It is Sunday morning in Tel Aviv, and the Union Jack is still flying at Banana Beach to welcome British soccer fans. The visitors are not in sight. For the past few nights they have been out drinking, and no doubt they are sleeping it off.
Several thousand British soccer fans are in town. They came here to watch the England and Israel national football teams compete Saturday night at the national stadium in Ramat Gan. The game ended in a 0-0 tie.
Before, during, and after the game, the country's television channels broadcast scenes of jovial visitors drinking and singing. The fans praised the local Goldstar beer, the friendliness of Israelis and the beauty of the women. They said "shalom" and learned some other Hebrew words.
One post-game interview had a scripted quality. A British fan told the camera he thought one of the Israeli players was named Ben Zonah, because he heard the Hebrew fans behind him shouting "ben-zonah" throughout the game. Ben-zonah is a Hebrew curse term, literally "son of a whore." People in Israel use it the way English-speakers say "son-of-a-bitch," sometimes as an epithet and other times to say that something is ineffably good.
The game dominated the conversations and consciousness of many Israelis for days, like some monster giant trampling everything in its path. If you weren't a security person or foreign-policy wonk, you may not have known that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was arriving on the day of the game. It was his first visit to Israel.
Many Israelis saw the 0-0 tie as cause for rejoicing. Never mind that the England team was having its worst season in 26 years. Holding a superior European team to a tie is a national victory of sorts. It appeals to a simple, childlike pride which the Israel public displays sometimes when we see ourselves as part of a bigger world. This is what causes Israelis to get excited when the country wins an Olympic gold medal for windsurfing, or when our tennis players make it almost to the finals in foreign tournaments, or when a movie star visits here, or when Israeli performers appear at Eurovision. These events put us on the map, which is something that not all Middle Eastern mapmakers are prepared to do.
In the post-tie glow, a television presenter said Sunday morning that it was too bad that the two teams hadn't put the competition aside for a moment. The whole world was watching, she said, and this presented a special chance to focus on what unites us and what we share in common. Her co-presenter changed the subject.
Actually, the whole world wasn't watching.
Had the world been watching, it probably wouldn't have known that last week's good-natured invasion by the British soccer fans is in striking contrast to what once went on here. At the height of the British presence, 60 years ago, some 100,000 of King George VI's soldiers were stationed here---one for every three Jewish males. They didn't call it an occupation. It was part of the British Mandate, granted by the League of Nations after World War I. Enough blood was shed in 1947 to persuade the British to leave. They turned the problem over to the United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations. The rest is history---or rather two histories, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs.
The only times when the whole world watches now are when something horrendous happens. Most of the time, the whole world can't see what's going on here.
---Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv
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