HEBRON REFLECTION: A level playing field with Israel?

30 July 2007
HEBRON REFLECTION: A level playing field with Israel?

by Jan Benvie

Ten days ago, I was reminded of the story about Christmas Day in the
trenches of World War I. The story tells about enemy soldiers coming
together, as human beings, in no-man's land to celebrate Christmas and play
football (soccer.)

I glimpsed such a moment on 20 July 2007.

Regular readers of our updates may recall the establishment of an Old City
Football Team in February of this year, a joint venture between CPT, our
neighbor Zleekha Muhtaseb and a Palestinian NGO.

It has been difficult to find a safe and suitable place to play, so, Zleekha
suggested playing in the street outside the CPT apartment. Closures,
curfews, and military occupation have driven all of the residents away; only
CPT and Zleekha live here 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. There were some problems with settler
children throwing stones over the fence, but we thought that finally we had
a 'home ground' for our football team.

It was disappointing, therefore, when a patrol of soldiers came into the
street on 20 July and said that the children, including older youth who were
helping train the younger, could not play football there. The soldiers
cited the two recent fires in the street, close to their military base, as a
reason for banning the street football.

We protested, saying that children are less likely to set fires if they are
involved in worthwhile activities like the football team. "You accuse us of
teaching children terrorism. Here we are teaching them football, and you
stop us!" Zleekha 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 sloping, not
an even playing field. The soldiers told us, "The boys are willing to

I thought, "It is not an even playing field with heavily armed Israeli
soldiers 'suggesting' to unarmed, teenage Palestinians that they move."

Then the Palestinian boys suggested a novel resolution: a football game
between themselves and the Israeli soldiers. Already a few soldiers were
kicking the ball around, laughing and jostling with the Palestinians
teenagers who, after all, are only a few years younger than they are.

And, there it was. That brief moment when supposed enemies met as human

The commander, looking down from the occupied rooftop above, refused to
allow the match to go ahead, but, perhaps intrigued by what was happening
below, came down to talk.

And so, a compromise was reached. The commander, who gave his name as
Israel, agreed that the children can play football in the street from
4:00-7:00 each afternoon and the soldiers will prevent settler children from
throwing stones.

It felt a little more like a level playing field.