Jews and Arabs play soccer for peace
A soccer camp for Israeli kids just wrapped up with a massive world cup style soccer tournament; however, this tournament was different in that it had Jewish and Arab kids playing together; the camp called Soccer for Peace is an initiative by the Givat Haviva organization, which tries to bridge gaps between the Jewish and Arab sectors in Israel.
Of the 100 participating children, 50 were Jews from the towns of Pardes Hanna-Karkur, Zichron Ya’akov, and Binyamina. The other 50 were Arabs from the towns of Iqsal, Baqa al-Gharbiyye, and Barta’a.
This camp, called Soccer for Peace, saw the children living, eating, sleeping, and playing together for four days in an effort to have the barriers between the Israeli-Arab and Jewish-Israeli sectors get knocked down, and to get rid of negative stereotypes via positive social interactions.
Zakaria Mahameed, the program coordinator for the Soccer for Peace, said that he helped start the camp because he wanted his son “to grow up without hate, and to live in a more inclusive, coherent, cooperative society.”
The programs he set up during the camp work toward this goal. For instance, despite language barriers, the Jewish and Arab tweens were still able to communicate and have fun with each other, both on and off the field. The camp’s participants went to a mosque in Baqa al-Gharbiyye to learn about Islam, and also to a synagogue in Pardes Hanna-Karkur to learn about Judaism. Every night, the children would participate in a dialogue session to learn more about each other, both as different sectors, and as individuals.
The camp itself was organized by the Givat Haviva organization. Givat Haviva was founded with the purpose of creating a shared and equal society for all of Israel’s citizens. They do this via various programs, such as creating joint projects between Arab and Jewish municipalities and creating joint education programs between Arab and Jewish school districts.
They also focus on bringing Hebrew language classes to the Arab sector to help them fully integrate into Israeli society, and also focus on teaching Israeli Jews and foreigners Arabic. Approximately 30,000 – 40,000 Arab students across Israel are expected to take part in the program's Hebrew classes in the upcoming school year.
According to Executive director Yaniv Sagee, despite the fact that many Israeli-Arabs view themselves as Palestinians with Israeli an citizenship, “85 percent of (Israeli) Arabs want to live normal lives as full Israeli citizens. Givat Haviva understands this and wants to help the sector integrate.”
“There has been a lot more integration over the last fifteen years,” Sagee continued. “Arabs want to change their economic situation, and the government wants to help them. The government understands that the majority of the work force will be Arab and ultra-Orthodox by the next generation.”
Sagee's statement is reflected in the success of Givat Haviva in general and Soccer for Peace in particular, since one of the reasons why they are able to effectively work within the Arab community is the support they have received from by the Joint Arab List political party and other government entities. Their suport gives the organization the legitimacy it needs amongst the Arab sector in order to cause real changes on the ground.
“As an organization that was started by the Kibbutz Movement, we understand that Israel is the Jewish homeland. But as a democratic state, we understand that we must provide all of our citizens with equality and equal opportunity,” said Sagee.
The camp's participants ended their week with a tournament that saw Team Argentina take first place. The medals ceremony taht followed was attended by over 150 parents, including the Mayors of Baqa al-Gharbiyye and Pardes Hanna-Karkur, whose children had participated in the camp.
The biggest victory, however, came when Mahameed overheard aconversation between two of the campers. “The campers said, ‘We’ve been living together for four days and we were fine. If we can do it, then why can’t our parents?’”