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Golan Heights footballer joins Israeli national team

Published: Updated:

Wiam Amasha, who hails from the Syrian town of Baqaata in the occupied Golan Heights, will play his first game with the Israeli national football team next week, after declining their first offer in 2011.

The game, against Portugal, is for the World Cup qualifications.

Amasha currently plays with the Israeli team Maccabi Haifa. Being the highest scorer in the Israeli Premier League helped him gain the attention of Eli Guttman, manager of the national football team, who requested that the league convince Amasha to join the team.

The footballer accepted after agreement on his condition that he not be granted the Israeli passport, out of fear of Arab criticism.

He will thus play against the Portuguese national team, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, next week in the Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv.

Amasha had said he is a footballer, and does not want to mix sports with politics.

He is expected to come under criticism in Baqaata, since residents there and in other Golan towns have for decades rejected taking Israeli identity cards and passports.

The Golan Heights was captured by Israel from Syria in 1967. Its subsequent annexation is not recognized by the international community.

Some right-wing figures in Israel have demanded that Amasha be prevented from wearing the national team’s shirt because he refused to accept the Israeli passport. Needing him to play on the team does not mean being submissive to his conditions, they say.

Many Arab citizens of Israel have joined the national team to further their football careers. They have been criticized by Arabs for doing so, as well as by Israelis for not singing the national anthem before games begin.