Judean Rebels 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
JERUSALEM – In one of the Middle East’s key flashpoints, a group of
Israelis and Palestinians are putting aside their differences and teaming up on
the sports field to chase a common goal.
The Judean Rebels is the first
West Bank franchise in Israel’s amateur American tackle football league, the
Kraft Family IFL. Most of the players are Jewish Israelis, many of them West
Bank settlers, but five are Palestinian.
“You put on your helmet and you
cease to be a Palestinian or a settler and you’re just an offensive guard, or a
defensive end,” said Shlomo Schachter, a 29-year-old former Oberlin College
offensive lineman who sports the sidelocks and skullcap of strictly traditional
Jews. Like many of the Rebels, he was raised in the United States and played
football in school.
The players insist they put aside their politics the
minute they put on their orange jerseys and helmets, but off-the-field realities
inevitably creep in.
Musa Elayyan, a 20-yearold Palestinian hotel worker
in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said he often struggles to make it to
practice because of delays at Israeli military checkpoints.
Elayyan is reluctant to talk about his political views, he said he believes in a
one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians – a position that calls for
combining Israel and the Palestinian territories into a single country. Israelis
almost universally oppose this view since it would mean the end of Israel as a
Schachter said he invited Elayyan and his brothers to play
football last year because of their size. Elayyan played for his US high school
team in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I let them know beforehand that
we’re Arabs,” said Elayyan, who only learned Arabic after moving with his family
to Jerusalem in 2007.
“We didn’t want to make any
Schachter’s answer: “That’s great. Let’s play
Despite the camaraderie, other Rebels are blunt about their
icy feelings toward Palestinians, especially after a pair of recent attacks in
the West Bank.
“I see Palestinians as the enemy,” said 28-year-old Uria
Loberbom, a bulky defensive lineman who lives in the Sde Boaz
“There’s a war outside... here, it’s just a game.”
Rebels, who joined the seven-team local league last year, play at Kraft Stadium,
donated by Robert Kraft, owner of the NFL’s New England Patriots. The team
finished fourth in their first season after losing to the Tel Aviv Sabres in the
The new season starts in October.
In the political
arena, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently in peace talks with
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Much of the rift between the two sides
concerns Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and that extends to the Rebels.
Many of the Jewish players on the team dream of building a 5,000-seat stadium in
Efrat, a West Bank settlement outside Jerusalem.
Schachter hopes it will
mark the beginning of a cultural “renaissance” in the area. But for now, the
stadium remains on hold because the Israeli government has placed tight
restrictions on new construction in West Bank settlements.
he hopes that Palestinians will have access to the proposed sports facility, but
said only the political climate of the time will decide that. Palestinian
residents of the West Bank have limited access to settlements.
struggled to articulate what he thought of the Efrat stadium, but insisted
Palestinians should also be able to access it.
“If we can create a model
here on the field to get people to work together,” said Elayyan, slipping on his
jersey, “then we can be used as an example for outside the field, too.”