EXCLUSIVE: Chelsea’s Israeli former manager Avram Grant opens up on the ‘tragedy’ of the Israel-Palestine war, as he insists the FA was ‘WRONG’ to not light up the Wembley arch and condemns ‘terrorist organisation’ Hamas
- The conflict between Israel and Palestine has escalated in recent weeks
- Avram Grant has condemned Hamas following their attacks on Israel
- He’s also hit out at the FA for not lighting up the Wembley arch earlier this month
Avram Grant pauses to take a breath. The football manager, one of the most recognisable Jewish figures in world sport, struggles to hold back the tears as he relives the moment his daughter Romi was informed her friend Ely had been murdered as a consequence of the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict.
He then grabs a copy of the Quran.
‘You see this book? I’ve read it – all of it,’ he tells Mail Sport.
‘It doesn’t say kill innocent people.’
Pertinently, Grant’s anguish isn’t restricted to loss of Israeli life as he accounts the grief that’s engulfed him with his country at war.
Chelsea’s Israeli former manager Avram Grant has spoken about his anguish at the current situation between Israel and Palestine
He feels heartbroken for those that have lost their lives on both sides of the conflict
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His pain for Palestinian civilians killed following the Israeli retaliation weighs just as heavy.
‘I know many good people in Gaza, really good people,’ he explains.
‘Any loss of life is a tragedy and my heart is with them.’
His words are powerful. Grant is heartbroken – but somehow finds it within himself to be positive.
Inevitably football is at the heart of his optimism.
‘I’ll let you into a secret,’ he says.
‘Ten years ago I spoke to Tony Blair. I said I have an idea: let’s build football pitches on the border between Israel to Gaza.
‘First, to find talent but secondly for people to play football together.
‘Football can put people together. I spoke with Arsene Wenger, Kaka even Phil Jackson [legendary Chicago Bulls head coach].
‘I believe it still can be done. I have support of Arab and Jewish people who have the money to fund it.
‘This is my dream. Even more so today. I still believe in human nature.’
Right now, Grant, 68, is living some of his darkest days.
He was in Tel Aviv on Saturday, October 7 when the first wave of devastating attacks – led by political and military organisation Hamas – were launched.
Grant has revealed he spoke with a number of sporting icons including Arsene Wenger (right) about the role sport can play in bringing people together from both sides of the conflict
‘I can send you the photo – I saw two missiles,’ Grant reveals.
‘There were alarms everywhere. I grew up in that area, it’s not the first time we’ve faced this.’
The former Chelsea manager awoke that Saturday scheduled to fly to the United Arab Emirates.
Grant is currently Zambia head coach and his side were facing Egypt in the UAE on Thursday, October 12.
‘I decided to stay until Monday and went straight to training. I felt like I needed to stay in Israel,’ he said.
‘Why did I stay? Because this is my country. They are my people.
‘I have a lot of friends in Gaza and the West Bank – I didn’t know what to do, so I stayed.
‘I decided this is where I have to be. If I didn’t have a game I would have stayed.
‘No matter what has happened in my life, I have always concentrated on the game ahead.
‘That’s the education from my parents, to respect your job. The game against Egypt is the first time in my life my focus was a little bit…
‘I was concentrating on the game but not 100 percent because the videos, the suffering, was in front of my eyes.’
Grant’s pain is unmistakable. His emotions threaten to get the better of him throughout our chat. Sadness. Anger. Despair.
His temper starts to flare as he speaks of his outrage at the brutal images he simply can’t forget.
‘My heart is with them [the Palestinians killed]. But we must recognise the difference,’ Grant says.
Grant has condemned ‘terrorist organisation’ Hamas after they attacked Israel on October 7, which included launching rockets (pictured)
‘Hamas deliberately targeted innocent civilians. If you rape a woman, it will free Palestine? Cutting children heads – will that give people of Gaza a better life?
‘This is a terror organisation. They are against humanity. Nobody can tell me this is Islam.
‘I know Islamic people. They are nice people; they don’t agree with this. They call me and say this is not Islam, we cannot support this. No human being can support this.’
All of a sudden, Grant’s tone calms to the point he finds it difficult to talk. He can’t fathom why certain figures, states and organisations are hesitant in condemning such barbarism.
His crosshairs turn to the Football Association, who last week refused to light up Wembley’s arch in Israeli colours ahead of the friendly versus Australia.
‘The FA have let themselves down. Absolutely, 100 percent,’ Grant says.
‘When they look in the eyes of their children they will have nothing to say. I don’t need the FA to condemn, it won’t bring one child’s life back.
‘The FA was wrong. The leaders that don’t condemn are putting politics over humanity.’
Grant believes the FA let themselves down by not lighting up the Wembley arch for either of England’s fixtures earlier this month
A minute’s silence was held before kick-off for England’s games against Australia and Italy, but the arch remained unlit
He holds similar views on the BBC’s refusal to call Hamas terrorists.
‘I’m asking the BBC, if you don’t call them terrorists then call them a peaceful organisation,’ he says.
‘Compare them to Martin Luther King who fought for civil rights. Compare them to [Mahatma] Gandhi who fought for his country.
‘If it’s not terrorism then what is it? They are not for peace. What have they done for their country?
‘Did they give their children a good education? Give them a good medical department?
‘Good football pitches to play on? The Palestinian people deserve their own state with proper leadership.
‘I don’t ask anyone to choose sides. I just ask for people to choose the side of peace, life and love. All they are doing is teaching them to hate.’
Hate. It’s a term Grant struggles to comprehend.
Indeed, the veteran head coach reveals the motives behind his decision to give this interview.
‘I was raised by wonderful parents. My mother is from Iraq and my father was a survivor of the Holocaust,’ Grant discloses.
‘My father buried his parents with his own hands when he was 13, they died of cold and hunger.
‘His two sisters also died of cold and hunger. In spite of that, he was the most optimistic guy you would ever meet.
‘Always optimistic, always happy and positive. My father loved people. He loved life.
‘Arabs were in our home. I was raised to love not to hate.
A young Grant with his father Meir, which means light, and his mother Aliza, which means happy
‘Even though he suffered so much he was always wanted to see the good. This interview is for him.
‘And I’m sure about one thing. If Hamas put all of their efforts into the future of Gaza’s people and their quality of life instead of their rhetoric of hatred and destruction, Gaza would be paradise,’
Grant’s mother’s name is Aliza – which means happy. His father is Meir – which translates to light.
Here’s hoping happiness and light descends on the Middle East very soon.
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