Ataa Jaber’s winding road to Palestine’s national football team

Ataa Jaber’s winding road to Palestine’s national football team
Palestine’s Ataa Jaber, right, and Indonesia’s Asnawi Mangkualam Bahar fight for the ball during an international friendly between Indonesia and Palestine at Gelora Bung Tomo stadium in Surabaya on June 14, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2023
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Ataa Jaber’s winding road to Palestine’s national football team

Ataa Jaber’s winding road to Palestine’s national football team
  • The 28-year-old midfielder, who plays for Neftchi Baku in Azerbaijan, had represented and captained Israel at U-21 level

Nationality switches are common in football, but very few might be as impactful as Ataa Jaber’s decision to pursue an international career with Palestine.

The midfielder, who currently plies his trade in Neftchi Baku in Azerbaijan’s topflight, made his Palestine debut in June.

Al-Fida’i has been trending in an upward direction over the past decade. In January, the team will compete at their third straight Asian Cup finals having first qualified for the 2015 edition.

Palestine celebrated the 25th anniversary of their first official game in July, but that short tenure among FIFA’s recognized nations belies rich history with the game. The first football match played in the country was in 1908 when the teams of Rawdat Al-Ma’aref and St. George’s School faced each other.

Twenty years later, Mandatory Palestine would join FIFA and although regarded as a precursor for the Israeli national team, the federation was only allowed to join thanks to the presence of Ibrahim Nusseibeh — a Palestinian and the only qualified referee in the country.

When Palestine was finally allowed to join FIFA after 70 years in international wilderness and multiple rejected applications, there was a decision to make about how the national team programs would be staffed.

The Palestinian Football Association decided to support its nascent league by calling up its best players to represent the nation. At the time, there were many Palestinian footballers (descendants of those Palestinians who managed to avoid the ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1947-48) playing in the first and second tiers of the Israeli football leagues, but depending on an external — and sometimes hostile — organization to provide players was seen as too risky.

Over the following 25 years, there was a gradual change in the position of the PFA. When the West Bank Premier League went professional 13 years ago, Palestinian footballers from the second and third tiers of Israeli football started popping up on pitches in Ramallah, Hebron, and Nablus, eventually earning themselves national team call-ups.

Since then, the modus operandi for Palestinian citizens of Israel to play in the national team has been to move to the WBPL in order to showcase their abilities. Palestine has reaped the talents of players like Haitham Dheeb, Rami Hamada, Abdallah Jaber, and Mohammed Darweesh, who had been overlooked by clubs in the Israeli first tier.

The strategy also meant that Palestine lost out on elite talents by not actively pursuing players playing in a league that has been, on average, in the top 20 of the Union of European Football Associations’ country coefficient for the past 15 years.

Jaber’s path to the Palestinian national team was anything but direct.

The native of Majd Al-Krum was an obvious talent, joining the academy of Maccabi Haifa at 6 years old and making his professional debut at 18. Three years later, he was capped for Israel’s U-21, a team he would go on to captain on four occasions. That captaincy was the subject of much fanfare as Jaber became the first Arab captain in the history of the Israeli national teams — on the same day that Israel’s senior team was captained by the Circassian Bibras Natcho.

That day in 2015 was used to signal the liberal and open nature of Israeli society, but it is a narrative that does not reflect reality in Jaber’s opinion.

“(In Israel), they feed a narrative to (Arab) players that sport should not mix with politics, that you represent your community, that you will have a voice, and that you don’t need to sing the (Israeli) national anthem,” Jaber told Arab News.

A pandemic, a war, and a chance encounter with a teammate led to an epiphany and eventually a one-time nationality switch with FIFA.

“After what happened in Sheikh Jarrah, I realized that it was impossible to separate politics from sport and even if I wanted to represent ‘48 Arabs, there were better ways of doing it,” Jaber said.

Shortly thereafter, Jaber decided that representing Israel’s national teams was no longer an option for him. It was not clear if he would be able to represent Palestine until a teammate explained how it could be done.

Rami Hamadi, Palestine’s star goalkeeper, left the WBPL in 2020 due to financial hardships his team was facing in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, eventually agreeing to sign for Bnei Sakhnin FC in the Israeli topflight. It was in the small Galilee town of Sakhnin where Jaber’s path to the Palestine national football team became clearer.

“Things changed for me when I met Rami Hamadi while playing for Sakhnin. I then found out that there was a league in the West Bank and a Palestinian national team that we can represent. I didn’t know that was even a possibility because I didn’t have a passport,” Jaber said.

