Israeli-Palestinian peace through football
by Itamar Marcus
A friendly football (soccer) tournament promoting peace was held in Los Angeles for Palestinian and Israeli children. The game was sponsored by Children United and supervised by Jose Mourinho, coach of the Spanish team Real Madrid. According to the Spanish newspaper Marca:
"It aims to create a warm atmosphere in order to draw the nations together, and support peace between them... Mourinho's influence may be much stronger than the influence of the governments, and football is capable of achieving what political agreements and treaties have been unable to achieve".
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Aug. 4, 2012]
The event represents a breakthrough and may signal a change in Palestinian policy. The fact that the event took place is significant, but even more noteworthy is the fact that the official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, reported on the tournament without condemnation.
Palestinian Media Watch has reported that official PA policy is to ban sporting events promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. While positive Israeli-Palestinian sporting events have taken place in the past, they have usually been condemned by the PA.
The uniqueness of this story becomes apparent when one contrasts it with a similar tournament for youth held in Canada last year. The same PA daily reported strong condemnation of the tournament and the appointment of a PA "investigative committee":
"The normalization tournament in Canada [between Israelis and Palestinian youth] has created a strong outcry on the Palestinian street ... Abd Al-Majid Hujjah, Secretary-General of the Palestinian Football Association, announced that the Association intends to appoint an investigative committee to look into the circumstances. .. He emphasized that the investigative committee will submit its recommendations before legal steps are taken against the players. Hujjah said that the position of the Palestinian Football Association on the issue of normalization [with Israel] in sports is well-known already, having been made public, officially, on more than one occasion. This position has been disseminated among everyone involved and it rules out any contact by the Palestinian Football Association with any activity related to the Israeli side."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 21, 2011]
Furthermore, even in the last few months, the PA sports establishment has stressed its opposition to joint Israel-Palestinian sporting events. Jibril Rajoub, Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association and head of the Palestinian Olympic committee, explained PA policy as follows:
"I also say on behalf of Palestine, that the last thing that can be found in the lexicon of Palestinian sportsmen is normalization with the occupation. Impossible, impossible, impossible, with no exceptions! I understand by normalization that the relationship between me and you will be normal, that we'll play [sports] together and there will be a joint program. I say: There will never be normalization [with Israel] in sports."
[PA TV (Fatah), May 17, 2012]
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The next day he stressed PA opposition to "normalization" through sports yet again:
"Jibril Rajoub, called to expel Israel from all world Olympic associations and committees... He emphasized that the term normalization [of relations with Israel] does not exist in the Palestinian sports lexicon."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 18, 2012]
PMW will follow sports activities in the PA to see if this represents a change in policy or is a single event.
For more examples of PA opposition to peace-building, click here.
The following is the story of sports event held in Los Angeles that was meant to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians:
"While the experienced Portuguese coach, José Mourinho, was leading the practices of his team, the Spanish Real Madrid, on the fields of UCLA in the US... he decided to take a break in order to be photographed, for a memento, with a group of (Palestinian and Israeli) children, sponsored by a charity project that seeks harmony between the two peoples. Mourinho is a prominent member of the project, called Children United, and personally funds an initiative that holds a small football tournament between Palestinian and Israeli children, in the hope of spreading the seeds of peace in the Arab region. A journalist for the Portuguese SIC channel in the Middle East, Henrique Cymerman, revealed that 'Mourinho already visited Palestine and Israel in 2005, and hopes to visit again as soon as he can, because he is very interested in this peace project.' Cymerman noted in a statement to (Spanish newspaper) Marca: 'The project sponsors children who have never before seen a Palestinian or an Israeli without a weapon. It aims to create a warm atmosphere in order to draw the nations together, and supports peace between them.' He emphasized, 'Mourinho's influence may be much stronger than the influence of the governments, and football is capable of achieving what political agreements and treaties have been unable to achieve...'.
The children were very happy to be photographed with Mourinho, alongside some of the Real stars - Ronaldo, Pepe, and Coentrão. The children will also be participating in a short, 15-minute game during half-time in the friendly game between Real Madrid and Los Angeles Galaxy."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Aug. 4, 2012]