Playing on the same team for a peaceful future (Israel)

(Reposted from: Jerusalem Post.  May 14, 2019)

By Eytan Halon
The Israel Football Association (IFA) and the Jaffa-based Peres Center for Peace and Innovation signed an agreement on Monday to collaborate on a unique nationwide project, which will build connections between Jewish and Arab boys and girls through soccer.

The “Playing Fair, Leading Peace” initiative will work with schools from across the country, providing cross-cultural peace education, including playing soccer with Jews and Arabs on the same team and learning both Hebrew and Arabic.

In keeping with the Peres Center’s “FairPlay” methodology, mixed teams play without a referee, determine the rules of the game together and jointly resolve any disagreements that occur during the game.

Backed by the National Union of Israeli Students and the London-based Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, 17 students will join a sports leadership program to equip them with the necessary skills to lead the new project.

“Sport represents a brilliant platform for shared existence, building values and a better, fairer society,” said Chemi Peres, chairman of the board of directors at the Peres Center.

“For many years, we have organized soccer matches between Jews and Arabs, and [between] Israelis and our neighbors. There are many places in the world that are adopting our model of shared existence and problem-solving,” he said.

Bridging obstacles of language, politics and religion through sports has been utilized by the Peres Center for more than 17 years, with its “Twinned Peace Sports Schools” initiative so far reaching over 22,000 Palestinian and Israeli – both Jewish and Arab – boys and girls since its establishment.

“This project integrates the embrace of all parts of the community that we want to see, and it’s the project that you see in all the Israeli national teams today,” said IFA chairman Moshe Shino Zuarez.

“This project is how we wish to see co-existence – working with children and bringing everyone together. That’s our objective at the end of the day: to make the future of all these children better.”

The Peres Center also announced that it has been selected for a second time to receive FIFA Foundation funding.

The foundation, established in March 2018 and led by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, aims to foster positive social change around the world and raise support for the recovery and reconstruction of damaged or destroyed sports infrastructure worldwide. The Peres Center is the only Israeli organization to benefit from the foundation’s funding.

“In soccer, all players are equal and you don’t feel any differences between people,” Israeli national team and Maccabi Tel Aviv defender Sheran Yeini told The Jerusalem Post.

The team is a prime example of how sports can build bridges between different communities. A Circassian-Israeli Muslim, Bibras Natkho, currently captains the team, mostly made up of Jews and Israeli-Arabs.

“Although it’s sometimes an aggressive game, we are partners and we have a joint objective to win, and wish to do so fairly,” Yeini said. “In my eyes, soccer is a sport which can provide many examples of how we can co-exist together in our country.”

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