Nic Naitanui has revealed how a trip to the Gaza Strip left him in tears and fearing for his safety as part of a harrowing off-season experience.
Naitanui has had a resilient footy career, conquering two ACL reconstructions, but the star West Coast ruckman had things put into perspective when was caught up in conflicts in the Middle East in October 2018.
The 30-year-old told the Ordineroli Speaking podcastof a hairy situation while in Palestine shortly after the Eagles’ premiership triumph as he took time away from the club to rehab his second ACL rupture.
Naitanui utilised a portion of the off-season break to travel to Israel, but the streets of Jerusalem weren’t enough, calling in a favour to a former foreign affairs minister to venture as far as the Syrian border.
“I was really scared,” Naitanui said.
“The club told me not to go. A good friend of ours, Julie Bishop, she helped me get across – obviously having a lot of dealings with foreign affairs and the stuff over in Israel.
“She was the number one ticket holder for a while at West Coast, and she helped me get in contact with a few people and put me in the right places.
“In Israel I was safe but once I crossed the border and especially when I was in Palestinian areas… I found myself in some sticky situations.
“I remember one time I had to lay down flat in the car and put a jacket over my head because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time because I looked like an American and I was screaming ‘I’m from Fiji!’
“I’m happy to say I cried. I cried, I laid down and cried, but I’m happy I did it and I won’t do it again.”
Naitanui successfully returned to the field in 2019, playing five games, and was selected as an All-Australian the following year after a dominant year in the ruck for the Eagles.
Despite his wanderlust reality check in the Gaza Strip, the 30-year-old was grateful for the experience and the perspective it provided away from the safety of Western Australia.
“I wouldn’t recommend anyone going there and the club didn’t really like me going there, but I’m a free man, I’m a free spirit and free to travel where I can, when I can,” he said.
“Growing up here in Perth, we’ve got the best white sandy beaches and the best ocean so when people think of holiday destinations they think of going to an amazing island or an amazing beach around the world. But for me, I’m the complete opposite.
“It was different when you’re seeing missiles fly over your head at night time or people walking around with machine guns, AK-47s in the street, things like that.
“Militant groups running wild on the back of their Toyota Hiluxes… it’s a big eye opener, it’s a different world.
“Growing up here in the Perth suburb of Midland, a lot of people think they’re gangsters. You’re not gangsters.
“You go over there, those guys are gangsters, they are real thugs. I love things that put things in perspective and for me that was one of the biggest eye-openers.”