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TLS Archive: Cultural Studies

The TLS May 02, 2008


ARAB SOCCER IN A JEWISH STATE. The integrative enclave. By Tamir Sorek 241pp. Cambridge University Press. Pounds 48. 978 0 521 87048

In the dying years of the British mandate in Palestine, a nascent Arab sports culture had emerged, based on a network of urban clubs and a new Arab-language press covering sports and infusing them with a nationalist politics. The Nakba of 1948 was so comprehensive in clearing the Palestinian elites from the urban areas that the small Arab communities left behind in the new Israeli state, to this day, have no knowledge or record of their predecessors. This is just one of the many small but perceptive observations in Tamir Sorek's acute and poignant survey of Arab football in Israel.. Having wiped Arabic football out, the Israelis began to rebuild it in the 1950s and 60s. Under the military occupation and rule of Arabic towns that lasted until 1966, the Histadrut and other Zionist organizations were allowed to establish football clubs as a form of social service, and as an experiment in social integration. Those clubs and the many others formed since have proved to be phenomenally popular.. Arab Israel has taken to football as perhaps the one arena of Israeli public life where the massive weight of inequalities, exclusion and repression is modulated. With huge support from Arab local government and spectators, Arab teams have climbed into the top divisions, and have consistently fielded multiethnic sides. Palestinian identities and insignia are played down or absent. Local identities are emphasized, even Israeli identities - crowds will usually chant in Hebrew. Arab players have starred with the Israeli national team and Arab fans have even joined the ranks of teams like Maccabi Haifa. However there are limits, even here, to Israel's capacity to treat its Arab citizens as equals.. Racism and abuse from the stands are widespread, concentrated on the notorious team of the political Right - Beitar Jerusalem. Arab players with the national team stand for the national anthem, the "Hatikva", but unsurprisingly cannot bring themselves to sing a song that so narrowly equates citizenship and Jewishness. The Islamist movement in Arab Israel has gone down the route of separation instead. After much convoluted theological reasoning their leaders have decided to support an entirely independent Islamic football league. This remains a minor force in Arab football in Israel, but Sorek wonders how much longer Israel will persist with a strategy of integration in an environment increasingly inimical to it..

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