The pursuit of a travel document issued by the Palestinian Authority — a prerequisite for any player wishing to represent Palestine — was a process that took nearly two years.

It was, however, worth the wait as Jaber thoroughly enjoyed his time with the team in June and was pleasantly surprised at the level exhibited by the team in matches that did not feature national team captain Musab Al-Battat and Charleroi star Oday Dabbagh.

“I took the decision to represent the Palestinian national team for many reasons. First because I am Palestinian, second because I have the ability, and third to deliver a message to players inside the Green Line that this choice is available to them,” Jaber said.

That message has resonated both with the PFA and several players. Following Jaber’s debut, the U-23 team called up Bnei Sakhnin’s Abdelhadi Yasin and Hadi Rabah.

For the September FIFA window, the senior team called in two other footballers currently plying their trade in the Israeli Leagues. Winger Alaa Al-Deen Hassan (Bnei Sakhnin) and defender Amid Mahajna (Hapoel Umm El-Fahm) were included in the 24-man squad to face Oman and Vietnam.

Jaber accepts that the path for players who make the decision to represent Palestine could be difficult, especially for those in the top two tiers of Israeli football.

“There is a fear among Palestinian players inside the Green Line because making such a decision could cut off their main source of income, especially given the fact that they cannot play abroad like I do,” he said. “There are pitfalls, but if an individual sets his mind to it and aims to play for Palestine, his path will become easier.”


Aston Villa topple Arsenal and extend record home win streak

Aston Villa topple Arsenal and extend record home win streak
Updated 09 December 2023
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Aston Villa topple Arsenal and extend record home win streak

Aston Villa topple Arsenal and extend record home win streak
  • Villa made John McGinn’s seventh-minute goal stand up in the latest standout victory for Unai Emery’s high-flying team
  • Villa are third on the table, a point behind second-placed Arsenal

BIRMINGHAM, England: Aston Villa beat Arsenal 1-0 and moved within two points of new English Premier League leader Liverpool on Saturday.
Villa made John McGinn’s seventh-minute goal stand up in the latest standout victory for Unai Emery’s high-flying team, which upset defending champion Manchester City by the same scoreline on Wednesday.
Arsenal led the league at the start of the day but could not find a way through a Villa team that are proving to be a match for anyone on home turf. Villa have a club-record 15 straight home wins in the league.
Villa are third on the table, a point behind second-placed Arsenal.
The only other league managers to record 15-game winning streaks at home were Manchester United great Alex Ferguson, Roberto Mancini, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.
Villa went ahead after Leon Bailey broke down the right and played in McGinn, who turned and beat Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya.
Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez denied Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Jesus from equalizing before the break.
Arsenal almost levelled in the second half when Martinez looked to claim a corner, but palmed the ball into the back of Ollie Watkins and it hit the post.
Bukayo Saka had a goal ruled out for offside and Kai Havertz thought he salvaged a point in the last minute, but was adjudged to have handled the ball.


Ten Hag blasts ‘inconsistent’ Man Utd after Bournemouth misery

Ten Hag blasts ‘inconsistent’ Man Utd after Bournemouth misery
Updated 09 December 2023
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Ten Hag blasts ‘inconsistent’ Man Utd after Bournemouth misery

Ten Hag blasts ‘inconsistent’ Man Utd after Bournemouth misery
  • Ten Hag’s side slumped to an embarrassing 3-0 defeat that underlined the array of problems threatening to ruin United’s season
  • “Of course, annoyed and disappointed, definitely. I expected something different,” Ten Hag said

