- Tackling Peace, and: The Games They Play
Given the vast political, social, economic, historical, and geographic complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, any peace-building intervention in Israel and the Occupied Territories is likely to be fraught with tensions and ambiguities. Similarly, sport-based peace-building interventions, of which there are many in Israel, are frequently contradictory and uncertain: on the one hand, such initiatives may offer a neutral site at which individuals from divided communities can interact as equals, build interpersonal relationships, and develop teamwork and cooperative skills; on the other, sport may exacerbate antagonisms by encouraging violent behavior and exclusionary practices. Tackling Peace and The Games They Play are two recent documentary films that explore the tensions of such sport-for-peace efforts in the broader sociopolitical context of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The former focuses on the Peace Team, an eclectic mix of young Palestinian and Israeli men who, improbably, come together under the tutelage of an Australian expatriate to learn Australian Rules football and compete in an international tournament. The Games They Play also focuses on a specific event, in this instance the international Friendship Games basketball tournament in Israel. Both films offer some interesting insights into the conflict, yet both fail to extend their documentary lens to encompass an effective and explicit critique of the peace-building potential of sport in a volatile sociopolitical environment.
Tackling Peace follows the Peace Team from its genesis in the mind of the Perez Centre for Peace’s Australian director, Tanya Oziel, to the completion of the International Cup, a tournament hosted by the Australian Football League for teams from around the globe. The film offers some fascinating insights into the challenges of organizing interethnic events between Israelis and Palestinians. The narration reveals, for example, that the Perez Centre in Israel spent $50,000 simply to secure paperwork and transportation for Palestinian players needing to cross the border into Israel for training sessions. Meanwhile, the film documents how the decision by team organizers to include the Palestinian flag alongside the Israeli flag on team banners became a major source of division between teammates when some Israeli players objected to this inclusion and how media reports of the flag controversy further stoked interethnic tensions within the team. The fragility of team unity is further highlighted when ongoing political events spark heated discussions and arguments between team members. The footage of such moments of tension serves to highlight how structural aspects of the conflict act as major barriers to interpersonal reconciliation.
Unlike Tackling Peace, The Games They Play focuses on an entire tournament rather than a specific team, although its footage is noticeably tilted toward the Jordanian and Palestinian teams. The film does not provide any background on the Friendship Games, [End Page 313] leaving the viewer to piece together a vague picture of its structure and goals while watching the film. In fact, vagueness may be the film’s biggest weakness—with no narration and very sparse use of identifying captions, the film jumps from scene to scene, team to team, and person to person without contextualization. Whereas Tackling Peace leads the viewer through the buildup of the Peace Team, The Games They Play jumps into the action without providing any background. It is not clear how teams were chosen to participate in the tournament, exactly which countries are represented in the men’s and women’s bracket, or even who organized the tournament and why. Despite this lack of clarity, the film’s unfiltered documentation of the tournament successfully captures some fascinating moments. For example, the film focuses significantly on the Palestinian team’s attempt to field a team in spite of having many players denied entry into Israel, thus clearly demonstrating the subservience of grassroots peacebuilding efforts to broader political structures. Meanwhile, a scene in which a Jordanian player visits the Jaffa house that her family evacuated in 1948—and narrates the experience for her family over a mobile phone—is a...