Born in Algeria in 1961, he's the first Jew to have played on France's national football team. He was a very able defensive-back, not brilliant but strong and dependable and a very good athlete. He played 20 games for the national team in the mid-1980s and was part of the brilliant squad that played in the 1986 World Cup tournament in Mexico. He played four games in Mexico side by side with Michel Platini, one of the best players in the world back then. He retired at the age of 35 and went on to spend a few years as assistant coach in Bilbao (Spain). Now he's a TV commentator and you can even see him climbing the slopes of the Montblanc on a promotional video on the Web and read interviews he's given about his career as a football player, the ups and downs he went through and the choices he made during his years as a professional player. Nevertheless, since France is an avowed secular society, you will have a very hard time finding that he was indeed the first Jew to play for the national football team. You will have to take my word on that, or ask him if you get the opportunity. He's alive and well, having celebrated his 45th birthday on January 10th, 2006. His name is William Ayache.
Ayache's last name rings a bell to every Israeli. It's inevitable, since Ayash (I am reverting to the English transliteration) is also the last name of Yihia Ayash, a.k.a “The Engineer”. His career spanned a few years and was a bit shorter than William's. He would have been 40 on March 6th 2006, but he was killed on January 5th 1996, just when William Ayache was retiring from football and moving on to the status of football veteran. Yihia Ayash, born in 1966, completed his studies in Electrical Engineering in 1988. The first Intifada was raging and some time later he joined the Hamas (“The Islamic Resistance Movement”), specializing in the creation of improvised bombs and booby-traps. On April 6th 1994 the first successful suicide bombing took place, in the city of Afula in northern Israel. Eight people were killed. Yihia Ayash had masterminded it, starting a new phase in the conflict: human bombs were going to mark Israeli reality for years to come. Yihia Ayash's career was extremely bloody. His murderous activities cost dozens of lives and dotted Israel's map with dozens of sites where Ayash's living bombs exploded and took lives. Less than two years after the first suicide bombing, Israel's secret service, the Shabak, managed to send Ayash a cellular telephone, using a man he trusted. The telephone was a bomb, activated when the phone rang. Ayash was killed on the spot. To this day the Palestinians consider him one of the heroes of their struggle against Israel. His portrait can be seen all over Gaza and the West Bank. A television mini-series about his life was produced in Syria. Today, the very term “engineer”, muhandis, denotes an expert in building sophisticated explosive devices for use against Israelis.
In Arabic, the term “ayash” has to do with life rather than death. To live, to keep alive, to make or let live, to feed, support and provide and even to live together. Additional meanings stemming from the same root denote to make ends meet, to earn one's bread, way of living and coexistence. In Egyptian Arabic, which greatly influences the Gaza dialects, “ayash” means bread-seller.
The meaning of “ayash” from feeding to selling bread, from providing to earning one's bread, can explain the fact that so many Jews from North-Africa are called “Ayash”, just like William Ayache the footballer. Language, like irony knows no boundaries. One of Yihia Ayash's last victims was a young Jewish woman who was killed while waiting for a bus near the city of Ashkelon in Israel, on the coast not 15 kilometres from the Gaza Strip, her last name was Ayash. Since then, the Web too has expanded beyond imaginable boundaries: a search of the word “Ayash” in Hebrew sites yields a plethora of results. Ayash is also the last name of the girl who was buying a glass of fruit-juice in Tel-Aviv's Central Bus Station when a suicide bomber exploded nearby. She survived to tell her story. The owner of a nearby kiosk told reporters that a short time before the explosion three Arabs had bought something. They were speaking Arabic sputtered with Hebrew words, he said. When he bid them “Have a good night”, one of them gave him a pat on his shoulder and said: “We'll have an especially good night tonight”.