If men and women can’t share a field in a simple soccer game, it’s no surprise that compromise in the conflict remains elusive.
By Liv Halperin
It all started on a local soccer field, in a neighborhood of south Tel Aviv. My amateur girls’ team – motivated women in their 20s and 30s – had not trained for weeks. But a tournament was coming up, so it had been decided that for lack of a better place, we would play on a concrete lot on Wednesday at 8:30pm. When I arrived, only one of my teammates was there, waiting on the side of the field, a soccer ball in her hands. We started warming up. A few meters away, some boys in their early 20s were hanging around. The graffiti-filled lot and its surrounding are often frequented by youngsters getting together.
Slowly, the girls – students and young professionals in the fields of science, communication and social work – started to arrive. Soon, eight of us were energetically working out. That was when we realized that the boys had also grown in numbers. There were now eight of them, and they had started playing on the same lot. Their gradual invasion had gone fairly unnoticed, even though the lot can hardly hold more than twelve players.
There we were, two teams, each occupying half of a tiny concrete lot. We faced each other, wordlessly. Some of us found the situation quite comical. Others didn’t. One of the latter approached the boys and said:
“What do you think you’re doing on our field?”
The response was quick:
“What are you doing on our field?”
“We were here first,” my teammate continued.
“We were here first, some of us came at 7pm. There were none of you then.”
“When our first girl arrived,” my teammate replied, “she saw no one on the field. If you had wanted to play, you should have declared yourself.”
“We have been playing here every Wednesday for as long as I can remember and have never seen you around. You show up and think that you have the right to play?”
“We have been playing on this field too. Maybe not on Wednesdays… but definitely for a long time.”
In an attempt to convince the boys, she went on: “Our situation is special. We need to train for our tournament coming up. It’s not been easy to gather all the players. Try and understand. You can play somewhere else. There is a wonderful field in the Takhana neighborhood. Bigger and nicer than this one. Just go.”
Obviously, this particular field meant a lot to both teams, as if there was something holy about the place. I was raised in Switzerland, only recently moved to Israel, am quite new to the team. There are clearly still many things that I need to understand about daily life in the Middle East, such as how difficult people and decision makers find it to listen to each other, on small issues just as much as on major political ones.
“You girls can go yourself to the Takhana field if it is such a wonderful place.”
The discussion continued and none of my team members was voicing any willingness to compromise. It was simply not an option, just like Jews and Palestinians sharing a state seems like it is not an option for most people here. I whispered to a teammate that maybe we should all play together, as a logical way out of a situation that was getting unpleasant. Just at the same moment, one of the boys proposed:
“Let’s just mix the teams and play one match, six on six.”
“No way”, replied one of the girls, after which she affirmed that we were being made victims of misogyny.
There may be many reasons why mixing the teams was not welcomed as an option: it would mean sharing the field, and each of us would have to spend some time on the bench. The skill levels were too different. It was a matter of principle – we were here first. I could understand all of these arguments, yet I still felt it would have been easier to strike a compromise. Easier. Reasonable. And in any case it would have been better than the status quo. I wondered if any of the other girls felt similarly. If they did, they remained silent.
Facing the risk of not practicing at all, our team’s leadership eventually surrendered and announced that we were leaving the place. A few more minutes in that situation and, some of us, tired of it all, would have simply gone home. Also, the lights around the lot would not be on all night. We packed into two cars and moved to the Takhana field, which was indeed nicer… except that a lot of time had been lost along the way.
It isn’t quite as easy to find a solution for the Middle East peace process. In this part of the world, feelings of righteousness or of victimhood, the silent nature of the opposition supporting compromise, the lack of political capital, all make compromise difficult to achieve. Unfortunately in the game of the Middle East, there is no solution of an alternative field; two teams will exist here whether we settle our issues or not.
Liv Halperin was born in Canada and raised in Switzerland. She works in humanitarian affairs, human rights law and refugee protection, and has been living and working in Israel since 2008.