Nicholas Blincoe’s More Noble Than War: A Soccer History of Israel-Palestine (Bold Type Books, 2019) is a beautifully narrated and written history of a century of conflict between pre-state Jews and Palestinians and Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians after the establishment of the state. It is a story that goes far beyond the history of the conflict, the mirror images of developments in Jewish and Palestinian society, and the internecine ideological infighting and power struggles within the two communities. It paints in graphic detail the incestuous and inseparable relationship between sports and politics and the importance of soccer, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, in identity and nation formation as well as nation building. It also demonstrates in graphic detail how first Jews and then Palestinians exploited soccer to first achieve international recognition of their struggles and then as nations by dispatching teams to tour other countries and being granted membership in world soccer body FIFA. In doing so, Israelis and Palestinians set an example that decades later became a key pillar of the Algerian liberation struggle in the 1950s and 1960s with the National Liberation Front (FLN)’s creation of its own national soccer team that put its fight for independence on the world map. The skeletal facts of Blincoe’s tale have long been known. The significance of Blincoe’s contribution is that he puts flesh on the skeleton by weaving the facts into a meticulously researched and reported, easily accessible narrative in which he brings key players and ideological trends to life. It’s a tale that is all fact but reads like a thriller.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.