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom : Erik ten Hag blasted his “inconsistent” Manchester United charges after Bournemouth made history with their first ever victory at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Ten Hag’s side slumped to an embarrassing 3-0 defeat that underlined the array of problems threatening to ruin United’s season.
Just three days after beating Chelsea to revive their bid for a top four finish in the Premier League, United reverted to the sloppy form that has plagued them for much of the campaign.
Goals from Dominic Solanke, Philip Billing and Marcos Senesi handed Bournemouth a memorable win as Ten Hag and his players were booed off at full-time.
With the pressure mounting on Ten Hag with each defeat in his troubled second season as United boss, the Dutchman slammed his team’s lacklustre performance.
“Of course, annoyed and disappointed, definitely. I expected something different,” Ten Hag said.
“I hoped before the game you can build on the performance and result from Chelsea, so then it’s very disappointing.
“That (consistency) is of course the question, but I think we have to always be ready for the game, so I have to take the responsibility for that.
“I have to prepare my team so that they are ready for the game, so from my point of view I’m very disappointed the way we started so I have to do the things better.”
United have now lost 35 home league games since Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012-13 title-winning season.
During the iconic 26-year reign of the Scottish manager, United were only beaten in the league at Old Trafford 34 times
Ten Hag shouldered much of the responsibility for United’s 11th defeat in all competitions this term.
But alarmingly for United fans, the former Ajax boss conceded he did not believe his squad were consistent enough to thrive at the highest level.
“We are really inconsistent. We have the abilities to do it, but you have to do it every game and every third day,” he said.
“I think as a squad we are not good enough to be consistent and we have to work as a squad to improve that.”
It was an eye-catching remark at the end of a week that began with reports that some United players had grown unhappy with the manager.
Ten Hag denied those claims but, with his team mired in sixth place, he desperately needs some positive results quickly.
United host Bayern Munich in the Champions League next week knowing they must win to have any chance of progressing to the last 16.
A trip to in-form Liverpool in the Premier League follows the Bayern clash.
“As a group, we have to improve,” Ten Hag said. “That’s a fact. We have to get tougher, that we are ready for the game and from the start.
“I said on Friday, it can’t be in this league that you are not playing on the highest levels because you get killed.
“That’s what happened in the five minutes and then you are following facts and especially against them, such a good transition team, you make life easy for them. They have the perfect conditions to play in.
“Then you see the team fighting, battling, put a lot of effort in for a long period to return in the game, but it can’t happen that you so easily concede a goal.”


Jude Bellingham scores again as Real Madrid held to draw at Betis

Jude Bellingham scores again as Real Madrid held to draw at Betis
Updated 09 December 2023
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Jude Bellingham scores again as Real Madrid held to draw at Betis

Jude Bellingham scores again as Real Madrid held to draw at Betis
  • Bellingham’s transformation into a clinical finisher with a league-leading 12 goals has kept Madrid at the top of the standings
  • He has 16 goals in 18 games between the domestic competition and the Champions League

BARCELONA, Spain: Jude Bellingham kept up his great scoring form since joining Real Madrid but his strike was not enough to save the injury-hit Spanish leaders from dropping points in a 1-1 draw at Real Betis on Saturday.
The England midfielder used his chest to cushion a nifty pass from Brahim Díaz before slotting under Betis goalkeeper Rui Silva to open the scoring in the 53rd minute.
Bellingham’s transformation into a clinical finisher with a league-leading 12 goals has kept Madrid at the top of the standings. He has 16 goals in 18 games between the domestic competition and the Champions League, compared to 14 goals in 42 games in all of last season for Borussia Dortmund.
Betis right back Aitor Ruibal equalized in the 66th from outside the right corner of the box with a powerful looping strike that sailed past goalkeeper Andriy Lunin.
The draw left Madrid atop the table, but Girona were just one point behind before they visit third-placed Barcelona on Sunday in a clash of Catalan clubs.
“Ruibal scored a fantastic goal and they drew level with us. (But) I am satisfied. You can’t always win,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said after his team’s run of five wins overall came to an end.
Both sides had late chances to snatch the victory. Former Madrid playmaker Isco Alarcón headed off the woodwork for Betis and Madrid substitute Joselu Mato shot inches wide.
Ruibal, an attacking player who has converted into a defender, had trouble keeping up with Madrid’s Rodrygo early on. But he showed his scorer’s instinct when he blasted home the equalizer on a counterattack that started when Bellingham lost the ball.
“To take a point against this rival, we have to be happy. The team competed like real animals,” Ruibal said. “I didn’t even think twice (before shooting).”
Ancelotti started Luka Modric after the veteran midfielder missed two games with a thigh problem. Modric, who has seen his playing time dwindle, appeared to be angry when he was substituted shortly after Ruibal’s goal.
Lunin started for Madrid even though Kepa Arrizabalaga was back in the squad after recovering from a minor injury. Kepa joined Madrid at the start of the season after regular starter Thibaut Courtois tore a knee ligament.
“Lunin played well and I am giving him confidence, but we will see who plays in the next game,” Ancelotti said about Tuesday’s Champions League group stage game at Union Berlin.
Betis remained in seventh. Manuel Pellegrini’s team are undefeated in nine consecutive league games at their Benito Villamarín Stadium.
Eighth-placed Las Palmas won at Alaves 1-0 as the Canary Islands club continues to impress since returning to the top-flight.


