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CALENDAR OF EVENTS

December 2019
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Sports Programs

Bringing Youth Together through Football

“Football has an incredible power, which can be used to make this world a better place in which everyone can live," according to FIFA (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the worldwide governing body football/soccer). its Fair Play Code includes the advice: "Use this powerful platform to promote peace, equality, health and education for everyone. Make the game better, take it to the world, and you will be fostering a better world.”

This proved true in Gaza and Israel, in a collaboration between the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP) and the World Association of NGOs.

In Gaza, IIFWP representative Steve Gabb proposed a Play Football Make Peace tournament at the end of 2004 as a way to bring together groups of young people. The concept galvanized not only coaches and soccer club managers but also the youths themselves. Their response stimulated the cooperation of the Palestinian Football Association and the Ministry of Sports and Culture. After fierce jockeying for tournament slots, 16 teams, with over 300 players under the age of 19, were chosen to participate.

This opened the way for youth from all the main groups in Gaza to get together and compete. Principles of sportsmanship and values that promote peace were conveyed to the teams' coaches, managers, and players. The referees were also made aware of the goals of the tournament, and they made it their job to ensure that the players lived up to those expectations. In fact, teams received penalties for violating the norms of fair play and were rewarded for excellence in adhering to them.

It happened that the tournament began during the 40-day mourning period for PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat, who died November 11, and the final game was played on January 8, 2005, the day before the presidential elections.

Among the greatest challenges in producing the Gaza events were the "closures" between the different areas within the territory. Israeli military checkpoints split the Gaza Strip into three sections. Organizers had to bring in the team from Khan Younis the night before and put the players up in a hotel to ensure that they would be there to compete in the finals.

The teams that reached the finals were from Khan Younis and El Helal. The two teams were so evenly matched that some people said it was sad for one to have to lose at all.

"The tournament involved representatives from all the main groups in Gaza," said Gabb. "It demonstrated perhaps for the first time that these diverse groups could cooperate for a peace-promoting event."

"Even though the Palestinian Football Association had been in existence for more than ten years, this tournament was the first time that such a diverse array of teams was brought together and that such a large tournament was organized," said Gabb. This was the largest football tournament in Gaza and the first time so many teams came together.

In January 2005, an 11-day tournament was organized for Israeli and Arab youths in Northern Israel. Using football for peacebuilding is appropriate, as it is the most widely-played sport in Israel.

"During the tournament, Jewish and Arab youth and coaches had the chance to come into contact with one another and partake in a joint activity,” said organizer Mohammad Darawshe of the PeaceWorks Foundation. “This is something that does not happen often enough in our country.”

The Givat Haviva Institute and its Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, one of the oldest peace organizations in Israel helped organize the tournament.

The professional football clubs in Israel each have teams for youths under 18 years old. Eight leading Israeli clubs—four Jewish and four Arab—entered their youth teams into the competition. The Israel Football Association president attended the final match of the tournament and recommended that the program be incorporated into the Israeli national youth football schedule.

In the final match, the boys from Sakhnin, a small town in the hills of Galilee, scored a victory over the Maccabi Haifa team. The professional Maccabi Haifa team, a popular team throughout Israel, had played the day before in the national championships.

There had been racial incidents among fans at tournaments earlier in the year, and coaches sought to dispel racism among the players. Maccabi Haifa youth team coach Avi Aboukarat told a reporter from the Jewish Chronicle, “I don’t talk politics with the players and they don’t either. My experience is that when they play on the same field, Jewish and Arab teenagers meet as equals. After the games they become friends. Sport is the most effective way to achieve peace and coexistence.”

Sakhnin’s goalkeeper Sha’adi Miari, commented about playing Jewish teams in the youth tournament: “The more we play, the better we know each other. We all understand Hebrew, and the barriers of identification are falling.”

The victorious Sakhnin team and their mayor took home the Tournament Cup awarded them by the President of the Israel Football Association and local IIFWP organizers Mr. Nonaka and Sheikh Ali Birani. These boys took great pride in their accomplishment.

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