A Jewish-Arab soccer academy aims to break down barriers between children in Jerusalem and educate them towards tolerance and coexistence.
Kicking off Thursday, the “Equals Team” was jointly established by fan-owned, anti-racist Jerusalem soccer club Hapoel Katamon, along with the East Jerusalem Soccer Academy, and supported by New Israel Fund’s “Kick Racism Out of Israeli Football” project.
The program includes 100 children between the ages of 10 to 12, half from predominantly Arab East Jerusalem and the other half from Hapoel Katamon’s soccer academy in the western side of the capital, who will train together every other week.
The launching event was taking place just ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, in the west Jerusalem neighborhood of Katamon, and included a tournament between various children teams across the city.
“It is essential that Jerusalem lead the message of unity and reconciliation,” Aviram Baruchyan, Hapoel Katamon’s captain stated Wednsday, explaining the decision to establish the new academy.
The project attempts to reduce the stark divisions between the eastern and western populations of the city, which continue to run deep despite it being officially united in 1967, after nearly 20 years of split Israeli and Jordanian control.
“Soccer contributes to the advancement of coexistence and equality, and it is great that children in the city, Jews and Arabs, have the opportunity to meet each other, and see that common ground, including love of soccer, infinitely outweighs the differences,” Baruchyan added.
Rachel Liel, head of the New Israel Fund, said the goal of the project is to build a bridge between the populations. “We hope that the new school will help bring down barriers and advance the basic values that soccer embodies: cooperation, camaraderie and equality.”
A recent survey conducted by the “Kick Racism Out of Israeli Football” project indicated that violence and racism are the two primary reasons for which people avoid attending sports events.
According to the survey, 80 percent of Arabs in Israel avoid soccer games due to the violence, and 79% cited racial slurs contribute to their decision not to attend.