When sport and politics clash

A DOCUMENTARY that follows the Palestinian football team’s journey to the Asian Cup will screen on ABC this week.

Pitch Battle was filmed over the course of five months in Australia, the Philippines and the Palestinian territories by Walkley award-winning director and producer Dan Goldberg, a former editor of The AJN.

While the focus is on the personal stories of players and the team’s progress from qualification through to the tournament, it inevitably deals with the political situation between Israel and the Palestinians.

Several players sacrifice seeing their family in Gaza to be able to play for the national team, a key striker isn’t able to attend the tournament because he was arrested for terrorism-related activities and the head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub, a former right-hand man to Yasser Arafat, who incites violence against Israelis while at the same time claiming to be a moderate, is interviewed.

The documentary notes that Rajoub, who was arrested for throwing a grenade at an Israeli army bus and only released as part of a prisoner exchange for three Israelis held hostage by terrorists, uses his position to push a political message.

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Paul Hirshon told Goldberg that Rajoub has “used or abused the Palestinian football federation by getting involved”.

That claim is backed up by the narrator who notes that “whenever the team travels Jibril Rajoub is there to punch home his political message”.

Goldberg also highlights the Asian Football Confederation’s attempts to wipe Israel from the history of the Asian Cup by ignoring the year they hosted and won the tournament in a video that fetes all other previous winners.

In addition, the documentary shows Palestinian players and team officials stating that suicide bombers are legitimate and effectively calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, by claiming that Palestine should be “from the river to the sea”.

Goldberg said he wanted to expose the humans caught up in the terrible conflict in the Middle East.

“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 a 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.”

Pitch Battle will screen on ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program on April 14 at 8pm.


Dan Goldberg filming Pitch Battle.

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