This week’s blog is written by Robert Venzia a native of Hillborough, New Jersey & a current participant of Tikkun Olam, Co-Existence track. He is currently interning at The Peres Center for Peace- Sports department. He is working on their Twinned Schools Football project. Here he blogs about his experience at the project’s first training seminar.
This past weekend I attended my first joint training football camp. We had about forty high-school aged Israeli and Palestinian girls attending this camp at Kibbutz Dorot, very close to the Israeli border with Gaza. The program they are part of is called the Twinned Schools Program, which brings together girls of the same age group from one school in Israel and one school in Palestine to play sports (mostly football) together. The Israeli girls were from the city of Kiryat Gat and they had experienced Qassam Rocket fire over the past few years. The Palestinian girls were from the city of Jericho in the West Bank.
The first thing that we did was introduction activities, which involved ice-breaker games to allow the girls to get to know each other. After the ice-breaker activity, we went to lunch and that is when I saw that I had a large hurdle to jump. The girls did not interact with each other; they only talked to the girls from their group. The Israelis only talked to the Israeli and the Palestinians only talked to the Palestinians. This was a bit disconcerting, because I had thought that the girls would come together and would interact and thus peace would be achieved. That was a pretty naïve thing to believe, because nothing in life worth accomplishing is ever that easy.
The one thing that the girls all seemed to enjoy was the music of Justin Bieber and football (soccer). When the girls began playing “Fair-play” football you could see that Nelson Mandela was right in a sense when he said, “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” The girls did not seem to care who was Palestinian or Israeli, they saw only their teammate, and they only wanted to win. When they scored, they hugged each other. The girls did not see race or religion, they only saw their teammate. Mandela’s quote was proven partially correct in what I witnessed. Sure, the girls before and after the football game did not interact much, but on the field they did.
Throughout the rest of the camp, we did Yoga together, a drawing activity, and played games together. The most excited the girls got, however, was when we played Bingo. On an aside, I never remember Bingo being a game that involved yelling and fierce competition, but that was the case with the girls. They were in teams of two, one Israeli and one Palestinian, and even though they did not speak the same language, I saw that they felt a connection.
This blog took me a while to write, because I was unsure of how to state the conclusion. I realize that my participation in the Twinned Schools Program will not get me a Nobel Peace Prize and that peace will not happen tomorrow due to my efforts. Human beings are not very patient, they want immediate results and thus cannot wait for change to slowly happen. My friend and former professor Sam Mustafa once told me, “peace is a ‘process.’ It’s not an end-state or a simple goal. It’s an ongoing relationship that requires constant action and maintenance. It’s not to be found in any treaty or agreement, but rather in a state of mind.” I believe that this is true, and programs like the Twinned Schools can make the dream of peace a reality. You have to have trust in peace and the process of trust begins with getting to know someone. The personal connection is the most important in breaking down barriers. There is no problem with the process of peace starting with football, because it has to start somewhere. A month ago, on Yom Rabin, I asked what Rabin’s legacy was and I think I have now realized what it was. His legacy lives on in everyone who was inspired by him to achieve peace and do things, both large and small to make his dream, that he died for, a reality. I feel that this is why I came to Israel.