. This community received Israeli citizenship by default (though some would disagree with the term) - either by not being forced off their lands by the Israeli forces or by not fleeing. Either way, the majority identify as Palestinian.

And no where did this show itself more publicly and collectively than in the October 2000 events. These events were a testament to how the struggles of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were the struggles of Palestinians living within Israel; their issues are not the same, and it cannot be expected that they be, but their collective identity is Palestinian.

For more on Sakhnin and the urgency to show it support, I'll leave you with excerpts from Jonathan Cook's article, Arab footballers make Israeli history:

The team, called Bnei Sakhnin, are carrying aloft the hopes of the Jewish state... Israeli media has been arguing that the victory reflects a new atmosphere of coexistence between the country's Jewish majority and its one million Arab citizens... In fact, relations between Jews and Arabs have rarely been worse... One of the disturbing trends noted by Mossawa are racist chants at football matches, particularly since Sakhnin and another Arab squad, Nazareth, qualified for the premier division last season... In June the first football fan was convicted of shouting "Death to the Arabs" at a match in Jerusalem.

Certainly, Sakhnin needs all the help they can get. The only major team without a stadium, Sakhnin have had to use a scrap of cleared land among olive groves for training. Their municipality, like most other Arab councils, is deep in the red after decades of underfunding from the central government... Today, overcrowded Sakhnin is surrounded on all sides by a military base, an industrial estate and a string of luxury hilltop Jewish communities, which have been given control of the town's lands...

...apparently worried by bad publicity, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stepped in to pledge $2 million for a stadium. The money is all very well, says Sakhnin engineer Kassem Abu Riya. "But where will Sakhnin find the land to build a stadium when we haven't the space for homes, let alone badly needed public facilities such as youth centres, recreation areas and proper schools?"

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