For a brief moment in March, Abbas Suan achieved what politicians in more than a half-century have not: he united the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. During a World Cup qualifying match against Ireland at the Ramat Gan Stadium, the midfielder from the poor Arab village of Sakhnin blasted a last-minute goal that tied the score at 1-1.
The goal rescued Israel's hopes of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup and sparked national delirium. "The goal was a miracle," says Suan, 29, a devout Muslim who speaks openly about bridging the gap between Jews and Arabs. "It was unique because everyone jumped up together. It was the most important moment of my life."
At another match just weeks earlier, Jewish fans booed Suan every time he touched the ball. Suan was targeted again just days after the game against Ireland, during a match between Bnei Sakhnin Suan's hometown team, which he captains and Betar Jerusalem, whose fans typically align with right-wing Israeli politics. Betar fans waved a giant banner saying SUAN, YOU DON'T REPRESENT US, and shouted, "We hate all Arabs." Yet Suan who supports a Palestinian state and wants a solution for Palestinian demands to recover land and homes lost when Israel was founded is unfazed by such slurs. "I ignore them," he insists. "They're not worth my attention."
At least some Israeli fans are beginning to share his point of view. Sharon Mashdi, an Israeli-Jewish soccer fan and investment fund manager from Jerusalem, says he was repulsed by the Betar insults: "I think it's great that Suan speaks out for better relations." Suan is keeping his eye on the ball: "I see myself as a person who understands a situation the way it ought to be, not the way it is today. Next to reaching the World Cup, my dream is for Israeli society to live together in peace."