Tennis players Muhammad Kunbar of east Jerusalem and Jafar Tawil of Beit Safafa played alongside Jewish teammates in the Special Olympic Games in Athens last week.
The Israeli Arab athletes, both 20 years old, played with Elad Gevandschnaider, 22, of Be’er Sheva and Tamir Segal, 34, of Katzin. This event marks the first time in history that Israeli Arabs represented the country at the Special Olympics.
Kunbar and Tawil have been training at The Israel Tennis Center for the past five years, and have announced that they feel honored to be included in such a historical moment.
Their physical education teacher, Mahmud Karay’in, is considered responsible for discovering and encouraging their hidden talents. After closely observing their progress during school organized sports lessons, the teacher persuaded them to play tennis.
Karay’in brought them to The Israel Tennis Center where they began to train twice a week with a group from their school. They participated in competitions, and gave them the chance to work with volunteers, teachers, and coaches.
Last February, Kinbar and Tawii joined Segal and Gevandschnaider at a training camp at the Wingate Institute.
The tennis players practiced regularly with Shaya Azar, coordinator of tennis in the Special Olympics and director of the ITC branch in Ashkelon. Azar praised the center for giving these young men the opportunity to enhance both their tennis and communication skills while playing with other athletes from both the Special Olympics track and the regular program.
"When training, they are often unified, meaning you take one player from Special Olympics, and one from the regular program and they play doubles," said Azar. "You can see them getting better with communication on and off the court."
On May 12, 44 tennis players from the Israel Tennis Center competed in the national championships in order to qualify for the Special Olympics. Both Tawii and Kunbar finished first in their categories and were chosen to represent the country on an international level.
“The competition was very professional, and played according to all the international rules," said Azar. "This is the biggest competition we have organized in Israel,
and I really hope we can keep on growing, and the number of participants will keep increasing."
This may be the first time Israeli Arabs have been chosen to represent Israel in the Olympics, but the tennis center has always welcomed athletes regardless of religious or linguistic differences.
Reprinted with permission from Shalom Life