Kicking goals for peace
A brave group of Israelis and Palestinians are seeking peace through the most unlikely of forms, Australian Rules Football.
Thirteen representatives from each side of the border are currently competing in the 2011 International Cup, being held in Sydney and Melbourne. The diverse squad, aptly known as the Peace Team, have attracted a cult following in Australia after clocking up two wins and three losses in the 2008 tournament.
While the Peace Team haven’t scored many goals during this year’s event, the players have had far more important goals in mind.
“It’s a great chance for us to show our message to the people of Australia and to people all over the world that we can live together, we can do all everything together,” Palestinian captain Kamal Abu Althom explained.
As one might expect, the unlikely teammates share conflicting perspectives on the region’s dense political issues. Yet the football field has brought them closer, and this bond has allowed them to speak about their differences at a civil level.
“Both sides have been put into rooms for hours and hours on end … spilling our guts. Both sides have a lot of scars from the conflict and everyone’s tried to sort it,” Israeli captain Nimord Vromen said.
“We’ve argued, we’ve raised our voices, but we have come out of there as friends.”
Vromen lauded the innate ability of Australian Rules to foster close relationships within the team.
“It (Australian Rules Football) can be brutal towards your body and you have to rely on your teammates to protect you.”
“No matter how good you are, in Aussie Rules football you have to work as a team. You are being forced into a situation where you have to cooperate.”
Over the last eight months the Peace Team has been training once a week, a logistical nightmare for the Palestinian representatives due to border checkpoints.
It’s even tougher on a political level, given that many of the teammates’ friends oppose the idea of the Peace Team.
“Some say ‘They’re our enemy. How can you play with that team?’” Abu Althom said.
“But I tell them about my experiences with the players. We are all human beings together”
“The Palestinians are making a very courageous choice as they’re literally being threatened back home,” Vromen added.
“We’ve been segregated from the other side by our government so efficiently that it’s unheard of that we’re becoming such good friends.”
Despite a solid defensive effort, the Peace Team failed to register a score in their first two International Cup games against senior opponents USA and Canada. They fared much better against China a week later, though, registering a memorable 83-point victory.
To find out more about the Peace Team or to support them financially, head to http://www.peaceteam.com.au/