While the Israeli national team did not qualify for the World Cup taking place
this month in South Africa, a group of eight Israeli and Palestinian teenagers
will travel to Johannesburg next week to compete in the FIFA 2010 Football for
It may be Israel’s deepest involvement in the World Cup
since 1970, when the national team last qualified for the world’s top sporting
The team will join underprivileged youth from around the world in
a weeklong “street soccer” tournament representing 32 countries, playing
town from some of the top national teams in the world.
The youth teams
are delegates of organizations from around the world that share in a
combat social issues through soccer – drug trafficking in Colombia, HIV
education in South Africa, land mines in Cambodia and street violence in
America, among others.
The team from Israel, known as the “Peace Team,”
makes for a diverse group: four girls and four boys, four Arab players
Israeli players, one Arab coach and one Israeli coach.
The players, who
leave for South Africa on Sunday, were chosen in January from among the
players in an apprentice coaching program run under the auspices of the
Center for Peace.
“This is our opportunity to show people that Israelis
and Palestinians can play together, and also that we can live together,”
the Palestinian coach, Kamal Abu Altom.
He said that the language barrier
has made communication within the team difficult. But on the field, he
team will be a strong contender.
“We want to be number one in the
tournament,” he said.
The style of “street soccer” may pose the largest
obstacle, Abu Altom added. In regular soccer, which the participants
years playing, each team fields 11 players. In this tournament, the
teams will compete in a less structured environment, without even a
make the calls.
“Everyone should be a like a leader on the field,” Abu
Team organizers chose not to release the names of the players
to the press until they arrive in South Africa in order to protect them
they leave, said Inbal Yohanan-Halpert, the spokesperson for the Peres
All of the players are graduates of the Twinned Peace Sports
program, a joint Israeli- Palestinian initiative that brings
children together around sports and peace education.
Aside from local
soccer coaching in low-income neighborhoods in Israel and the West Bank,
program hosts joint Israeli-Palestinian activities on a monthly
The program, which today reaches as many as 1,600 young Israelis
and Palestinians every year, emerged in 2003 out of collaboration
Israeli Peres Center for Peace and the Al-Quds Association for Democracy
Dialogue, a Palestinian non-government organization.
dialogue and cooperation can we hope to produce a more normal life,”
Hay-Sagiv, director of the sports department at the Peres Center for
stated in a press release. “Soccer is a great tool to exercise it.”