Hapoel Tel Aviv football club has an amazing program called the Education and Social Project, but as a fan I never knew about it. It's a project in Israel that's been going for years involving approximately 20,000 children, half of them are Jews and half are non-Jews. Among these children are children from unrecognized villages, children whose parents are in jail, immigrants from Ethiopia, difficult groups. In this project, children are trained and given uniforms and extra lessons. They participate in a program that stresses leadership, respecting their parents, and meeting their neighbors. They have tournaments, they meet on the playing field and are taken to games at Bloomfield stadium. I heard that this week Bedouin children from the Arad area went to a soccer game and there was an announcement over the loudspeakers that the children from Kseifah arrived and the entire crowd clapped. Do you know what that means for children?
The project organizers called up Yoel Marshak, head of the Kibbutz Movement's task force, and requested we run the program in the Territories. I got involved and we got the ball rolling. Currently there are approximately fifteen groups in the southern Hebron Hills area, Sussiya, Um al-Hir, Twane. In every village or camp we set up a soccer team. In Twane we set up two teams. In the Jenin area we have four groups and in the Jerusalem area there are three or four. There are lots of problems. In some places, Palestinian security forces confiscated the equipment and spoiled our work. I've been after Jibril Rajoub [the head of the Palestinian Football Federation] for half a year or so, I even requested that [Member of Knesset] Ami Ayalon meet with him. [The Palestinians] refuse to recognize the program because they see it as normalization, acknowledging the Occupation. The participants in this program take responsibility for themselves. There are villages that are dying to take part in the program, in Salem - the kids, the council, the head of council - but the governor won't approve it.
The southern Hebron Hills area is the hub of the soccer program. I took children for a day at the zoo and at the beach [in Israel], not soccer-related activities. Later, we set up four teams and organized tournaments and they competed against each other. Each group has a counselor, a trainer and a local student who gives them extra lessons. Obviously this requires many donations and a lot of funding. The peak of activity was less than a month ago. In March 2009 I got permits for about 100 Palestinian children from the southern Hebron Hills to participate in a joint tournament for Palestinian and Israeli boys from kibbutz Na'an, Kibbutz Harel and Gedera. The teams were mixed - we don't play Jews versus Arabs.
Prior to the tournament we held workshops, including for the counselors of both teams. We did some preparation with children and parents, because it isn't easy for parents to let their children come. Children go home and tell their brothers how they enjoyed themselves at the beach, on the soccer field, how they met Israelis there. That can portray another Israel. In January 2010, approximately 120 Palestinian kids from this program are going to visit Israel again. They'll meet Israeli kids and go see a play in Jaffa, the Israeli kids - from Kibbutz Harel, Na'an and Avigdor - will host them.