Jewish and Arab youth learn co-existence through soccer

Some of the 7,000 Israel Arab and Jewish children, whom came to Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium. The children are part of a new campaign sponsored by the New Israel Fund to promote co-existence and mutual respect in Israel. 7,000 Jewish …

Some of the 7,000 Israel Arab and Jewish children, whom came to Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium. The children are part of a new campaign sponsored by the New Israel Fund to promote co-existence and mutual respect in Israel. 7,000 Jewish and Arab Israeli children sent a powerful message of coexistence throughout Israel last week by focusing on a common bond – soccer.

The youth, all players in the Hapoel Tel Aviv’s junior league, were the guests of honor at a match between their parent team and rival Hapoel Petah Tikva in honor of the end of Hannukka and Ramadan.

The event was sponsored by the New Israel Fund under the moniker ‘A New Voice in the Stadium.’ The New Israel Fund is a philanthropic partnership of Israelis, North Americans and Europeans that works to strengthen Israeli democracy and to ensure equality and social justice for all of Israel’s citizens

The children, many of whom had never before been to Tel Aviv, represented more than 200 towns and villages throughout the country. Dressed in HaPoel Tel Aviv colors of red and white – they marched around the stadium holding balloons and placards bearing the names of the Israeli Jewish, Arab, Bedouin and Druze towns they come from.

“We brought the 7,000 children here tonight to raise their voices against racism, against intolerance and against violence,” said Moti Orenstein, the team’s Chairman.

Eliezer Ya’ari, NIF Executive Director added, “At a time when soccer matches have become notorious breeding grounds for racism and incitement, we are using the soccer field to insure that ‘A New Voice in the Stadium’ – calling for co-existence and the end of incitement – will be heard loud and clear among all diverse groups all across Israel.”

After circling the field, the children took their seats in the stadium among some 20,000 spectators who came to watch the exciting match. Forty minutes into the game, Salim Towama, Hapoel Tel Aviv’s only Arab player, scored the first of the team’s two goals – sending the crowd, especially the children, into pandemonium. The crowd favorites – Tel Aviv – won the game 2-1.

After the game, Towama said he felt soccer brings peoples together. “I hope that it will happen outside of soccer and that there will be quiet here,” he added.

Sultan Nabar, 25, an Israeli Arab from Kfar Hura, who is an umpire in the junior league seconded that emotion.

“Soccer is the best thing because it allows co-existence between Jews and Arabs. Sport is against violence and if you bring the Jews and Arabs together and on the same team it fosters co-existence because they have nothing to fight about.”