Tags: Soccer, sport, sport for peace, Middle East, Israel, Palestine, building bridges, breaking down barriers, bridge building, breaking down misunderstandings

Israeli, Palestinian kids find peace through soccer


Hapoel Tel Aviv Educational Enterprise brings Israeli and Palestinian children together to play soccer, get to know each other and learn tolerance and respect towards one another

Josh Lichtenstein

Published: 04.02.09,     08:18 / Israel Culture

On Tuesday, Hapoel Tel Aviv Educational Enterprise brought together Palestinian and Israeli children to play a soccer tournament at the club’s training complex in Holon. The tournament brought together children ages 7-14 in the hope of developing mutual understanding.

Most Israeli and Palestinian children never interact with one another. Organizers believe that by giving them a chance to play together, they will be less likely to develop stereotypes as adults. Through the game of soccer, young children are able to learn values of tolerance and respect for one another.

The event was attended by several players from Hapoel Tel Aviv, including the team’s captain Walid Badir, Maaran Lala, Bibras Natkho, Omri Canada and Eden Ben Basat. It was a great thrill for the kids to spend an afternoon with professional athletes they admire. Following the tournament, the kids were taken on a cruise.
The kids with Hapoel Tel Aviv captain Walid Badir (Photo: Tahel Azulai)

One of the Palestinian children commented, “I hope I will meet Israeli kids and play with them, until now I thought everybody was the same, but after we started this activity I understand there are some Jewish kids that are different”.

Walid Badir adde, “It’s a great experience to see Arabs and Israelis playing together…it’s a holy day for the children and the Israeli country. I hope in the future there will be real peace and we’ll live together.”

The Hapoel Tel Aviv Educational Enterprise is a non-profit organization that was founded 12 years ago. Since that time, over 25,000 Israeli and Palestinian children have been brought together to play soccer.

In recent years, soccer clubs have been founded in eight villages within the Palestinian territory. Over 400 kids have taken part in the soccer and educational activities conducted in these villages. All programs offered by Hapoel Tel Aviv Educational Enterprise, are free of charge. This gives all kids the opportunity to play soccer and get to know their neighbors.

Hopefully, graduates of this program will become the future leaders of a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.



By Laura Lavie, Peres Center for Peace, Sports Unit

Thanks to Children of Peace’s dedicated support, 120 Palestinian and Israeli youth from Bethlehem and Yeruham currently receive regular sports and fitness training, Peace Education, auxiliary educational support and take part in joint Palestinian-Israeli encounters on a regular basis. According to coaches’ feedback, the youngsters are making excellent progress in their individual communities through the sports training, scholastic support and Peace Education, and have displayed much cooperation and interest in meeting and socializing with one another during the joint activities.

So far, the youngsters from Bethlehem and Yeruham have participated in three joint activities, one of which was a joint social excursion to watch the Croatia-Israel football match which was part of the European Championship Cup preliminary rounds.

The young people who take part in the program are from underprivileged communities which the Sports Department reaches out to in the hope of providing opportunities and a brighter outlook for the future leaders of tomorrow.

The residents of Bethlehem, the renowned city of Christian pilgrimage located in the Palestinian Authority, frequently experience limitations on movement in and out of Israel – this has strongly affected the employment situation for Palestinians from this city. The financial crisis in the Palestinian Authority, which has been exacerbated by the international blockade on transferring of funds to the PA, has worsened the city’s already poor socio-economic situation. Yeruham, an Israeli development town located in the Negev, southern Israel, has a severe deficit in social services and educational activities for children and youth. The majority of Yeruham’s families cannot afford extra-curricular activities and academic support for their children. The “Twinned Peace Soccer Schools”program is to the knowledge of the Peres Center, the only extra curricular activity of its which occupies the children after school.

The political reality and the history of the complex relationship between the Jewish and the Arab people forms a broad foundation for the cultivation of biased attitudes and negative stereotypes among both people, as well as among the international community. The last few years – in particular since the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000 – have been characterized by violence and bloodshed. Political events of the last few months, namely the drastic changes in both Palestinian and Israeli governmental constituencies, and the outbreak of the Israel-Lebanon war, have presented many obstacles on the road to peace.

