The settler football team Judean Rebels, which lead the Israeli Football League after seven games, faced the league's second best team - the Jerusalem Lions - on Thursday, in what was dubbed as the "game of the season."
The star players who lined up on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage certainly added another dimension to the game. On the one side - Itay Ashkenazi, the son of outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. On the other - three Palestinians from Ramallah who will try to sack the Lions' star quarterback whenever they get the chance.
"I separate football from everything else," Ashkenazi, 31, told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily before the game. "On the field it doesn’t help me that my father is the army chief, and it's not a big deal to me, just like I don’t care if the players on the opposing team are Christian, Muslim or Druze. I see them only as football players who are playing against me.
"Naturally, they’ll be looking for my head - to hurt the quarterback - because that's how the game is played, but it is only about sports – and may the best team win," he said.
The brothers Ayoub, Muhammad and Mussa Alian are the star defensive players for the Rebels. After moving from California to the West Bank city of Ramallah about three years ago, the brothers joined the Rebels, a team of settlers which is supported by Breslov hasidim.
The brothers leave Ramallah several hours before each game in case they are delayed at IDF checkpoints along the way. "I really don’t mind playing for a settler team, as long as it helps me realize my dream of playing for a good college team in the US next year," Ayoub said.
"Ashkenazi's son? That doesn't really concern us. We're not into politics," he said.
The three Palestinians practiced with the Lions before joining the Rebels. "We welcomed them with open arms," Ashkenazi said. "They are massive players, and it would be wise of me to try and avoid them during the game."
"Now it's time to prove that we are the better team," Rebels captain Shlomo Shechter said. "This isn’t just about control of the league; it's about control of Jerusalem. This is about more than just sports."
Ashkenazi likened the football league to the IDF: "It's a social melting pot. Just like in the army, the physical challenges bring the people together. The league has Filipinos, Muslims, Jews and Circassians. This is how real coexistence looks like."
The Lions trounced the Rebels 40-16.
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