In the UK we are already suffering shell shock from the barrage of television programmes about the Great War. There is more to come. It was only in August that we marked the centenary of war’s outbreak, we have another four years to go.
Just wait till December and we will have documentaries, comedies and earnest panel discussions about the Christmas Truce, the moment when in several places on the Western Front British and German troops put down their weapons, fraternised, exchanged gifts, and even in three or four instances played football.
This moment of peace and humanity in the midst of carnage has assumed symbolic proportions, as have the actions of the respective high commands in forbidding such fraternisation. After all, if opposing sides played football they might become friendly and thus be less inclined to kill each other.
Thus it was a matter for rejoicing when, last week, in southern Israel two groups of young children played a football (soccer for those who don’t know better) tournament. About 80 youngsters between the ages of 6 and 16 took part in the tournament in Kibbuts Dorot in southern Israel, a place where rockets launched from the Gaza Strip had landed. The Israeli children came from communities located near the besieged Gaza Strip, while the Palestinian children came from West Bank.
Naturally there was tension between the two groups at first but it quickly evaporated as the excitement of the game took over. Ofer, 11, from Sderot, a town in southern Israel where many rockets had landed, said: ‘It’s great to come back here and enjoy our time [together], after weeks of being stuck at home during the war.’ Qusai, another 11 year old, this time from the West Bank, said: ‘I love it when we play together like this. I hope that one day there will be peace between Arabs and Jews and that there will be no more wars and death…’
The reaction of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah was reminiscent of those of the two High Commands in the Great War, this was too dangerous to be allowed. Jibril Rajoub, Deputy Secretary of Fatah’s Central Committee and Head of the Palestinian Supreme Council for Sport and Youth Affairs, stated that: ‘Any activity of normalisation in sports with the Zionist enemy is a crime against humanity.’
As someone who has followed lower league Scottish football I have witnessed some games which could justly be described as criminal but never one that could be described as ‘a crime against humanity’.
As well as being a crime against humanity the football tournament was also viewed as treasonous. Denouncing the match as ‘a crime and an unpatriotic and immoral act,’ Abd Al-Salam Haniyeh, son of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and, believe it or not, a member of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, demanded that Rajoub ‘immediately interrogate the organizers of the match, settle the account with them and prosecute them on charges of serious treason against the blood of the Martyrs [who died in the Gaza war] and violation of the decisions made by the Palestinian sports community’s leadership.’
Haniyeh is clearly a chap who thinks that when Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics announced the sporting principle that, ‘The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part’.
The leadership of Fatah’s branch in the hometown of the boys participating in the match ‘strongly condemned’ the event. Fatah branch secretary Dr Kamal Makhamresh said that participation in the match ‘was an individual act, conceived by sick souls’, and ‘urged the resients to supervise their children and distance them from these kinds of activities, which damage our cause’.
We have recently seen how Hamas deals with those they think are guilty of treason, ‘Never mind that western nonsense about fair and impartial judicial process, let’s just go for a public execution men and women who might not agree with us.’
Can we assume that their bitter rivals in Fatah will be any more just when they ‘interrogate’ and ‘settle the account’ with those ’sick souls’ who committed ‘serious treason against the blood of the Martyrs’ by organising a children’s football tournament?
We can be sure that when Christmas 2014 rolls around we will find progressive mouthpieces in the West lauding the soldiers who in 1914 laid down their weapons to play football, and excoriating those officers who made them stop. That the same mouthpieces support people who see children playing football together as an act of treason will not seem to them to be hypocritical in the least.