AFL for peace in the Middle East

27 Dec

It’s one of those human interest stories (this one in the sports section) that you might just pass over, but I regard it as really significant: Teamwork goes for goal: peace.

DREAMS don’t come bigger than those in the Oziel family.

Only three years after first playing Australian football, 11-year-old Haim Oziel wants to be the Sydney Swans’ first Jewish player. It’s not an unrealistic aim: in his first game for the Maroubra Saints, Haim kicked four goals and was quickly playing representative footy for the Sydney City region and in a state schools competition.

His mother, Tanya, has an even bolder goal. As executive director of the Israeli Peres Centre for Peace’s Australian chapter, she is working towards peace in the Middle East. And inspired by her son’s passion, she believes Australia’s homegrown football code can help.

Ms Oziel and the Australian Football League have joined forces to bring a team of young Israelis and Palestinians to Victoria next year to play in the AFL’s International Cup.

The potential players have never seen the pointy red leather of an Australian rules football, let alone tried to bounce, kick or mark it. They have never watched a game and don’t know the rules. And there are myriad security issues to overcome. Just bringing the players together for training involves a long process to obtain permits for Palestinians to enter Israel, before even tackling the difficulties of overseas travel.

But Ms Oziel, of Vaucluse, believes fielding a joint team will send a message of hope and peace to Muslim and Jewish communities in the Middle East and Australia. “It’s the most rewarding thing I have done in years and perhaps forever,” she says. “We are actually affecting what’s going on here between Muslims and Jews; we are bringing two communities together.

“You strip away religion, beliefs, culture – at the end of the day we all want the same thing … it will raise awareness that despite what we see on the news, that Palestinians and Israelis at a grassroots level can really get on.”…

Forget the big players; we know they suck, whoever they are or whatever ideology they are pressing beyond the bounds of either reason or humanity, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Marxist, or whatever…

So I went to The Peres Center for Peace and found that among its international supporters are:

  • Hon. Mr. James A. Baker III Former Secretary of State of the USA
  • Mr. Paulo Coelho Writer
  • Prof. Umberto Eco Professor of Semiotics, University of Bologna
  • Nadine Gordimer Writer and Nobel Laureate South Africa
  • Hon. Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev Former President of the USSR & President, Peace Nobel Laureate Green Cross International
  • Dr. Ibrahim Kamel Chairman, Kato Investments Egypt
  • The Most Reverend Desmond M.Tutu Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town & Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • H.E. Dr. Abdurrahman Wahid Former President of Indonesia
  • Mr. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan President, The Islamic Centre India

There and in many similar but barely mentioned forces throughout the world I think the discerning believer would find the voice of God for our generation, a quiet voice not unmixed with baser matter for sure, but truly the voice of hope. Consider this as 2008 approaches.

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Posted by on December 27, 2007 in Australia, current affairs, faith and philosophy, humanity, interfaith, Israel, politics, sport


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