Peki'in 2, Israel Police 0

Residents of Druse town say soccer match helped smooth over acrimony that followed riots two months ago.

Peki'in residents found the irony striking Sunday evening, and smiled as they pointed out that on their home court, the town's soccer team had vanquished the Israel Police team 2-0. The score, said one local resident, was not simply indicative of the tiny town's soccer victory in a peacemaking match between cops and residents, but of the fact that they felt a sense of vindication upon hearing confirmation that Galilee Subdistrict Lt.-Cmdr. Nir Mariash would be leaving his current position. Police faced off against Peki'in residents as part of a Jewish Agency initiative to help calm the situation in the Galilee town following violent confrontations between residents and police two months ago this week. In the riots, which were set off when a force of around 200 police entered the village to arrest suspects in the torching of a cellular antenna in a neighboring community, 27 police and 10 civilians were injured. But on the windswept soccer field on a hillside above the town center, the mood was one of forgiving - if not forgetting. After Peki'in shut out their police opponents, the two teams mixed, and played together - police and civilians versus police and civilians. "There was great cooperation between both of the teams," said Samak Hisawi. "It gave us a good feeling between police and residents." Hisawi added that calm had already been returning to the town, generally better known as a symbol of multiculturalism and understanding than for violent confrontations with security forces. Village residents said that since the violent incidents, they had begun operating their own patrols through the town's winding streets at night, with police support. Nevertheless, the wounds of the events two months ago were still not entirely healed. One resident, who preferred not to be named, described the victory on the soccer field as a parallel to Mariash's transfer outside of the subdistrict. "We feel more satisfied now," he said. "We wanted a government probe, and didn't get it. But at least this is something," said the resident, who had come to watch the evening's events. "What's good about us is that we forgive." Mariash will finish his tenure as subdistrict chief after just over a year in the position, and has now been tapped to head the police's Technological Authority. "For three years, there hasn't been a head of the Technological Authority in the police. And after a viable candidate wasn't found outside of the organization, we selected Mariash as one of the most deserving candidates from within the police," explained Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen Sunday, in the first official confirmation that Mariash would, in fact, be given the position. Cohen, however, would not connect the transfer to the events in Peki'in. An internal police probe into the confrontation is expected to be completed in the next few days, and rumors have been flying around the National Headquarters that the findings will be less than complimentary toward Northern District commanders, including Mariash. The game between police and adult residents was only one of two matches on the field Sunday afternoon, both designed to help renew the delicate chains of contact in the area, which is populated by Druse, Muslims, Christian Arabs, Circassians and Jews. After the adults played, the Peki'in children's team, which is part of a cooperative effort between the Jewish Agency and Hapoel Tel Aviv's Educational Branch to reinforce positive values through sport, faced off against the boy's team from nearby Merom Galil Regional Council. Kippas flapped on the heads of the away team's players, and some of the young spectators who watched on the sidelines wore traditional Druse pants, baggy on top and tapered at the bottom. This, said Jewish Agency coordinator Kinneret Zeevy, was part of the program's goal. The organization runs enrichment activities in conflict-afflicted areas in the North and around Sderot. Over 720 children in Peki'in participate in the activities, 222 of whom are involved in the soccer-coaching program sponsored by Hapoel Tel Aviv.