Between the aisles of Rami Levi supermarket, Shalom-Achituv Lapid, a 14-year-old boy from Efrat, spotted Tawfiq Ali Abuhammad, goalkeeper for the Palestine national football team. They spent the rest of their shopping trip chatting about Tawfiq’s most recent football game. Why is an Israeli kid so interested in Palestinian football, and how does this reconcile with the fact that he’s also an enthusiastic Beitar Jerusalem fan? We had to find out.
What are the chances of getting a text message from a resident of Efrat with the joyous announcement: “Palestine won!!”? While this unusual message is referring to football, it expresses the complex reality that a young and intelligent boy by the name of Shalom-Achituv Lapid manages to handle. Shalom is the grandson of noted Israeli scholar Dr. Avshalom Kor, and son of media personality Moriah Lapid Kor.
Shalom is also the great grandson of Shlomo Kor, one of the leaders of the revisionist movement in Riga, and the revisionist blood in him definitely explains his affinity for Beitar Jerusalem. Since he was a young child, he has been accompanying Grandpa Kor to football games at Teddy or Sammy Ofer stadiums, and he’s very proud of his team. But his love for football, combined with his natural sense of curiosity, led to the development of his new hobby.
“We only had Channel 1 and Channel 33 at home, and they broadcasted games and short clips of Arab teams in the Israeli leagues every Monday and Thursday,” Shalom-Achituv recalls. “Whenever we drove by Al-Khader, I would look at the stadium being built and I wanted to know what was going on over there. I searched online and found out that there’s a Palestinian league. I also found Uri Levi’s blog, Babagol – he’s a sports writer who speaks fluent Arabic and knows players from the Palestinian league.”
Taraji Wadi Al-Nes: A Family-Style Team that Doesn’t Buy Players
Shalom-Achituv’s favorite team is Taraji Wadi Al-Nes, a team from a small village adjacent to Efrat. The separation between the Israeli football league and the Palestinian league actually makes it easier for Shalom to be a fan of both Beitar and Taraji, because there’s practically no chance the two teams will ever meet on a field. But, if such a situation ever arose and his two favorite teams played each other, he says he would follow his family’s tradition and root for Beitar.
“Taraji means hope in Arabic,” Shalom explains. “It’s a word that accurately represents the group and their unique family-oriented style. All of the players are home players, and they don’t have any transfers, but they are still very talented and determined.” According to Shalom, Taraji is “a production line for successful players who go far,” a team that was never relegated from the league. When they won the championship, they had several father-son duos playing on the team.
He’s a fan of the team from afar. He knows very well that coming to a game could be dangerous for him, but he hopes that maybe in the future, it will be possible. In the meantime, he keeps up with them via Uri Levi’s blog, and via a more ancient method – interpersonal communication.
To Meet the Palestinian Dudu Awat
It’s hard to say that the relations between the residents of Efrat and the residents of Wadi Al-Nes represent the overall Arab-Israeli relations in Israel. They enjoy close mutual relationships that lead to more open borders between the neighbors. Some of the residents of the Arab village work in Efrat and have already gotten used to the boy who asks for updates about Taraji’s development. Shalom-Achituv is excited that some of the team’s players work in Efrat too, so he is able to meet them personally.
One of the spots where the Jewish and Palestinian populations living in the Bethlehem-Gush Etzion area can meet directly is Rami Levi supermarket, opened a few years ago at the Gush Junction. There, between the aisles, Shalom-Achituv once met goalkeeper Tawfiq Ali Abuhammed, who grew up in Wadi Al-Nes and is currently goalkeeper for the Palestine national football team. Shalom-Achituv recognized him immediately, but Abuhammed was surprised and slightly taken aback by the fact that an Israeli knew who he was, especially since many Palestinians don’t even recognize him.
After he overcame his initial shock at the unexpected situation, the Palestinian goalkeeper and Israeli boy from Efrat managed to strike up a conversation and discuss Abuhammed’s recent games on the Shabab Al-Khalil football team in the Asian Football Confederation (the Asian parallel to the Europa League), and Shabab’s upcoming game against the Suwaiq Club, from the Oman Professional League, which they later lost 3:1.
The Palestinian Football League: Power and Emotional Struggles, Like Any Other League
Not many people know that the Palestinians have a captivating, dynamic football league that includes all of the contrasts that football fans love to see – teams with money and rich sponsors coming head to head with popular groups that live off donations from the village residents.
We asked Shalom to analyze what’s going on in the league for us, and we received a glimpse at an entire world that Israelis have never seen. It turns out that the best team in the Palestinian league is the outgoing champion, Shabab Al-Khalil, which is a wealthy team, like a local Maccabi Tel Aviv. According to Shalom, “Shabab Al-Khalil will want to forget this year, especially after their knockout at the derby of the Cup finals against Ahli Al-Khaleel, which ended with penalties.” Ahli took advantage of Shabab’s negligent misses and paved their way to their third Cup win in a row, this time under the management of coach Amar Salman, who was formerly a player for Hapoel Jerusalem.
