Israel and Palestine: Finding Common Goals Through Youth Soccer
The delegations from Palestine and Israel arrived in the United States this summer with just one goal in mind.
They came to play soccer.
This wasn’t about politics or age-old enmities. It was about peace and friendship and understanding through a game that can help unite the world.
If you doubt this, you probably weren’t in Chicago for the International KICS Cup last month.
Israel’s Kadima-Tsoran U14 team and the Palestine Arab 48 U16s travelled to Chicago to take part in a unique tournament that owed as much to promoting peace through soccer as it did about winning trophies.
Along with their coaches and some parents, the two teams lived together at the international village at the Illinois Institute of Technology University campus along with a U16 side from another conflict region, the Street Children Football team from Pakistan, and from countries including Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, and Puerto Rico.
They mixed on and off the pitch with local area teams including Berwyn, Brookfield, Chicago, Cicero, Elgin, Elmhurst, Rolling Meadows, Riverside, La Grange, Lockport and Mundelein among others and traveling teams from the cities of San Antonio and Pennsylvania.
Scott Hanlon, co-founder of the event, said the objective to advance ‘Peace through Soccer’ was a huge success. “The Israel and Palestinian teams were staying at the international village and everyone was hanging out together and having a great time.”
Representatives of the Palestinian and Israeli teams couldn’t agree more.
Hisham Saeed, for the Palestine Arab 48 team, said: “Teaching our children, and even adults, to play a game with rules and structure creates an amicable atmosphere of competition that provides a healthy forum for addressing numerous individual and community issues. Our goal is to inspire, educate, unify the youth and promote peace through soccer and sports”
Shahar Yelling, head of delegation for Israel’s Kadima-Tsoran team, added: “It is very important to us to participate in a global tournament with children from different countries and different cultures, as we believe that the needs of all the world's children are equal to adults and we must care for their existence. There is no better way to do this than sports.”
Qasim Raza, operations manager of the Azad Foundation who registered the Street Children Football team from Pakistan, who were runners-up in Chicago and placed third in the Street Child World Cup 2014 in Brazil said: “Pakistan has been fighting a brutal war against menace of violent extremism for over a decade now and our boys will present a positive image of Pakistan to the world.”
He said his young players were “great ambassadors of peace from Pakistan, who respect everyone regardless of religious or cultural differences. We are thankful for the organizers of KICS Cup, Chicago for providing a platform to the boys of different countries.”
Chicago KICS Cup partner The Global Foundation for Peace through Soccer’s CEO Antonio Soave said: “Soccer is a tremendous tool for international peace. It helps to unite people from all walks of life; it assists to destroy barriers of prejudice as well. Soccer is truly a wonderful way in which to spread goodwill around the globe.”
It was the second year for the tournament and the organizers are working to bring a team from Cuba next year.
“We want the tournament to continue to grow and bring young players together from around the world,” said co-founder Matt Miller, a former professional player with Cambridge United in England.
Hanlon and Miller are both directors of KICS United, a youth league based at Dunbar Soccer Complex in Chicago, IL, that has grown from 50 players in 2006 to over 1,000 players in 2014.