Suan, Abbas (1976–)

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Suan, Abbas

Abbas Suan is an internationally known Palestinian Israeli soccer player, and a leading member of the Israeli national team. He has used his position to raise awareness of the problems of the Palestinian community in Israel and the need for better relations between Arabs and Jews.


Abbas Suan was born on 27 January 1976, in Sakhnin, Israel, a Palestinian Arab village of approximately 24,000 residents in the northern region of Galilee. Before the 1948 War, Suan's father and grandfather owned land and lived in Marsas, Palestine, until they were forced to flee to Sakhnin. Suan is the youngest of seven brothers and two sisters.

Suan began playing soccer at age six. At twelve he joined the youth club, Ha-Po'el Sakhnin, and played intermittently for that organization's professional team. As an adult, he played and later became captain of B'nei Sakhnin, the only Arab team in Israel's first league, from 2003 to 2006. Avraham Grant, coach of the Israeli national team, recruited Suan to his current midfielder postion in 2004. He was one of the national team's top players during the 2005 World Cup qualifying games. In fall 2006, Suan joined Maccabi Haifa, the 2005–2006 champions of the premier league. Suan also has endorsement deals with Subaru, Toto (the Israeli state lottery), and McDonald's.


Suan began playing soccer with his neighborhood friends in Sakhnin. He was influenced by four of his older brothers, who also played soccer for Sakhnin. As Suan matured, he began to look up to players such as Zinedine Zidane and Marcel Desailly of France.

Suan is a soccer icon in Israel, particularly among the Palestinian Israeli community, which comprises about 20 percent of Israel's population. As captain of B'nei Sakhnin he led the team to become the first mainly Arab soccer team to win the Israeli State Cup in May 2004. After Sakhnin won, Suan became not only a focal point for the success of the team, but a hero among the Palestinian community in Israel.

Suan first came to international attention on 27 March 2005 when he kicked the game-tying goal for the Israeli national team during a World Cup qualifying game against Ireland. The goal saved Israel from elimination and allowed the team to continue to compete for an opportunity to play for the World Cup in 2006, for the first time since 1970. Referred to as "the Arab who saved Israel" by Sports Illustrated (24 August 2005), Suan, one of only three Arab players on a predominantly Jewish team, became a symbol of peaceful coexistence between the Arab and Jewish communities, as the two groups of fans united to support the national team.

Off the field, Suan has been a relatively outspoken supporter for coexistence and better relations between Jews and Arabs. He also uses his visibility in the media to raise awareness about the social and economic needs of the Palestinian Israeli community. In fact, Suan's 2005 goal has been credited with returning the discussion of the status of Israel's Palestinian citizens to the forefront of public debate in Israel.


Suan held the world's attention in 2005 as the Israeli national team attempted to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in thirty-six years. The international media referred to him as a "national hero." In the 4 November 2005 edition of Sports Illustrated, Grant Wahl named Suan as his choice for "Sportsman of the Year." The European edition of Time published an article about him in its "European Heroes 2005" issue (10 October 2005). According to Suan in a 4 January 2007 interview with the author in Haifa, he is an "Israeli Arab that does not forget his family in Palestine but respects the rules of his state (Israel)."

In Israel, the perspective is more complicated. Some revere Suan as one of the best soccer players in Israel, and a symbol of the Palestinian Israeli community. Yet he continues to face constant taunts and racism from Jewish fans and players on opposing teams. Opposing fans have chanted "Death to the Arabs," and have held banners saying, "SUAN YOU DON'T REPRESENT US," particularly when Suan played for B'nei Sakhnin.


Abbas Suan will go down in history as the captain of the first Palestinian Israeli team to win the Israeli State Cup and as one of the pioneers of Arab soccer players' participation and success on the Israeli national team.


Name: Abbas Suan (Abbass Swan, Abbas Souan, 'Abbas Suwwan)

Birth: 1976, Sakhnin, Israel

Family: Wife, Safaa; one son, Muhammad; one daughter, Mabsam

Nationality: Israeli (Palestinian Israeli citizen)


  • 1993–1994: Plays for Ha-Po'el Sakhnin youth and professional teams
  • 1994–2006: Plays for B'nei Sakhnin professional team
  • 2004: Leads first Arab team (B'nei Sakhnin) to win Israeli State Cup
  • 2004–present: Plays on Israel National Team
  • 2005: Scores game-tying, last-minute goal against Ireland in World Cup qualifier
  • 2006–present: Plays for Maccabi Haifa professional team


Bekker, Vita. "Score One for Tolerance: Arab Israeli Soccer Player Abbas Suan Unites Jews and Arabs through His Game." Time Europe, 10 October 2005. Available from

Erlanger, Steven. "An Arab star is torn." The Age, 24 April 2005. Available from

Mitnick, Joshua. "One Big Goal for Soccer, One Small Step for Arab Israelis." Christian Science Monitor, 7 April 2005. Available from

Wahl, Grant. "My Sportsman Choice: Abbas Suan." Sports Illustrated. (4 November 2005). Available from

                                                    Kenda Stewart