Football matters heat up in Israel, the belligerent nation, as elections loom and the rhetoric cranks up in relation to neighbours Syria. Pessimists predict an attack – possibly nuclear - on Iran. 'First strike' resonates in the language between Tehran (35 degrees North, 51 degrees West) and Tel Aviv (32 degrees North, 34 degrees West).
Hands are thrown in the air – as flapping goalkeepers do - at the prospect of Iran gaining nuclear weapons. Hands remain firmly at the sides – as defensive walls do - on the knowledge that Israel already has them. And plenty of back-up from allies, such as the USA.
Meanwhile, ordinary Israelis face into the new year with resolve.
The organisation Zochrot, which seeks to present the history of the Nakba (The Palestinian Catastrophe, 1948) to the people of Israel, makes plans for the coming twelve months. Members are resolved, as Israelis and patriots, to face the legacy of the formation of the state in order that approaches short of a permanent state of belligerence can be engendered for internal and external relations.
But all is not calm on the football terraces. Maccabi Tel Aviv's recent game against Stoke (53 degrees North, 2 degrees West) City was marred by anti-Arab chanting from the Israeli fans. A right wing member of the Israeli Knesset cranks up pre-election national fervour by proposing to force all members of the national team to sing the national anthem and sign a declaration of loyalty to the state.
This flies in the face of the reality of life in Israel where a form of apartheid exists for members of Arab communities, both Muslim and Christian. Israel is a complex society and more highly contested internally than right wingers in the Knesset will allow.
But Israelis have resolve. Glasgow (55 degrees North, 4 degrees West) Celtic midfielder Beram Kayal called the proposal unnecessary. He plays his heart out for Glasgow Celtic - he was badly injured against Glasgow Rangers on 28th December and was stretchered off with twenty minutes left to play - and Israel - the national team are indebted to Kayal for a winning header against Latvia in March. The Israeli Football Association opposed the proposal.
On the ground, in the cities and villages of Israel itself, in the under-siege zones of the West Bank and Gaza, there are Israelis who know that belligerence will rise in the run up to the elections. Who know that a future for their children and their children's children needs to be built on co-operation, a lessening of militarism and belligerence and a formation of statehood that is genuinely democratic.
As the Israelis in Zochrot delicately unpick the history of the formation of the state, as Arabs and others within Israel press for recognition of the complexity of the state, as the world urges a resolution of the oppression of the Palestinians, let the football terraces echo with the chanted resolve that the new year may bring peace.
When Saturday Comes; Magazine; Issue 299; January 2012