by Jan Benvie
Last February CPT helped establish a youth soccer team in Hebron in partnership with a Palestinian NGO and CPT’s neighbor, Zleekha Muhtaseb (see “Hebron: Soccer for Peace;” Signs of the Times; Summer, 2007; Vol. XVIII, No. 2).
It has been difficult to find a safe and suitable place to play. So, the team began playing in the street outside the CPT apartment. Closures, curfews, and military occupation have driven all of the residents away; only CPT and Muhtaseb live there now.
The street ends with a high metal fence, designed to prevent access from the Old City to Shuhada Street, where some Israeli settlers live. It seemed an ideal flat, open space where the children could train and play.
But settler children started throwing stones over the fence. And one day a patrol of Israeli soldiers came and said that the children, including older youth who were helping train the younger, could not play there. The soldiers cited two recent fires in the street close to their military base as a reason for banning the game.
We protested, saying that children are less likely to set fires if they are involved in worthwhile activities like soccer. “You accuse us of teaching children terrorism. Here we are teaching them football, and you stop us!” Muhtaseb told the patrol leader.
The soldiers insisted they had their orders and suggested another area nearby. We continued to protest – the other area is smaller and sloped. The soldiers responded, “The boys are willing to move.”
I thought, “It is also not a level playing field when heavily armed Israeli soldiers ‘suggest’ to unarmed, teenage Palestinians that they move.”
Then the Palestinian boys proposed a novel solution: a game between themselves and the Israeli soldiers. Already a few soldiers were kicking the ball around, laughing and jostling with the Palestinian teenagers who, after all, are only a few years younger than the soldiers.
And, there it was. That brief moment when supposed enemies met as human beings.
The commander, looking down from the occupied rooftop above, refused to allow the match to go ahead, but then came down to talk. And so, a compromise was reached. The commander agreed that the team can play in the street from 4:00-7:00 each afternoon and that the soldiers should prevent settler children from throwing stones.