By William A. Cook
"Kurt Zehmisch of the 134th Saxons recorded in his diary: ‘The English brought a soccer ball from the trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvellously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.’" — (the London Times, January 1, 1915)
No one can doubt that the news story of the American designed McCann Erickson Cellcom ad shown on Israeli TV for the past week has roused interest around the world. It should. What upstanding Englishman or American could not be impressed by the good natured, manicured Israeli soldiers as they responded to the soccer ball thudding off their Humvee’s bonnet by tearing off their uniforms and helmets at the slight chance of engaging the unseen Palestinians on the other side of the wall in a proper game of ball. “After all, what are we all after? Just a little fun,” as the lead actor intones when the commercial ends. Just two groups of youths at play. Everything is so normal on each side of the wall.
This scene captured in a minute, just enough time to recall another scene, not unlike the American created advertisement that cost an easy million but lacking that incentive, between the Brits and the Germans that lasted till Boxer Day in 1915 when the guns went silent on Christmas Eve and a voice called out of the British trenches,
“There’s someone coming towards us!" the front line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.
Soon one by one on either side walked into NO Man’s Land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and wished each other well
And in a flare lit soccer game we gave ’em hell.
‘Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.
(Christmas in the Trenches, John McCutcheon)
“For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war, had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.” Would that it were so! But no, this is Capitalism after all and one must sell Cell phones even if it is at the expense of the unseen, forgotten, destitute Palestinians who live out of sight and out of mind. Forget that this is war, Sharon’s “war of terror,” that has kept the United States and Israel tied by their umbilical cord of slaughter of the innocents. Why not use this “fence,” this “barrier,” this Wall’ for a profitable purpose; after all it has been paid for by the Americans, so why should their advertising company not have use of it for the setting of this advertisement that appeals to the pathological mindset that has found joy in playing a game only one side can see as the wall hides the suffering of the playmates on the other side. It is after all, like the war, a game only the Israelis can see and play since they determine the audience that will witness, the action on the field, and the outcome, and they will record what took place. Victors, after all, create the history; the vanquished know only the humiliation, the anguish, and the defeat. But they also know how to endure, and there’s the rub. Endurance ensures courage, patience, sacrifice, resilience, intellect, confidence, strength, determination, and belief in justice, qualities the conqueror has long since lost in the comfort of his dependence on others and his fear of his ineluctable failure.
But what if the Israelis were to see in this pathetic advertisement the seed of peace? After all, as Robert Mears notes in his review of War Games by Michael Foreman, a recounting of the World War 1 Christmas “game” outside the trenches, “The fantasy of sport must not be confused with war, that play is one thing and war is entirely another, that war is no game.” And the wall that became the field for soccer in this ad is nothing more than a barrier to peace because it separates the peoples who must become united, because it hides the atrocity of the conditions on the Palestinian side, because it pretends that soldiers are just kids who, after all, need to have a little fun when in reality they are military machines operating at the behest of their masters ready at a moment’s notice to machine gun down those “players” on the other side. Perhaps if the game were played properly, there would be no need for war.
What if Israel abandoned the Zionist ideology and considered the future in terms of a game between two sides on a level playing field. What if Palestine were redrawn so that the original 55-45 split of the land mass were reconsidered as right, to give a little edge to the Israelis, that 5% more; after all, the Palestinians have no other sport but the cheapest one that needs only a ball and kids wanting to play? What if the United Nations were brought in to replace the IDF as a security for the Israelis as time and games evolved their respective cures? What if the UN Peace Keepers controlled the gates for a period of time and teams of Palestinians and Israelis could get together on the playing field and parents could watch from the sidelines? What if this sports mania were to catch on and leagues could be formed at the elementary, secondary, and college level so the communion of children and adolescents and adults could be nourished in time, and understanding, compassion and love could grow? What if, out of this simple recourse to pleasure and companionship, a nation could develop that housed both peoples in peace and harmony and the acrimony and anger and hate and vengeance dissolved in the heat of friendly competition?
There is something that doesn’t love a wall, that finds its force unnatural since it cannot withstand the seasons’ change or the ravages of time. Walls are antithetical to human relationships and civilized progress; they hide that we are one whether we like it or not, that this world is smaller every day as more and more humans are born, proximity grows as well as suffering, and inevitably we choose slaughter or compromise, friendship, sharing and peace.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home.
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own.
Young Sanders played his squeezebox and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each prepared to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
"Whose family have I fixed within my sights?"
-William A. Cook is a Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His books include Tracking Deception: Bush Mid-East Policy, The Rape of Palestine, The Chronicles of Nefaria, a novella, and this June, The Plight of the Palestinians , to be published by Macmillan. He’s a Senior Editor at MWC News and the Palestine Chronicle, and writes for Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Pacific Free Press, the Atlantic Free Press, World Prout Assembly, and Dissident Voice among others. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org and visit: www.drwilliamacook.com.