The annual one-day event serves as a celebratory culmination to a year of activities and curriculum, Gal Peleg, Development Manager of Mifalot, told Ynetnews in a phone interview.
"The whole idea is for them to get to know each other, to break down stereotypes, and to informally get to know that the other side are not demons as it sometimes seems in the news," Peleg said.
Through the "Know Your Neighbor" project, the children work in pairs with different communities and meet altogether at the end of the year for the tournament. There are pairings of Israelis and Palestinians from east and west Jerusalem, Israelis and Jordanians, and Arab and Jewish Israelis.
These pairs meet four or five times throughout the year and go on outings together to the beach, theater, and water park among other activities. “They are no different from us,” said Ofir, an Israeli youth who played in the soccer game last week. “I am glad we got to meet like this."
'They are no different from us' (Photo: Nir Keidar)
The tournament began five years ago as part of a larger initiative. Founded in 1997 by the owners of soccer team Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Mifalot is an organization that utilizes soccer to build more cohesive communities by trying to bridge the social, political, religious and ethnic divides within the Middle East.
"Mifalot peace programs foster new friendships between Jewish-Israelis, Arab-Israelis, Palestinians, Bedouins, Druze, Christians, Refugees, Ethiopian Immigrants and Kibbutz children. They all come together and play as mixed football teams with no boundaries or borders," reads a mission statement from the organizations website.
Getting Jordanian relatives involved
This year was the first year the tournament included Jordanian students. The ability to expand the project resulted from the family relations of the Arab Israeli participants, who helped expand the program because they have relatives in Jordan who were eager to get their friends and relatives involved.
Guests on hand to cheer on the teams included Vice Premier and Minister for Regional Development Silvan Shalom, Head of the European Union's mission in Israel Andrew Stanley, Mifalot Chairman Avraham Burg, Captain of the national champion soccer team Hapoel Tel-Aviv Walid Badir, and assistant coach of Hapoel Tel-Aviv Yossi Abukasis.
On the soccer field, participants reflected on their experience in the project. Tarek from Umm al-Hir summed up the game by saying that "the mixed game gave me a feeling that we can begin to make peace and enjoy life through football."