Bayern thrashed by Eintracht Frankfurt in Bundesliga

Bayern thrashed by Eintracht Frankfurt in Bundesliga
Updated 09 December 2023
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Bayern thrashed by Eintracht Frankfurt in Bundesliga

Bayern thrashed by Eintracht Frankfurt in Bundesliga
  • In a wet and wild contest in Frankfurt, the hosts raced into an extraordinary 3-0 first-half lead
  • Leaders Bayer Leverkusen travel to third-place Stuttgart on Sunday

BERLIN: Bayern Munich suffered a jolt to their title defense, losing their first league game of the season 5-1 in Frankfurt and handing Bayer Leverkusen the chance to open a six-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.
In a wet and wild contest in Frankfurt, the hosts raced into an extraordinary 3-0 first-half lead, with Omar Marmoush, Junior Dina Ebimbe, and Hugo Larsson scoring the goals as Dino Toppmoeller’s side outmuscled a timid Bayern.
Joshua Kimmich dragged Bayern back into the match just before half-time but French midfielder Ebimbe had other ideas, capping a scintillating counter-attack after a mistake by Dayot Upamecano to make it four.
Ansgar Knauff added a fifth to put the game out of reach for Thomas Tuchel’s side to complete a memorable performance for Frankfurt, who become the first team to score five goals against Bayern in the first 60 minutes of a league game since Frankfurt themselves, in 1975.
Leaders Bayer Leverkusen travel to third-place Stuttgart on Sunday on a weekend when six of the Bundesliga’s top seven face each other.
Union Berlin won their first game since August 26 with a 3-1 victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach ensuring a winning start in the Bundesliga under new coach Nenad Bjelica.
The Croatian coach ran down the touchline to join the celebrations with his players as the team climbed to 15th.
Elsewhere, Werder Bremen arrested a four-game winless slump with a 2-0 win over Augsburg, secured by Niklas Stark’s first-half strike and Marvin Ducksch’s, midway through the second.
Heidenheim edged out Darmstadt with a 3-2 win in a meeting of two of the newly-promoted strugglers. Jan Schoeppner scored twice for Heidenheim, which leaves Darmstadt winless in seven Bundesliga games.
Freiburg sneaked a 1-0 win in Wolfsburg ahead of the day’s headline clash between Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.


’Great feeling’ for Salah after landmark Liverpool goal

’Great feeling’ for Salah after landmark Liverpool goal
Updated 09 December 2023
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’Great feeling’ for Salah after landmark Liverpool goal

’Great feeling’ for Salah after landmark Liverpool goal
  • Salah’s landmark strike inspired Liverpool’s fightback from a goal down to win 2-1 at 10-man Crystal Palace
  • Salah’s 14th goal this term made him the fifth player to score 200 for Liverpool in all competitions

LONDON: Mohamed Salah admitted his 200th Liverpool goal was a “great feeling” as the Egypt star urged his side to do “something special” in the Premier League title race.
Salah’s landmark strike inspired Liverpool’s fightback from a goal down to win 2-1 at 10-man Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Jurgen Klopp’s side stole the points thanks to Harvey Elliott’s stoppage-time winner.
But it was Salah’s deflected equalizer following Jordan Ayew’s dismissal that sparked Liverpool’s escape act.
Salah’s 14th goal this term made him the fifth player to score 200 for Liverpool in all competitions after Ian Rush (346), Roger Hunt (285), Gordon Hodgson (241) and Billy Liddell (228).
“The most important thing was that we won the game. It’s a great feeling. I’m happy for the record and that we won the game,” Salah said.
Liverpool left Selhurst Park on top of the table, although second-placed Arsenal would reclaim pole position with a win at Aston Villa later on Saturday.
Regardless of Liverpool’s position by the end of the weekend, Salah sees signs they can win the club’s first title since 2020.
“I see the mentality to keep fighting until the end. We keep doing that. We have a new team now because there’s six or seven players,” he said.
“We need to give them advice. They’re learning a lot and they’re really nice. We can do something special this year.”
Saluting the crucial contribution of substitute Elliott, Salah added: “He’s a good kid. he’s learning. I like to push him in the gym.
“He will have a good career. If he wants to speak then just come to me.”
The young midfielder insisted he has already learned plenty from Salah.
“My finish today just sums up what I’ve learned off him,” he said.
“If I spoke about the influence he’s had on me then everyone would get bored!“
On Liverpool’s title chances, Elliott added: “We’re going in the right direction. If we’re contenders at the end of the season then let’s go for it.
“The aim is to win the Premier League.”