In this vein, Children of Peace are part of a unique and exciting initiative which provides a positive alternative to Palestinian-Israeli cooperation. Soccer is an ideal way of transcending political, cultural and religious boundaries, and being a language that is universally identifiable, can truly assist in paving the

way to establishing peace. Palestinians and Israelis alike all adore soccer, the fervour of the World Cup detectable in Palestinian and Israeli towns alike, with flags of favourite countries being hung and flown on almost every house, in almost every community.

Sport is indeed a great means of bringing youth of different backgrounds together, and encouraging mutual respect, cooperation and trust through a common interest. During these difficult times, such projects are paramount in counteracting the hostility and negative attitudes which youth of this delicate age group easily absorb. The “Twinned Peace Sports Schools”creates microcosms of peaceful coexistence which reverberate throughout the families and communities of these young participants, and have an overall positive effect on all of those involved. The Peres Center for Peace seeks to gain further support for its sports projects, in order to reach out to a greater number of disadvantaged youth and their respective communities.


The seven children featured in PROMISES are between the ages of 9-13, an age group that rarely has the opportunity to speak for itself. They are neither as self-conscious as teen-agers nor as polite as adults. They speak directly, without self-censorship. The film captures each child’s unique, idiosyncratic style of communication. They are far more amusing than an audience might expect of “children of war”. These children are also mirrors of their cultures and spokespeople for future generations of Israelis and Palestinians. They possess an acute awareness of the political reality that surrounds them and have a freshness of expression that is inspiring, in contrast to the entrenched and often embittered opinions of adults. These 7 Palestinian and Israeli children live in and around Jerusalem. Though only 20 minutes apart, they exist in completely separate worlds.

MOISHE, a compulsive lotto player lives in the right-wing settlement of Beit El, intends to be Israel’s first religious Prime Minister. Gesticulating like a 50 year old rabbi, Moishe shows us the place in the Torah where God gave the land to the Jews. Though he has never met an Arab, he assures us that when he runs the country, he’ll “clear them all out of Jerusalem!” During production, Moishe’s friend, Ephraim is killed by Palestinian terrorists. At Ephraim’s grave, Moishe swears revenge.

20 minutes away we meet blond, blue eyed MAHMOUD, a supporter of Hamas. “The more Jews we kill,” he says, “the stronger the Arabs will be.” We visit Mahmoud’s school, where the Koran is taught as a manifesto for Palestinian emancipation. Mahmoud takes us to Jerusalem’s Old City where he visits the awesomely beautiful Al Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest shrines. At the mosque Mahmoud prays for the liberation of his homeland.

Just below the Mosque, SHLOMO, an ultra-orthodox Jewish boy is praying at the Western Wall. A rabbi-in-training, Shlomo spends 12 hours a day studying the Torah. Shlomo says that he has no conflict with the Arabs, he puts his faith in God, and believes peace will come with the arrival of the Messiah. But, on his way home from praying, Shlomo has a run-in with a Palestinian boy. What could be a fist fight turns into a metaphorical sequence as the kids reveal their hostility and curiosity about one another in an unexpected burping contest.

In West Jerusalem we meet YARKO and DANIEL, secular Israeli twins deeply concerned with questions of the army, religion and soccer. They visit a friend in the hospital, a soldier who was wounded in a bomb blast, and express how scared they are to travel on buses. On Memorial day they spend time with their grandfather, and grill him for details of his experiences in the German death camps. They also try to nail him down on a question they themselves are wrestling with: does he believe in God?

15 minutes away we are in a completely different world. FARAJ lives in the Deheishe refugee camp. At the age of 5 Faraj saw his best friend killed by an Israeli soldier’s bullet and the word, “Israeli” means nothing to him short of “murderer.” After participating in a massive anti-Israeli rally, Faraj and his grandmother sneak out of the camp and over the border to visit the village in Israel where she grew up and from which she fled in the in the 1948 war. Sitting on the stones that once were his family home, Faraj vows that he will return some day to rebuild.

