WORDS: DOMINIC BLISS
From forgotten Arab villages of the north to dusty Jewish neighbourhoods in the south, two photographers have journeyed across Israel’s amateur football scene, visiting the clubs where seemingly ever-present cultural tensions have evaporated and diversity is celebrated…
For several years, Israeli photographer Gaad Salner and his colleague Vadim Tarasov have been covering Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian diversity as it is reflected through lower league amateur football – looking at how matches, stadiums, landscapes and cultural aspects impact on society, usually in a positive way.
Their unique project is called Kaduregel-Shefel (translated as ‘peripheral’ or ‘low’ football) and it began when the pair undertook a journey across the nation, as part of their desire to seek out the many different places where the passion for football at its most simple exists, whether it is in the Arab villages of the north, or the forgotten dusty Jewish neighbourhoods of the south of Israel.
“As photographers and lower-league football enthusiasts, we capture on camera what no one outside Israel believes is possible: engagement of the Israeli and Arab people for a common cause – football,” Salner told me. “We visited places where, with the help of football, the seemingly ever-present tension between cultures evaporated, and where diversity of their cultures is celebrated instead.”
Salner and Tarasov started their road trip at a fourth division match in the Arab village of Umm El Fahem (أُمّ ٱلْفَحْم), where they were stopped by a local police officer, asking to see their ID. “He wanted to check that we were not right-wing extremists looking to for trouble,” Salner explained. “He wasn’t the only one to ask what we were doing there that day.”
Since then, they have visited Bne-Yichelel FC, a Jewish-Ethiopian team from Rehovot, been guests at a celebration gala for a team in Nujidat, the Muslim Bedouin village, who had been promoted to the fourth division and whose Jewish-Russian goalkeeper welcomed the photographers to the party.
They have travelled to the southern forgotten city of Dimona, been part of a crowd of thousands at the Tirrah v Kfar Kassem (two neighbouring Arab villages) ‘clasico’, and met the home side’s Jewish captain (who happens to be a kindergarten teacher in Tel-Aviv), as well as their local Arab fans, who write their banners in Hebrew.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of a wide-ranging project, which covers the everyday rivalries and struggles that are put aside just to play football in Israel, and celebrates the cultural diversity that this nation has to offer.
The exhibition places its emphasis on the human, urban, and cultural landscapes of a divided and diverse society, and less on the pitch action itself.