Kickstart Peace, a joint program of the ICCI, Abu Ghosh Community Center, and the Kiryat Yearim Youth Village, began its second season with many new participants joining returning members of the team. Made possible by a special grant from FAITH, the Foundation to Advance Interfaith Trust and Harmony, Kickstart Peace is a unique interreligious youth program in which Arab and Jewish teens from the Jerusalem area form a multicultural football team. Through this program, which combines sports training, matches as part of the local “Mayor’s League,” and intercultural and social activities, youth get to know each other through sports as they build social relationships, and develop tolerance and mutual understanding.
Fifteen Jewish and Arab teenage boys (aged 15-18; 11th and 12th graders) from the Arab village Abu Ghosh and the Jewish Kiryat Yearim Youth Village comprise this year’s team. The team is trained under the guidance of a Jewish coach from Kiryat Yearim and an Arab assistant-coach from Abu Ghosh. Additionally, ICCI provides two staff members, one Jewish and one Arab, to administer an educational program of intercultural enrichment and coexistence education activities. These two facilitators, ICCI alumnus Hani Salman and Danna Sharon, lead the team through team building activities, guided discussions, goal-oriented collaboration, and more. They will soon guide the team through a process of jointly designing a team logo for their football uniform.
The second season of Kickstart Peace began in November and players have, since, participated in two practices each week and sessions with facilitators Hani and Danna once every two weeks. The first meeting of the group could best be characterized as ‘tense’, as these young men grappled with their own fears and suspicions upon meeting “the other” for the first time. While this meeting and subsequent ones highlighted the challenges in bringing together Arab and Jewish youth to work together to be a winning football team, they also highlighted the extreme importance of doing so. Already, while there is still much work to be done, there are signs of dissipating tensions as the team gets to know each other and slowly develops trust. For example, in the second meeting, the group learned about Hanukkah from a Rabbi, and the youth asked many questions comparing faiths and showed their willingness to learn about where the other was coming from. Later that month, they also got together to go bowling and just enjoy each other’s company.
In addition to this team that has already started working together, next week, a second team of Arab and Jewish youth will commence activities as a team. This team will be comprised of 12 boys of ages 11 and 12, and their team will part of the “neighborhood league,” a program through Hapoel Katamon. This team will be from the French Hill neighborhood and, in a league of teams from West Jerusalem and teams from East Jerusalem, this will be the only “mixed” team with both Jews and Palestinians. The French Hill neighborhood is unique in its composition of residents who are both Jewish and Palestinian. Similar to the team from Abu Ghosh and Kiryat Yearim, these team members will practice twice weekly together and participate in team building, social activities every two weeks, led by facilitators Hani and Danna.