SANABEL is also a 3rd generation refugee. She comes from a family of “modern” secular Arabs and expresses her feelings in a manner uncharacteristic for a girl in a conservative Islamic society. Sanabel is training to be a folk dancer and wants to use traditional Palestinian dance to tell the story of the story of her people. Her father, an outspoken journalist, has been held in an Israeli prison for two years without trial. We rise with Sanabel’s family at dawn to travel to the prison for their bi-monthly 30 minute visit.

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Shalom and Salam and Welcome to the website of Soccer Stars For Peace. Soccer Stars For Peace is an organization which encourages children in the Middle East to find peace through soccer. Many Israeli and Palestinian children love to play soccer and their love for this game overcomes the hatred for the enemy. This love makes them a team, a soccer team.

There are several organizations that organize Soccer Camps for Peace and our goal is to encourage them to keep on doing this, so peace between children will be developed on a small scale. One of the main activities of Soccer Stars For Peace is to let well-known Soccer Stars share encouraging words with these little Jewish and Palestinian Heroes. These kids are examples of millions of people in the Middle East and they are a little light in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Ronaldo Visits Israel

Photo: David Silverman

‘Soccer for Peace’ Helps Build Understanding Between Arabs and Jews

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 By Ahmad Shuja

NEW YORK — Forsan Hussein was born and raised in a tight Arab neighborhood in Israel. He spoke only Arabic and had only Arab friends. Though he lived in a Jewish state, he never met a Jew until he was 10 years old, and he couldn’t speak the other boy’s language, Hebrew.

But they soon discovered they had a language in common — soccer.

“Growing up in Israel you are aware that you are different, that you are a minority,” Hussein said of the tensions he felt as an Arab boy in the Jewish nation (Arabs make up 20 percent of Israel’s population).

But Hussein learned to speak Hebrew and made Jewish friends when he met them on the soccer field. When kids play together on a team, pass the ball to each other, support their team and ultimately score a goal for it, they break barriers and forge lasting friendships, he said.

“Soccer creates a connection that survives,” the 30-year-old Hussein said, citing the friendships he formed 20 years ago.

Today, he lives in the United States, working with Soccer for Peace, a New York-based nonprofit organization that runs soccer camps for Arab and Jewish children in Israel. He hopes the program will enable Arab and Jewish children in Israel to have the same sort of friendships that he developed 20 years ago.

Click here to read more about Soccer for Peace.

As part of the program, Hussein recently helped organize the Soccer for Peace Cup, bringing together about 300 players from 32 teams in New York City.

The event raised funds for the organization’s programs, which recruit 10- and 11-year-old Arab and Jewish children who have a love of soccer in common. Some 100 kids train and play in a one-week soccer camp, called Camp Coexistence, sharing activities, building bonds and establishing friendships.

The week of camp is followed by a year-long program in which children play more soccer and share other activities — visits to mosques and synagogues, trips to Bedouin camps and class discussions on understanding and peace.

The program is repeated every year for six years. The same set of children train and play soccer in mixed Arab and Jewish teams.

On Saturdays their teams play league matches, and that brings their families — Arabs and Jews — closer.

“You see Jewish families and Arab families supporting the same team; they cheer for the same children. They come together and become friends, building trust and confidence,” said Assaf Toledano, director of the Israeli Maccabim Association, a partner of Soccer for Peace.

“It’s really wonderful and amazing.”

Soccer for Peace believes bringing children and their families closer helps foster peace in the divided region. It hopes to show through Camp Coexistence that if Jews and Arabs can coexist inside Israel, they can coexist outside of it — side by side, in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“Peace is not something that is legislated,” explained Ori Winitzer, founder of Soccer for Peace. “It can only be built between individuals.”

Winitzer, an Israeli-American Jew, hopes Camp Coexistence will make a lasting impact on the children, ultimately changing minds and closing the gaps in their lives.

