Would you use your platform as a sportsman? Or would it be wiser, safer, just to say nothing?
What would you do if you were Walid Badir? Would you dip your toe into the pool of protest? Would you tell your family's tragic story? How your grandfather Salim Ahmed was shot dead by Israeli police. How, in 1956, he and 46 other Arab peasants were killed in the notorious massacre at Kafr-Kassem. Would you use your platform as a sportsman? Or would it be wiser, safer, just to say nothing?
Two players, two triumphant symbols. So why, among Israeli Arabs, is only one of them beloved?
Walid Badir stands and fidgets, warily eyeing his questioner. For three weeks Badir has politely refused interview requests. The only reason he's here now is that Grant has waved him over to the sideline before a national-team training session. Only a couple of questions, Badir says, and only under one condition: "I never answer questions about politics. That's how I am. That's how I've always been."
Is there a reason that you don't want to talk about what it means to be an Israeli Arab? A reason you don't want to talk about your grandfather? "No reason," Badir replies. "I don't want to answer these questions. I am a soccer player, and that's that."
Abbas Suan glances at the red light on the reporter's tape recorder. For months after his goal against Ireland, Suan refused to speak out on Arab Israeli issues, acutely aware of the weight his words carry. But now, ever so slowly, he is beginning to dip that toe. "I represent most of the Arab problems in Israel, problems of land and discrimination," he says. "For all the Israeli people I want to emphasize that we can live together, but [the Jewish majority] has to listen to our problems."
Later, the subject turns to his family's old property near Beit She'an. "We want to talk about the fact that we want our land back," Suan says. "The family has 175 acres. The cemetery is still there. Many things of our family are still there."
Suan is asked why he stands for but doesn't sing the Israeli national anthem, which hails "the Jewish spirit" and "the land of Zion." He smiles, looks skyward and chooses his response with precision: "Have you seen the words?"
Why does he address these topics when Badir will not? "I belong to an Arab team [Bnei Sakhnin], and I represent the Arab sector more than Walid [who plays for Hapoel Tel Aviv]," he says. "Most of the time Walid has played on Jewish teams. You can ask him. Maybe he likes to be in the shadows?"
Rifaat (Jimmy) Tourk knows the pressure well. He was Israel's Jackie Robinson, the first Arab to play for the national team, appearing in 42 games between 1976 and '86. Now 50, he runs a nonprofit soccer school for 200 at-risk kids in his native Jaffa, where he serves on the city council. "The truth is I feel wonderful whenever Israel does well, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel all the more happy considering the two players who scored such important goals were Arabs," Tourk says. "They represent us, after all, and there's no doubt their success strengthens us and improves relations between Arabs and Jews."