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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Israeli Arab team enter big league
Bnei Sakhnin captain Abas Suan trains in Newcastle
Bnei Sakhnin captain Abas Suan trains in Newcastle
An Israeli football team which includes both Arab and Jewish players is to kick off its first big international match on Thursday evening in the UEFA cup.

Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin face Newcastle United at their huge stadium in northern England - a far cry from the Israeli team's meagre facilities at home, where they are the poorest club in the Israeli league.

They qualified for European competition by becoming the first mainly-Arab team to win the Israeli cup.

Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin's Arab players say they face prejudice from rival fans back home, but get on well with their Jewish team-mates.

They are considered outsiders in their match against Newcastle.

'Giant-killers'

Most of Bnei Sakhnin's earn less in a year than Alan Shearer, Newcastle's sticker, does in a week but they are used to the role of giant-killers, says the BBC's Luke Walton.

Bnei Sakhnin  coach Eyal Lachman
We're a very small team, very small, and for the people in Israel it's something like a miracle
Eyal Lachman
Bnei Sakhnin's coach
From their base in a poor, mainly Arab town in the north of Israel they became a national sensation when they won the Israeli cup.

"It's not a famous team with a big budget - we're a very small team, very small, and for the people in Israel it's something like a miracle," coach Eyal Lachman said.

But it is not just football success which has made Bnei Sakhnin famous.

On the touchline, the main talking point was the unique mixture of Arab and Jewish players on the pitch, all representing a club with an Arab president and a Jewish coach.

Mixed success

Club secretary Ibrahim Brushnak says that partnership also extends to the team's supporters: "After we won in the final game in the Cup we had a lot of Jewish supporters around Israel because we are together Arab and Jewish.

When Sakhnin arrives to most of their away games they hear chants like 'death to Arabs' and so on. Not in all of them, but in some
Or Raklevski
Israeli newspaper Maariv
"We make something different, our message is if we can play together, Arab and Jewish, and we can share the time together, other people can do it."

But if most in Israel wish Bnei Sakhnin well, some do not.

As Or Raklevski of the Israeli newspaper Maariv explains: "When Sakhnin arrives to most of their away games they hear chants like 'death to Arabs' and so on. Not in all of them, but in some.

"It's very, very far-fetched to say that it will make a real difference in the lives of Arab people in Israel."


SEE ALSO:
Israeli Arabs win first soccer cup
19 May 04  |  Middle East


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