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The beautiful game and its tragic consequences Open in fullscreen

Hazem Sheikho

The beautiful game and its tragic consequences

Barghouthi depicts Palestine in 1945 through football [al-Araby al-Jadeed]

Date of publication: 14 October, 2014

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In his latest novel, Iyad Barghouthi blows the whistle on life in Palestine before 1948, tackling issues of identity and occupation through the tale of a footballer.
It is 1945 in Palestine. Captain Fayez Ghandour is the manager of a football team in the coastal town of Acre. A man who always believes good fortune to be just around the corner, he duly receives a phone call from the Arab Palestine Sports Federation asking him to meet them in Jaffa, for he has been appointed as coach of Palestine's national football team.

Fayez rejoices in the news. He is to guide a team set up to represent the Palestinian population and in opposition to a rival Zionist team with British support. He will be given 40
     If the British left us alone, there would have been no collaborators to begin with.
Palestinian pounds per month, the same as an engineer would make, and is set up in a house in Jaffa. Palestine is first to play a team made up of British army soldiers.

The prospect thrills him, and during the build-up to the game, the coach becomes a national hero.

He is also excited about his upcoming marriage to Thuraya, who has just finished studying at the Educational Institute in Jerusalem and teaches in Acre. His life, in short, is going well.

Then a popular newspaper publishes a photo of Fayez's father tied to a tree, soaked in blood, with a sign attached to his body reading: "Collaborator".

Fayez's father had been killed a few years earlier, when the 1936-39 revolt was suppressed by the British. The identity of the killer was not revealed, but the editor of the newspaper demanded the expulsion of "the son of the collaborator".

Fayez's life turns upside down. From the nation's darling, he is now the son of a spy. His relationship with his mother becomes strained, with her angered that the patriotism of her husband is now in doubt.

Fayez' fiancée leaves him, refusing to have children who will have a collaborator as a grandfather.

He is left alone with an orange football that he bought from a German shoemaker in Haifa.

A portrait

Author Iyad Barghouthi wrote the novel, Al-Burtuqal ["The Orange"] at Najwa Barakat's workshop, to paint a portrait of Palestine before Zionist control. The novel flows smoothly, with Barghouthi making successful use of colloquial Palestinian dialects.

Less successful is the sporting jargon. For example, when Fayez looks back at photos of his father, Barghouti has his protagonist trying to make sense of the impact in terms of football:

"He was unprepared for this relentless attack. It penetrated the defence and resulted in a humiliating goal that tore at the net."

Nevertheless, the author succeeds in presenting a highly believable image of Palestine before 1948, a period which is often overlooked or forgotten. The novel touches on the conditions Palestinians lived under, and questions whether anyone could have changed the situation under such circumstances without attempting to provide answers.

Barghouthi's ultimately conclusion, it would seem, is left to his captain: "If the British left us alone, there would have been no collaborators to begin with."

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.


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