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"You, children from southern Israel and the West Bank, symbolize the hope for peace after a very difficult summer"

Over 500 children from Israel and the West Bank will take part in the Soccer Peace Schools this year at over 24 schools

One week after the ceasefire came into effect, Israel's 9th president Shimon Peres, opened the annual Peres Center for Peace 'Soccer Peace Schools' program in southern Israel with 80 children from the Sderot, Sha'ar Hanegev and the Palestinian town of Yatta in the West Bank. The children play in joint soccer teams and take part in a special education program for peace. Shimon Peres was accompanied by the Head of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, Alon Schuster, and the two presented soccer balls to the team captains to mark the opening of the program.

Former President Shimon Peres blew the opening whistle of the game and said, "Soccer isn't played one against the other but one alongside the other. You, children from southern Israel who play soccer with Palestinian children symbolize the hope for peace and the hope for all of us to overcome any challenges. You have all had a very difficult summer and today you are opening a new year which I hope will be a year of sport and dialogue. On this pitch there is a soccer school which is also a school for peace for all peoples."

Alon Schuster turned to the children and added, "You were children who were raised into this situation, and we can remind you that it's also possible to live differently, I am proud of you and wish you luck with your training."

Issa, the coach of the Palestinian children expressed his pride and excitement to be the coach of a joint team, "I'm excited to see you after months in which we were unable to meet. I hope that on this pitch we can begin something new, that we can go back to enjoying playing soccer together."

Through the Peres Center for Peace Twinned Peace Soccer Schools project children, aged 6-16, participate in a comprehensive 'peace education through sport' program that combines athletic training with unique peace education activities, allowing participants to get to know the "other," learn one another's languages, break down barriers, and develop friendships based on trust and mutual understanding.

The first practice took place today following a very difficult summer, during which the groups could not engage in such activities. Despite the political tensions, the Israeli and Palestinian children came together to play side-by-side. In addition to the soccer practice which took place today in Kibbutz Dorot, over 500 Israeli and Palestinian children from throughout Israel and the West Bank will come together for soccer and peace education activities in the framework of the Twinned Peace Soccer Schools program this year.

Photos – Efrat Sa'ar