Training youngsters to shoot for peace

A final ceremony in Nazareth drew to a close five days of soccer designed by the Football for Peace organization to bridge the gap between Israeli Jews and Arabs.

A final ceremony in Nazareth last Thursday evening drew to a close five days of soccer and other activities designed by the Football for Peace organization to bridge the gap between Israeli Jews and Arabs. The Nazareth stadium was filled with more than 500 young Arab and Jewish participants, 34 British and German soccer coaches who had traveled to Israel to take part in the project, and approximately 80 local Jewish and Arab instructors. Ghaleb Majadle, Minister of Culture, Science and Sport in Israel was also in attendance. Football for Peace, a collaborative project of the Israeli Sports Authority, The University of Brighton and the British Council, was founded in 2001 as a sports-based coexistence project geared towards increasing communication in conflict areas at the grassroots level. It has since been holding cross-cultural tournaments in Israel every year. "Sport is an international language and we can use it as a bridge between two populations to have greater understanding and acceptance in the north of Israel," said Ghazi Nujidat, supervisor of the Israeli Sports Authority in Israel's north. In May, Arab and Jewish coaches from more than twenty communities in the Galilee joined British and German soccer instructors at the German Sports University in Cologne. There, the international group discussed how to best instill the values of the program in the children and participated in a variety of training sessions for one week. They then brought their expertise and commitment to northern Israel and have worked together to establish communication between the Arab and Jewish children through trust-building activities, value-based training and teamwork, both on and off the soccer field. The goals of Football for Peace, though intrinsically tied to sport, transcend sheer athleticism. According to their Web site, F4P seeks to promote conflict resolution and communication through the cultivation of neutrality, equity and inclusion, respect, trust and responsibility. Though centralizing their efforts on the younger generations, the hope is that the lessons learned from the initiatives will permeate the communities at large. "The main focus is on the children at the grassroots level," said John Sugden, co-founder of F4P. "We're interested in forging relationships between the kids but equally important is using that as an opportunity to develop networks at the adult level through the sports community." Since its inception, F4P has grown tremendously from engaging only 60 children through one community in 2001, to reaching hundreds of youth spanning more than twenty northern Israel communities in 2008. This year, Football for Peace returned to Israel with the introduction of more coaches from Germany. It also expanded the breadth of activities available to the participants outside of the soccer field to include sailing in the Sea of Galilee, cycling, and art, among others. The success of the Football for Peace model has been acknowledged on the international scale and has been adopted to promote communication in other conflict areas such as Northern Ireland. The Football Association of Ireland also promotes coexistence and is represented in Israel each year. Former FAI president Milo Corcoran, and Ophir Zardok, general manager of Drophega United, recently established the Football Village of Hope, a new Israeli-Palestinian soccer-based peace building initiative. Last week, the organization arranged for 60 Israeli and Palestinian children to meet and practice with members of the Maccabi Haifa soccer team, and to work with FAI coaches in an effort to bridge the divide between the youth.