Photo: AP
World Cup
Photo: AP

Soccer lessons for Palestinians, Israelis

World Cup drama ended peacefully. Why not for Israel-Palestine?

If the Middle East were only like soccer, things might be better understood.


French soccer star Zinedine Zidane head-butted his Italian rival Marco Materazzi at the end of the World Cup final. The violent action was captured on television and viewed with shock by the entire world.


Zidane, who happens to be Algerian, lost his temper claiming he was provoked by Materazzi, although he wouldn’t immediately disclose the exact nature of the provocation.


Days later, Zidane, maybe finally cooling off from his public temper tantrum, explained that Materazzi had insulted his mother and his sister several times during the sporting event. In the Arab World no one is allowed to insult “our women” more than we do.


Materazzi, anticipating Zidane’s public media appearances, held his own press conference moments before Zidane claiming that while he did insult Zidane’s sister, he never insulted Zidane’s mother.


Materazzi said he lost his mother and he would never say anything bad about someone else’s mother. Of course, had he lost a sister, too, would Materazzi have gone after Zidane’s dog, which is the Western tradition?


Boy, doesn’t this sound like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?


It all depends


Materazzi may have provoked Zidane, but did that justify Zidane taking it one step further and hitting Materazzi?


I guess it all depends on whose side you are on. France or Italy. It is chillingly very similar to the ways the rest of the world views the Palestine-Israel conflict.


In the end, though, the Zidane-Materazzi matter didn’t mushroom into a wider conflict. No one on the Italian team cussed out the French guys, and none of the French players lined up to body-slam a few Italians.


And, as far as I can tell, the soccer spectators – who as a breed are often driven to gratuitous violence, anti-Semitism and wanton destruction – didn’t rampage and tear down the entire stadium.


But that is exactly what is happening in the Middle East.


Ongoing conflict


The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis didn’t start yesterday. It’s been going on for years. So to say one side did something to the other to provoke each other is true only in so far as your loyalty in the conflict goes. If you support Israel, the Palestinians started it. If you support the Palestinians, Israel started it.


Meanwhile, people are dying on both sides, and instead of causing people to take pause, the increasing violence is pushing the already emotionally unstable Palestinian and Israeli publics into more heated demands for revenge.


Israelis and Palestinians have been head-butting each other for years, even when they have been allegedly negotiating “World Cup” level peace. The argument that Palestinians provoked Israel by attacking the Israeli tank and kidnapping the Israeli soldier is purely partisan rhetoric.


Palestinians respond that the Israelis kidnapped many Palestinian leaders just in the weeks before the incident, and even killed many civilians, and no one screamed terrorism!


Conflict widens


Now, the conflict has widened even further as Hamas allies in the North, Hizbullah, have kidnapped several Israeli soldiers. Israel’s response is the same failed response it always employs: Inflicting excessive pain and suffering on civilian populations, mistakenly believing that the policy of pain will force Palestinians to give up their fight, and force Hizbullah to be weakened.


It won’t happen.


Hizbullah kidnaps and kills Israelis; Israel invades southern Lebanon, pummels nearby Lebanese villages and bombs the Beirut airport. Before Hizbullah got in on the action Israeli planes violated international air space and “buzzed” the home of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who most likely is giving financial and tactical assistance, if not spiritual support, to Hamas and Hizbullah.


Hizbullah then responds by lobbing missiles at Haifa, a city where, ironically, Palestinian citizens of Israel have decent relations with many Jewish citizens of Israel.


And of course, the escalation continues, at a rapid and uncontrollable pace.


Learning from soccer


Too bad it’s not like soccer, really. Too bad the Israelis just didn’t take their case to the international community to pressure Hizbullah. Too bad the Palestinians who felt aggrieved didn’t take their own case to the international community instead of reaching out and grabbing an Israeli soldier.


While the Israeli policy of responding to Palestinian violence with even greater violence is wrong and a failure, the Palestinian policy of responding to Israeli violence with violence is wrong, too.


Of course, one problem in all this is that Hamas and Hizbullah don’t sanction things like soccer, just as they also oppose by religious distortion normal human behavior like dancing, singing, smiling, joking, expressing secular views that don’t jive with the mullahs, or drinking alcohol.


Who's the 'loser'?


Still, had Materazzi called my mother or sister a bad name, I wouldn’t have made myself the guilty party by slamming my head against his chest on international TV. I would have exposed the poor sportsmanship of the Italian soccer star and let world opinion mete out the justice.


Sometimes, even when you act sensibly, there is no justice. Zidane might have just looked like a big whiner.


Tragically for his team, Zidane's action may have cost his team the championship in the final minutes of the game. He was ejected leaving his team one player short.


But in all honesty, a professional athlete who can’t take a little name-calling is probably the bigger loser, even if the provocation came from the other side.


You can apply the “who’s who” and “what’s what” of the above attempt at analogy to whomever you wish in the Palestine-Israel conflict as I know you will all do, based on whose side you support.


A few like me, however, will look at both sides and shake our heads in shame.


Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American journalist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at


פרסום ראשון: 07.14.06, 15:58
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