“The six years is hopefully long enough to build friendships and change attitudes that will last a lifetime,” he said.

The long-term vision of Soccer for Peace is to expand its activities and unite children of communities engulfed in conflict around the world.

But for now it is focusing on the individuals and communities in Israel, goal by goal, person by person.

“Peace in the region has so far been on paper, between politicians. And it has not worked,” said Hussein.

“We are trying to bring peace through the people. It will work.”

Real Madrid trounces Israeli-Palestinian peace squad 8-0
By The Associated Press and Haaretz Servic
Fresh of its La Liga championship, Real Madrid came out   strong Tuesday, crushing a mixed Israeli-Palestinian team 8-0 in a peace   match held in front of 30,000 fans at the national stadium in Ramat Gan.The game was organized by the Peres Center for Peace, headed   by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and President-elect Shimon Peres. The center   runs a number of peace sports schools in Israel where Israeli and Palestinian   children train together.Star midfielder Guti grabbed a first half hat trick for   Madrid to put the game all but out of reach for the Peace Team, which   included Israel captain Yossi Benayoun and Bolton Wanderer’s Idan Tal.

Striker Raul added a fourth two minutes into the second half before being substituted followed by a goal by Alvara Negredo, another from Guti and one from Ruben de la Red.

The rout was finished off two minutes from the end by Negredo. Madrid brought a near-full squad of players to Israel, and coach Fabio Capello included many of the stars who had played a significant part in Real’s La Liga triumph at the weekend in his opening line up, including Sergio Ramos and Michel Salgado.

Peres began the game with a ceremonial kickoff.

But the biggest star, Madrid’s David Beckham, did not make the trip. Beckham played his last match for Real Madrid on Sunday and is joining the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League soccer next month.

Roberto Carlos also missed the match, having arrived in Istanbul on Tuesday to complete his transfer to Turkish side Fenerbahce.

The Peace Team nearly took a surprise early lead in the second minute when Sivasspor’s Pini Balili found himself with only goalie Iker Casillas to beat. But the Israeli international was unable to make the chance count and Casillas saved easily.

Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain forced the first real save of the match in the 27th minute when he unleashed a powerful shot which Peace Team goalkeeper Dudu Awat punched away for a corner kick.

Two minutes later Real took the lead when Guti fired past Awat from the edge of the area.

Benayoun had a great chance to score in the 37th minute, but his volley was too weak. Guti made it 2-0 in the 40th minute when he hit a strong shot from the left side of the penalty area which Awat was powerless to stop. And he scored his third in the 45th when he half-volleyed into the corner from the center of the penalty box.

Raul scored the fourth for Real two minutes into the second half, kicking the ball past Awat from the edge of the area. Negredo scored a fifth with 28 minutes to go, and Guti got his fourth and Madrid’s sixth two minutes later.

It was 7-0 in the 74th minute when de la Red scored a skillful goal, evading substitute goalkeeper Shavit Elimelech. Negredo scored his second of the match in the 88th.

Raul said prior to the match that the celebrations following Real’s 3-1 win over Mallorca on Sunday night – which clinched the club’s 30th league title – may have taken a toll but the players would give their best.

“We are very happy to be here, as we believe we have to work to help these kids,” he told a news conference. “The team is very tired but we have to play a spectacular match for the fans and people watching.”

The Peace Squad is made up of players from the Israeli and Palestinian leagues. It includes Israel goalkeeper Dudu Awat, who currently plays for Deportivo La Coruna in Spain, Maccabi Haifa’s Abbas Suan and Beitar Jerusalem’s Omri Afek.

The match was the third between a peace team and a prominent Spanish club. However, unlike the games against Barcelona in 2005 and Seville in2006, this was the first in Israel.

Madrid president Ramon Calderon said it was the club’s idea to play in Tel Aviv.

“We wanted to come here and play this match where the problem is,” he said. “People are aware of what, unfortunately, is happening in the world. That is the reason we wanted to come and practically demanded to come. Real Madrid does not close its eyes to the social realities that surround us.”

