A level playing field
"Israel's prime minister and the president of the Palestinian Authority have decided there is only one logical way to resolve the longest-running conflict in modern history: a soccer match." A serious-faced television correspondent is addressing the camera against a panoramic backdrop of Jerusalem with the golden cupola of the Dome of the Rock. His introduction perfectly sums up the story of "The 90 Minute War".
This comedy by Israeli director Eyal Halfon feels like a documentary, but the action is obviously fictitious: after half a century of wars and bloodshed, political negotiations and peace accords have failed to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, so a soccer match is arranged to settle the matter once and for all. The winners can stay, the losers must find another homeland.
Agreeing on the football match is only the first step, of course. The film follows the two teams and their managers as they prepare for the momentous encounter. Nothing is easy, and the public pressure is immense. Where is a neutral venue for the match? Who can serve as truly impartial referee? And where will the losers go?
Right from the outset, there are heated negotiations, replete with allegations, recriminations and recurrent threats to call off the match. And even when the main issues have been settled, new obstacles keep popping up.
The film plays with stereotypes, takes a scathing and politically incorrect look at all parties involved and, in doing so, accurately highlights the absurdities of the conflict. While the Israelis arrange for a star coach to be flown in – from Germany of all places – the Palestinian team bus is regularly held up at checkpoints when players try to travel between the West Bank and Gaza for squad training.
An Israeli soccer player with Palestinian roots is plunged into a crisis when he has to choose which team to play for. Thus, the fundamental question of who should be allowed to play for which team arises. When it is finally decided that players need to have spent at least two weeks in the respective country in the two years prior to the match, the Israelis immediately close the borders – while the Palestinians smuggle an international soccer star into Gaza through an underground supply tunnel.
No one is spared
The world of sport is not spared either: the negotiations are brokered by the president of "Ifa" – the thinly veiled counterpart of the real international soccer association Fifa. Ifa has a keen interest in the match taking place – especially since it will be a lucrative major sporting event.
But what about the problems presented by such a highly political match? "There are always problems. But if anyone knows how to solve problems, it's us." The Ifa president smiles into the cameras, adding that his association is also tackling problems in South Africa, Brazil and Qatar.
The main characters of the film, the two team managers, are played by Moshe Ivgy and Norman Issa. Both actors who are well-known in Israel are active peacebuilders in private life. Moshe Ivgy is an Israeli born in Casablanca, Norman Issa a Palestinian with a Jewish wife.
In the film, the two managers are driven to despair by public pressure and their sense of responsibility. They drive each other crazy in interminable negotiations. But in the end, they are the ones who take a step towards each other – on neutral ground and without international pressure.
What it means for the fate of the two nations, however, and who actually emerges victorious are questions the film leaves unanswered. But there may be a clue in the title: a "90 Minute War" is surely less likely to end in peace than in a renewed displacement.
© Development and Cooperation 2018