Peace team’ playing in Australia

A joint Israeli-Palestinian team is in Australia to compete in an international Australian Rules football tournament.

The 26-man “peace team” – 13 Israelis and 13 Palestinians aged 16 to 36 – conducted a sports clinic Thursday in Sydney for 160 Muslim, Jewish, Aboriginal and Christian youth.

The team, an initiative of the Peres Center for Peace and its nongovernmental organizational partner, the Al-Quds Organization, will be welcomed officially Friday by the governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir.

It will fly to Melbourne to play next week against Britain, Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Most of the players had never heard of Australia’s indigenous sport, let alone played it, before January. They have persevered through challenges such as snow and checkpoint closures. A Palestinian player was forced to drop out following death threats because he was suspected of collaborating with Israelis.

But an Israeli player, Kevin Nafte, said the team pushed on despite the problems.

“When terrorists were firing rockets into Sderot and the IDF was operating in Gaza, an emotional rage transpired into a motivational force,” he said. “And after the two abducted soldiers were returned to Israel in coffins, everyone just kept on playing football with a renewed enthusiasm and spirit.”

The Third International Cup is the sport’s equivalent of soccer’s World Cup. Eighteen teams, including Canada and the United States, are competing in Melbourne between Aug. 27 and Sept. 7.

Australian Rules football is a blend of Gaelic football and rugby. There are three posts at each end of a giant oval and each team has 18 players.

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