Sydney filmmaker makes an ABC-TV Foreign Correspondent program on Palestinian footballers

April 14, 2015 by J-Wire News Service
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I may as well have a Star of David tattooed onto my forehead…writes  Dan Goldberg.

Dan Goldberg films in Kalandiya.   Photo:  Osama Hassan

Dan Goldberg films in Kalandiya. Photo: Osama Hassan

My name is hopelessly Jewish. I don’t even have a Christian middle name; my parents seem to have decided I should only have a Hebrew one, lest there was any doubt.

So when I travelled to Palestine in December for one week to film the national football team as they departed on their historic voyage to Australia, I did so cognisant that my name was effectively tattooed on my forehead.

Not even a letter in Arabic from Izzat Abdulhadi, Palestine’s envoy to Australia, requesting my laissez passer, mollified my angst.

It wasn’t long before we were filming at Kalandiya, the main checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, on the West Bank.

Kids were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli watchtower that looms high above the tangle of gridlocked cars and people, donkeys and doom.

This is not news. Kalandiya has been a flashpoint since the controversial security barrier – or “apartheid wall”, as the Palestinians call it – was erected by Israel in 2002 following a spate of Palestinian suicide bombings.

What happened next unfolded in three senses: sight, sound and sting. First, a teen hurtled towards us with a rock in his hand, frothing in Arabic. We didn’t need to be bilingual to understand his demand. We deleted the footage.

Then the unmistakable rattle of gunfire. The Israeli soldiers, peering through the narrow slits in their watchtower, were confronted by a gang of teens baring rocks for resistance, clinging to all that appears left for them – hope against hope.

At that moment, it was impossible not to imagine what I would be doing if I was one of those kids.

Finally, the sting. It arrives without warning – you don’t realise your eyes are under assault from tear gas until it’s too late.

We retreated quickly but Kalandiya checkpoint hasn’t retreated from my mind.

From there it’s a short drive in the shadow of the giant wall that separates Israel and the West Bank to the headquarters of the Palestinian Football Association.

Inside is a virtual shrine to its president, Jibril Rajoub.

Giant photos of him with powerbrokers of football and politics adorn the walls. This isn’t just the HQ of football in Palestine; it’s Rajoub’s powerbase. He doesn’t just support football; for him, it’s political football.

A former leader of the resistance who was jailed for 15 years by Israel in the 1970s and ’80s, he’s now touted by some as a future president of Palestine.

He’s expecting me. He knows who I am. Not just courtesy of my name. He knows I write for Haaretz, a prominent Israeli newspaper, and he knows I’m making a documentary about his team. After all that time in Israeli prisons, he speaks fluent Hebrew.

Over the next month, I witnessed his dual-track strategy at work – using sport as a political tool, football to further the Palestinian cause.

And he’d been gifted the ultimate opportunity: last year, his team became the Cinderella story of the world sport by snaring the final ticket to the Asian Cup, held for the first time in Australia.

Palestine, against the odds, prevailed over 18 footballing minnows in Asia for a shot at stardom in Australia in January 2015.

As a football fanatic, it was an extraordinary story about footballers who love the game but struggle to play on a level playing field.

As journalist, it was a no-brainer; a crackerjack yarn suspended somewhere between two global issues: the world game and Mid-East politics.

But as a Jew, and someone who has lived in Israel, it was a brain-bending experience: confronting, revealing and, alas, depressing.

Ultimately, I never set out to make a documentary about football. I wanted to take viewers away from the black-and-white propaganda on both sides, and instead expose the humans caught up in the grey zone of this pitch battle, where freedom fighters and terrorists collide, and where football players sometimes become pawns in a much more serious game.

J-Wire spoke to Goldberg about his experiences.

J-Wire: Were the Palestinians aware you were Jewish?

Dan Goldberg:  Jibril Rajoub was aware as well as a few other senior officials; most others weren’t; but they soon caught wind of it and it was interesting how they reacted; some, especially the Gazans ­ had never met a Jew!

They were spun out! Others not so much. One who spoke Hebrew, we ended discussing politics half the night! Jibril also speaks Hebrew (courtesy of his 15 years inside); sometimes he’d start speaking Hebrew to me which was quite scary because I never knew who knew and who didn’t know!

J-Wire: Did this present problems in the making of the film?

Dan Goldberg:  Well, it was different, to say the least! I was certainly cautious when I first pitched up in the Philippines last September. Being on neutral ground helped I think.

Of course being in Palestine, seeing life through their eyes, on the other side of what they describe as ‘the apartheid wall¹ was very confronting, as was being on the receiving end of tear gas.

Goldberg told J-Wire that he did not experience any confrontations with any of the players.

Watch Dan Goldberg’s film, “Pitch Battle” on Foreign Correspondent, ABC, Tuesday, April 14 at 8PM.



2 Responses to “Sydney filmmaker makes an ABC-TV Foreign Correspondent program on Palestinian footballers”
  1. Richard Mallett says:

    So, when you heard the gunfire, was it from the Israeli soldiers in their watch tower shooting at the ‘gang of teens baring [bearing ?] rocks’ or from somewhere else; or couldn’t you tell where it was coming from ?

  2. Leon Poddebsky says:

    The ABC has certainly carefully selected the right man for its job, eh?

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