Arab and Jewish Jerusalemites celebrate common love of soccer

An evening of kicks and camaraderie held at Kulna Jerusalem’s Goals and Gates, at the Tower of David Museum

Some penalty kicks in Kulna Jerusalem event, held before Monday night's World Cup game (Courtesy Ricky Rachman)
Some penalty kicks in Kulna Jerusalem event, held before Monday night's World Cup game (Courtesy Ricky Rachman)

It was an evening of kicks and camaraderie as 300 Jerusalemites — Arabs and Jews — came together to celebrate Goals and Gates, a soccer event in honor of the World Cup game Monday night.

Organized by Kulna Jerusalem and held at the Tower of David Museum, the ancient citadel at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, the event was the first of four aimed at bringing the capital’s different populations together to celebrate a shared love of soccer.

Kulna Jerusalem, which means “we are all Jerusalem” in Arabic and Hebrew, was founded in October 2016 by Arab and Jewish Jerusalemites who wanted to advance coexistence in the city through friendship, contact and cooperation. Their concept is to create opportunities for interaction, with events in Hebrew and Arabic, so that everyone can participate.

Last year, thousands of Jerusalemites participated in Kulna Jerusalem’s backgammon tournament between Jews and Arabs.

“It seemed to us only natural to go to the field, for the most popular game in the world,” said Kulna co-founder Zaki Djemal. “We’re forming connections between East and West Jerusalem on the basis of our joint love of the game.”

Some capoeira moves before the big soccer game (Courtesy Ricky Rachman)

Monday night’s soccer event included a penalty-kick contest, live music, face painting and a large screen for watching Monday night’s Spain vs. Morocco game, complete with beanbag seats and bowls of sunflower seeds, the standard snack when watching soccer in the Middle East.

The event was an escape from the constant tensions of the city, said Djemal.

Mothers with kids, some women wearing hijabs, others wearing wigs in accordance with Orthodox Jewish law, mingled easily in the citadel courtyard as their children ran around participating in the various activities.

“We’ve discovered that people want to actually know more about about each other,” said Eilat Lieber, director of the museum. “We know that the people of Jerusalem can really meet and talk although sometimes the political situation outside is difficult.”

Jerusalemites of all stripes participated in Kulna Jerusalem’s soccer event ahead of Monday’s night game (Courtesy Ricky Rachman)

The evening began with a performance of capoeira, the Brazilian form of martial arts performed by a local group of kids and teens, and continued with a penalty-kick contest as eleven representatives tried to score against the goalie, a local professional player.

After a concert of Andalusian music, the crowd came together to watch the Spain vs. Morocco game, which ended in a draw.

The Kulna cultural events, which take place periodically throughout the year, are essential, said Djemal.

Zaki Djemal, one of the founders behind Kulna Jerusalem, which attempts to bring together local Arabs and Jews around cultural events (Courtesy Shlomi Yosef)

“Something about these sorts of interactions are particularly meaningful, because they facilitate trust,” said Djemal, who added that he was motivated by his love of Jerusalem, a city that is essentially segregated, with little active interaction between Arabs and Jews. “I know I can make a difference in Jerusalem and was happens here can make a difference in the rest of the region. It is a way for me to interact with the broader conflict on a smaller scale.”

As the sun set against the ancient stones of the citadel, the crowd relaxed on cushions and chairs to watch the game under the starry Jerusalem sky.

Three more Kulna Jerusalem events will be held during the World Cup semifinals on July 10 and 11, and for the final game on July 15. Watch the Kulna Jerusalem Facebook page for more information.

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