No to Terrorism, yes to Peace

Brazilian player Ronaldinho, second right, and Luis Garcia, second left, wear shirts with,No to Terrorism, Yes to Peace.

Israeli-Palestinian soccer ‘peace team’ to face Barcelona’s stars

Exhibition match, to be attended by Shimon Peres, also gets active support from movie actor Sean Connery.

By Haaretz Service and Reuters

The joint Israeli-Palestinian soccer “peace team,” sponsored by Shimon Peres’ Center for Peace, flew to Spain on Sunday for a friendly match against Spain’s leading team Barcelona on Tuesday evening.

The “peace team” includes Israeli internationals and Palestinian players from the West Bank.

Most of the 27-member team, which was accompanied by a host of local sports and political dignitaries, flew from Tel Aviv for the match Tuesday, which comes at the end of a two-day Euro-Mediterranean summit in Barcelona. Leaders of all 25 European Union member states and 10 of Mediterranean neighbors are meeting in the city to discuss closer regional cooperation.

The team will be jointly coached by newly-appointed Israel national team coach Dror Kashtan and Palestinian coach Jamal Hadeideh of Tul Karm.

“Soccer is a language that anybody can understand, and I’m happy to be a part of the message that will go out to the world through this match – that Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in soccer is a natural thing,” Kashtan said in a statement. “I hope that this game is only the first of many other joint sporting ventures that will take place in the future.”

Movie actor and soccer fan Sean Connery, who is in Barcelona to promote Monday’s game said: “What we really need is to get back some of the optimism we had five years ago (in the Middle East peace process) and I’m sure there’s going to be a change in the climate within a week.”

Members of the 15-strong Israeli contingent include national team captain Avi Nimni, veteran defenders Arik Benado and Alon Harazi, and Israeli Arabs Abbas Suan and Walid Badir. Among the 12 Palestinian members is national team captain Haldin Mahed Ali Aloara.

Regular sporting events between Israelis and Palestinians are rare. The Peres center’s soccer and basketball coaching program for Israeli and Palestinian youth, which is begun in 2002, is an exception.

The center says some 2,000 children already have benefited from the program, which has promoted projects with the help of Real Madrid’s Brazilian striker Ronaldo and Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho, who visited the region earlier this year.

Israeli-Palestinian soccer team honored in Johannesburg 

Israeli and Palestinian girls play on the same team with the Peres Center for Peace soccer initiative.  Photo source : Flickr 

Washington –  A team of Israeli and Palestinian teenage soccer players was honored in Johannesburg on Thursday at Museum Africa by former president FW de Klerk for its contribution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, 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,” de Klerk said.

The team has played together through the auspices of the Peres Centre for Peace, based in Israel, and the Al-Quds for Democracy, based in Palestine. The Peace Team has registered to take part in the Fifa Football for Hope Festival, a mini-World Cup event, featuring teams created in other conflict situations around the world, reported The team will start playing from Sunday until Thursday in Alexandria, Johannesburg

The team has four girls and four boys, four Arab players and four Israeli players, one Arab coach and one Israeli coach.

“This is our opportunity to show people that Israelis and Palestinians can play together, and also that we can live together,” the team’s Palestinian coach, Kamal Abu Altom told the Jerusalem Post  in June.

He said that the language barrier has made communication within the team difficult. But on the field, he said, the team will be a strong contender.

“We want to be number one in the tournament,” he added.

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I believe in the resilience of humanity… I believe in  the triumph of the human spirit.”

“Let each one of us build bridges rather than barriers, openness rather than walls. Let us look at distant horizons together in a spirit of acceptance, helpfulness, co-operation and peace. Let our leaders look at the future with a vision – to see things not as they are, but what they could one day become.”

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“Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tide and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

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“Let us reach for the world that ought to be, that spark of the divine, that still stirs within each one of us.”
– the words of Barack Obama in accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway


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– Fouad Twal (top Roman Catholic official in the Holy land and Palestinian citizen of Jordan)