Last week, Dror Israel’s “HeChalutz- Education through sports” initiative hosted “Unity Camp”- a day camp for Jewish youth from Ramat Gan and Arab youth from Jisr a-Zarqa, a coastal Arab town south of Haifa. In collaboration and with support from the national “HaPoel” soccer organization, the camp ran for two days in a youth center near Rishon LeZion, off the “home turf” of both of the groups. The campers participated in fun activities to get to know one another, did joint soccer training, learned Hebrew and Arabic together, and learned to dance the dabka (a traditional Arab dance).
At the camp’s closing ceremony, the team was surprised by a visit from the head coach of the Israeli national youth soccer team, Ofir Haim. He came to sign the “friendship agreement,” an informal contract drawn up by the young athletes outlining their guidelines for unity, cooperation and good sportsmanship. Ofir, together with his team, made history this year when they qualified for the finals in the Under 19 European Youth Championship in Slovakia. The campers were excited and inspired by their special guest!
Haim said to the campers “Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this important event. I think I am even more excited to be here than you are that I am here! Our team was able to make the Championships through unity- only through unity can you achieve victory.” The HeChalutz coaches awarded Haim with the “Educational Coach” award and congratulated him on his significant work for youth and sports in Israel. “This excites me more than the European final,” said Haim upon receiving the award. “This is our real victory, the ability to touch all kinds of people.”
“There are many good coaches, but coaches who are also educators are especially important,” said Omer Livnat, founder and director of the HeChalutz program. “It is fun to see the children not only be excited about Ofir Haim, but also behaving themselves and striving for the values of equality and brotherhood. We work throughout the year to instill values of equality, fairness, and acceptance of others and it is gratifying to see the kids’ progress and how they are choosing to embody these values every day on the soccer field.”
Murad Amash, head of the Jisr a-Zarqa town council, attended the ceremony and said “I want to thank Hapoel and Hechalutz for their extraordinary program and collaboration, which is not to be taken for granted. You have given the Jisr a-Zarqa youth the opportunity to play with their peers from Ramat Gan. I believe that children from both communities have a better future because of this camp and I believe in emphasizing and strengthening the partnership between the two peoples. This is the way forward.”
This camp takes place a year after the difficult and violent clashes of last May. Hechalutz specializes in sports as an educational social interaction for children and youth with an emphasis on values, fairness and equality. They operate across different frameworks in diverse sport activities throughout the country with thousands of children and youth, with an emphasis on encouraging and promoting education for a just and equal sports culture. They facilitate respectful and fair sports activities with a healthy approach to competition as a way to decrease violence and racism and to strengthen community.
You can read a “ONE Sports” news article in Hebrew about our inspirational camp here.