This year’s champion is Hilal Al-Quds, a classic popular team with a large fan base; aside from this team and Taraji, there are two teams from Tul Karem, one of which was relegated a league, and Shabab Al-Dhahiriya, for which Israeli Arab Yosef Abu Laben, a former Hapoel Be’er Sheva player, now is a player. Ala’a Abu Saleh and Hamad Ganayem, who both formerly played for Bnei Sakhnin, today plain the Palestinian League.
According to Shalom-Achituv, the level of the Palestinian League is lower than its Israeli counterpart (which he thinks could definitely improve its level too). However, there are quite a few talented players in the Palestinian League who could easily play for Israeli teams. As an example, he mentions Tawfiq Ali Abuhammad, the goalkeeper he met at Rami Levi supermarket, Ashraf Noeman, whose nickname is al fanan (“the artist”), who is considered the best free kicker in the league, and midfielder Uday Dabakh.
Shalom’s friends in Efrat are also fans of Beitar Jerusalem and prefer to watch games from the Europa League, but Shalom-Achituv likes to watch the Palestinian League. If he does watch foreign football, he chooses South American football or leagues from the Middle East, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. He’s also a fan of the Palestinian national football team, which recently won two games in a row in the Asian Cup games: 3:0 against the Maldives Island team and a surprising 2:1 victory over Oman, the strongest home team where Ali Al-Habsi, goalkeeper for Reading Football Club in England, also plays.
At Ali’s Farm: Jewish and Palestinian Youth Meet
The complexity of being a fan of a Palestinian team is compounded in light of Shalom’s own name. He was named Shalom-Achituv after his uncle, Shalom Lapid, who was murdered in Hevron with Shalom-Achituv’s grandfather, Mordechai Lapid. However, Shalom-Achituv does not feel that this fact holds him back from speaking with Arabs or meeting them. On an everyday basis, he comes into contact with them in his community, and during his summer vacations, he participates in organized local Jewish-Arab youth encounters arranged by his grandmother, Ora Yanai, at Ali’s farm. Ali was once active in the Palestinian police and today promotes dialogue between Jews and Arabs.
During these meetings, the youth participate in various workshops that are of interest to teenagers, such as photography and social media, and learn a bit about their counterparts’ religions, so that they can better understand one another. “When I attended, I easily connected with them and I stayed in touch with them via Facebook and Instagram. But there were also those who met them and didn’t connect.”
“People who want to be in contact with the other side can do it. There are a lot of common, everyday things that we share, such as an interest in football, common places of work, or shopping at the same stores. At the end of the day, our cultures are pretty similar,” Shalom-Achituv says. But he’s aware of the topics that are better off avoided too, “What connects us is that not everyone hates the other side, and when we start to talk, the condition is – no politics.”
In his opinion, “The Palestinians see that officials in the Palestinian Authority are corrupt, and so they are more open to joining us. Today, it’s easier to visit Israel. Some of them love Israel, the advancement, the development; they see what’s happening on their side and what’s happening over here, and they want to be part of us.” He truly believes in dialogue and says that peace will only come via the people, not through the prime ministers. “There is no reason for the hatred and our problem is with terrorists, not with Arabs in general,” he clarifies.
A One-of-a-Kind Grandfather
The fact that Shalom is the grandson of Dr. Avshalom Kor makes us more attentive to the language that the young man uses. After all, he’s the grandson of the man who corrected and taught generations of reporters for Galei Tzahal, Israel’s popular “Army Radio” station, and with all due respect to the Academy of the Hebrew Language, there are those who view Kor as the successor of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, preserving the Hebrew language. We must admit that Shalom expresses himself very well, and we want to know how it feels to be the grandson of the famous Hebrew icon.
“It’s fun. There’s a lot to learn from him and we’ve accompanied him to many places, whether to the annual Bible Quiz or the President’s Residence,” says Shalom-Achituv. He adds another important point, “He’s a Beitar fan; he has a membership and takes us to games.” His vast admiration for his grandfather is evident: “In my opinion, we will never be able to reach the level that he has reached; we’ll never reach his scope of knowledge. But we try to learn as much as we can from him. I would say that he’s one of a kind in this generation.”
Does his grandfather sometimes correct his Hebrew mistakes? It turns out that he does: “Grandpa is always correcting us, but he doesn’t correct other people. He always says that it’s important to first understand what the person is saying, and that if you correct someone in the middle of their sentence, you won’t be able to understand what they said.”
What does Shalom want to do when he grows up? We’re sure it’ll be something related to football: “I want to work for the Asian Football Confederation, working with Arab countries, Asia and Australia. I want to be involved in producing football games, helping the league, bringing in funding, and making sure that there is football here.”
His dreams might be on a global scale, but in Efrat, everyone can calm down – Shalom-Achituv wants to continue living his life in his community: “I see my future here in Efrat, and I believe that in the future, there will be greater coexistence here, because one of the values of the Beitar movement is that whoever wants to be with us is entitled to be with us. What’s important is to preserve our identity.”