Mixed Israeli-Arab Soccer Team Promotes Peace

Published: July 8th 2010
in News » World

Football for Hope

Not many would have predicted the Netherlands to advance to the FIFA World Cup Finals. After defeating the 2002 champion, Brazil, “Oranje” followed it up with a 3-2 victory over Uruguay this past Tuesday and now prepares to battle Spain on the biggest stage of their lives.  


On the sidelines, an even more unusual phenomenon has taken place – Israelis and Palestinians fighting on the same side. From July 4 to 10, FIFA is hosting the “Football for Hope Festival, where 32 young soccer teams from disadvantaged communities come together in South Africa to celebrate “education, culture and football.”


This unique tournament features co-ed teams of eight players, 15-18 years of age, and no referees. All disputes must be solved through dialogue among players, in order to “encourage personal development and mutual understanding.” The players also have a chance to participate in activities off the field, which promote both the importance of sport and awareness in the community. There are many discussion-based programs regarding HIV/Aids, difference in culture and football workshops. 


The Israeli-Palestinian team is called the Peace Team. It has two coaches; one Israeli and one Arab. Of the eight teens on the team, four are boys and four are girls. Four are Israelis and four are Palestinians. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Palestinian coach Kamal Abu Altom expressed his belief that “this is our opportunity to show people that Israelis and Palestinians can play together, and also that we can live together.”


The team members were chosen in January based on both their athletic abilities and their contributions to their respective communities. They were among the top players in an apprentice coaching program, sponsored by the Peres Center for Peace. Each player has also graduated from the Twinned Peace Sports program, which brings both Israeli and Palestinian underprivileged children together to learn about sports and peace. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, this program reaches up to 1,600 children per year.


While the concept of the Peace Team is both fascinating and heartwarming, the coaches and players are not satisfied with being just another nice story. “We want to be number one in the tournament,” said Abu Altom.


Winning the tournament would be a welcomed consolation prize back in the Holy Land. The Israeli national football team failed to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. They finished fourth in their qualification group with 16 points, five less than first place Switzerland. Had the team won two more of its 10 games played, they would have been playing soccer these past few weeks at the World Cup in South Africa.  Israel last qualified in 1970, when the tournament was hosted by Mexico.


The Peace Team was recently honoured at Museum Africa in Johannesburg, by former South African President F.W. de Klerk, former president and a patron of the Peres Centre for Peace. De Klerk recognized the team’s “contribution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” all-africa.com reported. “The Soccer World Cup has displayed the reconciliatory power of sport to the world. The Peace Team is another example of how sport can unify people.”

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