Even though they may live in the same small country, many Arab and Israeli children still live in separate worlds within Israel. They attend different schools, worship at different places, and play on different sports teams. The only time they see one another is on television—in sensationalist images that peddle caricatures of Arab militants and Israeli racists.
Israeli- American Ori Winitzer founded Soccer for Peace from his home in New York to connect these kids through their mutual love for soccer. He believes that those united in sport can also find common ground outside the pitch, and that this common ground can facilitate dialogue and lead to mutual understanding. Soccer for Peace began as a simple fundraiser. But in 2005 it launched an annual overnight summer camp called “Goals of Peace”. Last summer, 39 Arab children and 35 Israeli children came together at “Goals of Peace” in the Nir HaEmek Youth Village in the Wadi Ara region of Israel. For four days, the kids learned soccer skills, then shared ideas and experiences in afternoon dialogue sessions, where they grew acquainted, developed mutual respect, and even friendships. “Before I came to the camp I did not have a Jewish friend,” says one Arab camper. “Now I have a Jewish friend. Asif here is my friend”.
On the last day of camp, the 74 campers visited a local synagogue to learn about Judaism. Afterwards, they traveled to a mosque to discuss Islam and Ramadan. Soccer for Peace believes that exposures to different cultures in the formative years of childhood can help mend years of war and ethnic strife which has ravaged Israel. And it believes these learning experiences will influence the political and social choices generations of Israelis will make in the future.
Soccer for Peace hopes to expand in the near future, adding more campers and extending the duration of the camp to 8 weeks. They also plan to include more girls and also allow Europeans and Americans to attend the camp to make the dialogue even more diverse.
To learn more about Soccer for Peace click here: http://www.soccerforpeace.com/
By Mike Weinstein