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No Israeli Arab player has endured more racism than Tourk did during his 15-year career with Hapoel Tel Aviv. "I don't remember a single game when nobody spat at me--and I'm not just talking about the crowds, I'm talking about the players on other teams," he says. "They would try to break my legs because of who I am, because of what I am. There would always be two or three players cursing me, telling me, 'Go to Arafat! Go back to Syria! You're a terrorist!' I'd come to stadiums, and there was an enormous choir singing, 'Death to Arabs!' It was very difficult to overcome all this, but I succeeded, and I should add that my coaches and teammates helped me pull through all of it."
Tourk is hardly a radical. He rarely spoke out as a player, says most of his close friends are Jews and adds that 90% of the contributions to his soccer school come from Jewish sources. Yet he still can't abide Badir's no-politics policy. "Abbas speaks more about the Arab situation, and I like his attitude much better," Tourk says. "He doesn't throw stones, he doesn't do anything violent, but you have to say what you have to say. There's an army in the West Bank and an occupation, but Walid says, 'Leave me alone; I don't talk politics.' That's cowardly. I say outright that the occupation is destructive and corrupts us."
Ask other Israeli Arab public figures, though, and there's no consensus on Badir's silence. Playing for Hapoel Tel Aviv, some point out, he may not want to offend his (mostly Jewish) fans or his (mostly Jewish) neighbors. Besides, others ask, why should he be forced into a role that he clearly doesn't want? "Even if Walid says nothing, for us the fact that his name is mentioned on TV and that he's putting the Arab community on the map is enough," says Jafar Farah, who heads the Mossawa Center, an Israeli Arab civil rights group. "He doesn't need to say anything else. It would be better if he would, but not every Arab should be a politician or a human-rights activist."
If Israel makes the World Cup, Bahloul says, the Arab sector will have to look to Suan if it wants an athlete to speak out. Don't expect a Mexico City moment, but don't expect "no comment" either. "Walid Badir lost his grandfather at Kafr-Kassem, but you never hear him speak about this tragedy," Bahloul says. "The Arab people don't like that. This was a massacre. But when Abbas Suan speaks you can feel the conflict inside him. You realize that with his charisma he can be the voice of the pain of the Arab people."
Sometimes all the debates, all the symbols, all the layers of meaning are enough to give you vertigo. Sometimes you have to make things simple, pull up a chair to a national-team scrimmage, close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the game--and the sounds of the names.
The names may be Arab and Jewish, but for one glorious instant the players are not Arabs or Jews. They're just 22 men on a training field, 22 soccer dreamers wearing the same blue uniform, and above all, on the eve of perhaps their finest hour, 22 Israelis.