JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (JTA) — A combined Israeli-Palestinian soccer team is in South Africa to play on the sidelines of the World Cup tournament.
The team of eight players will play in the FIFA Football for Hope Festival that kicked off Sunday.
The Israeli-Palestinian contingent is one of 32 teams playing in what is being billed as a festival of education, culture and soccer. The boys and girls are members of organizations in 82 countries that tackle social issues such as homelessness and AIDS using soccer.
Thisn official event of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, which ends July 11, is organized by FIFA, streetfootballworld, the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee South Africa and the City of Johannesburg organized the event.
The team from Israel, known as the “Peace Team,” features four girls and four boys; four Arab players and four Israeli players; and one Arab coach and one Israeli coach.
The players were chosen in January from among the top players in an apprentice coaching program run under the auspices of the Peres Center for Peace. The players were selected as well for their personal achievements and contributions to their communities.
“This is our opportunity to show people that Israelis and Palestinians can play together, and also that we can live together,” said the Palestinian coach, Kamal Abu Altom.
Altom said the language barrier has made communication difficult, but the team will still be a strong contender.
The style of “street soccer” may pose the largest obstacle, Altom added. In regular soccer, which the participants have spent years playing, each team fields 11 players. In this tournament, the eight-person teams will compete in a less-structured environment, without a referee enforcing discipline and fair play. Any disagreements on the field will be resolved through dialogue among the players.
All the players are graduates of the Twinned Peace Sports program, a joint Israeli-Palestinian initiative that brings underprivileged children together around sports and peace education.
The program, which reaches as many as 1,600 young Israelis and Palestinians every year, emerged in 2003 from a collaboration between the Israeli Peres Center for Peace and the Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue, a Palestinian nongovernmental organization.
The Jewish National Fund in South Africa is participating in the team’s efforts.