By Maria C. Khoury – Taybeh, West Bank
The community of Taybeh, in the West Bank is going to keep its leading role this year by continuing to make history in Palestine. Along with introducing the first Palestinian non-alcoholic beer at the 2008 Oktoberfest, Taybeh will also host the first time ever Tag Rugby Match in Palestine between the Ramallah Blue Snakes and Beit Jala Lions RFC at 1 pm on Sunday, October 12, 2008 at the Taybeh Soccer Field, North entrance of Taybeh. If you like to see amazing and extraordinary things just come to Taybeh. As a side note, October 12th was the first Oktoberfest ever held in the world in Bavaria in 1810.
The first Rugby Club in Palestine was founded in October 2007 in Beit Jala when a group of young men set up the first Palestinian Rugby Team (www.beitjalalions.com) with the help of Kevin Kelleher and Leam O’Brain who continue their current support from Ireland.
The team consists of twelve official passionate players from the age of eighteen to twenty-eight.
On most days people can watch the Beit Jala Lions practice on Wednesday evenings at the Beit al-Liqa Playground and Sunday afternoons at Al Khader International Stadium. Martin Bisstrai, Coach and Dr. Nassar Khamis, Chairman of the Rugby Club have a dream to begin building a network of tab rugby in Palestine thereby encouraging youth, scouts groups, and sports clubs to organize their own teams. The Rugby Club was founded with the main goal of developing Rugby in Palestine with the great challenge of playgrounds being rare and equipment hardly available.
Tab Rugby sport contains the main elements of real rugby but does not contain the full contact tackles. It does not need special equipment or soft grass covered playground.
Martin was asked how he feels being the first team established in this sport in Palestine under oppressed conditions: “At first we are very-very proud, because this is our team; this is the team of our society, a simple successful local initiative. Our conditions are incredible, but because we have incredible players we could survive. Hard work and the love of rugby overcome any kind of difficulty. I know it sounds very ideological, but this is the reality,” responded Martin.
Why should Palestinians care about Rugby?“ Rugby is a great sport and it’s a battle without weapons. That is what Palestinian (and any other) youth need. Do sports, and spend your unused energy,” said Martin.
The Beit Jala Lions became capable of having their first rugby match in March 2007 and began looking around to connect with other teams in the Middle East. A group of volunteers in Ramallah facilitated setting up a second team in Palestine, the Ramallah Blue Snakes with Jason Lomax in charge. The two teams spent most of April and May in training sessions last spring.
Martin explains why this past month the Rugby Club travelled to Cyprus: “We reached the level where we are able to play our first full-contact match, and because we are the only team we have to travel abroad to have this experience. By the generous donations of the Irish Representative Office, Bethlehem University, and our society we could finance a rugby tour to Cyprus…three clubs invited us to play against their teams.”
When Martin was asked what he thinks of the Taybeh Oktoberfest, he said: “Simply love the idea.” All international and local media invited to Taybeh this 2008 Oktoberfest to watch the first tag rugby match in Palestine. The Taybeh Oktoberfest is a two days event, Oct 11th & 12th, promoting local products with music and dance groups preserving deep cultural roots in ancient Palestine. Pray for us that it passes in peace!
- Maria C. Khoury contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.