Kick-to-kick in a rocket zone
Illustration: Jim Pavlidis
This is an account of footy in a war zone written by Kevin Nafte, an Israeli member of the AFL Peace Team, to his Israeli and Palestinian teammates. It is in the spirit of the Peace Team ''dialogues'' in which players from both sides were encouraged to express their views to each other:
"FOR the last six weeks, every Saturday afternoon, I have been meeting a couple of mates in Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv to have a kick of the footy. A kick-to-kick, as they call it in Australia. Remember the training we used to practise in groups and we used to try and 'lead and mark' the footy. I love it … there is nothing like taking an awesome mark above your head after sprinting 20 metres and then sending off a low, hard kick to the other player for him to take a speccie on the run. The feeling of my heart pounding, the sweat pouring down my face, and the satisfaction of a perfect play…
Today, I needed to go play some footy. I needed to de-stress. I met my mate, Mark, who is also Australian, in the streets of Tel Aviv and together we rode our bikes to the park. The streets were kinda quiet for a Saturday afternoon, the weather a bit gloomy, something funny in the air. We got to the field and immediately spoke about where we would run to if we heard the rocket siren. We decided the back of the field near the car park would be best … I remember sitting in that exact spot with you boys. Someone made a joke in Arabic, I think maybe it was about Osama? Wasn't it always?
The intensity of our kick-to-kick was amazing … the ball was perfect. In fact, it's the same ball you guys all used in our final match against India. We kicked their ass. Remember how Dari took out those two players? It was like he was a bowling ball and just knocked the skittles out of his way. The ball was coming off our feet like something special. We were running harder than ever.
We had most of Hayarkon Park to ourselves, besides about 20 or so Israelis playing soccer. Every now and then the soccer ball would come towards us. I still struggle with those balls … for me, there is only one type of ball. About 40 minutes into our session, we heard it, that long, wailing siren.
My hair all over my body stood up, I had goose bumps. I wish I could explain to you what it feels like - that sickening feeling in the stomach of not knowing where the rocket will land. I'm trying to count in my mind, to make sure I am on the ground and out of harm's way within 90 seconds. There are no bomb shelters in Park Hayarkon. We left our bags in the middle of the field and sprinted to the far side of the field, exactly where we had said before we started playing. The group of Israelis playing soccer were also taking cover. Out of harm's way? These rockets can land anywhere!
Next thing we look to the sky and see what looks like a plane, kinda like a shooting star. The guys tell me this is the Iron Dome, the Israeli defence missile system designed to shoot down the rockets coming from Gaza. We see a huge flash in the sky, a couple of seconds later, we here a mighty booommmm. The siren is still wailing. It appears the Iron Dome shot a missile down heading for Tel Aviv. A huge sigh of relief … the siren slowly starts to fade. The guys slowly get up. I call my wife, make sure she is OK. She was on the beach, reading her book and ran into the nearest restaurant and into their bomb shelter.
Mark and I decide we can't finish like that. We need one last acceleration. We take the Sherrin and run like crazy for the next five minutes. I feel myself getting angry. I want to kill those people who are sending rockets into Israeli cities and towns. This is the third day now that the siren has rung in Tel Aviv, yesterday it went off in Jerusalem. Apparently, the rocket landed near a Palestinian village. Every time I hear a car horn or siren, my body freezes for a moment and I think it's the siren warning us of rockets. What about those poor children in the south who hear the siren go off 50 times a day, who have seen the rockets hit their homes and schools? What the f---!?
I don't know what is going to happen. It doesn't look good. It's affecting us all and we need to communicate this. We all know each other … we need to let it out. I know that I do. My heart goes out to the people of Gaza who are not involved in firing rockets into Israeli towns and who just want to have a normal life. We are suffering together.
I hope I'll get to play footy again next Saturday. If any of you are around, you're welcome to join. My Palestinian teammates, I know it might be hard but I recommend you guys get together on your side and go for a kick, get that frustration out, that anger. Think of the times we had together. That's what I'm trying to do … it's helping, it calms me down a bit - gives me a little sense of hope that this nightmare will end soon. Here's to a quiet and peaceful week.''