Violence between Arab Israelis and Jews has recently erupted in a way that has rocked the country. There is hope, however, as a group seeks to bring Jews and Arabs together in a unique way for a common future.
Ian Froman is an Israeli Jew from South Africa. Fayez Abu Shouhaiban is the mayor of the Israeli Bedouin town of Rahat. What brings them together? Tennis.
“Israel is a melting pot for people all over the world. And here you bring them together in a sport that is for everyone, ”said Froman, co-founder of the Israel Tennis and Education Centers or ITEC and was the first executive director of ITEC.
CBN News was recently invited to the Israel Tennis and Education Center, Ramat HaSharon, for a day of Arab-Jewish leadership training, as a launch event for ITEC’s new Abraham project.
Ramat HaSharon ITEC Center was the first in over 15 and was established 45 years ago.
Froman said the event is a dream come true with Arab and Jewish Israeli citizens coming together not only to coexist but to work together for a better future.
“It was one of the happiest days I have ever had because when we started this tennis center the idea was to reach as many children as possible,” said Froman, a former player. of the Davis Cup.
“To see that this is a facility for children, it now encompasses both Jewish children, Arab children and of course all other children. And that was the motivation to do it, ”Froman told CBN News.
“It is a very exciting event for me as the head of a municipality. This is my first visit to an Israeli tennis center. I was greeted by many people who feel very warm towards the people of our city, ”Abu Shouhaiban told CBN News.
Rahat’s mayor and city council members were invited to ITEC for a day of sharing, food and fun – with the aim of finding a way to help the youth of Rahat.
“My vision for Rahat is to have a sports city. We have 75,000 inhabitants. There are a lot of children. The education system has 25,000 children, many schools, many kindergartens but I want to get them started in sport, because sport gives them space to breathe, gives them everything and makes them smile at the end ”, said Abu Shouhaiban explained.
But why tennis? Abu Shouhaiban and his team went to court to find out more.
“Sport in itself is a language – the language of patience, the language to love one another, to compete with one another, but to respect the other,” said Abu Shouhaiban.
Ronen Moralli is responsible for the education of professional and social impact coaches at ITEC.
“I see here a great opportunity to build bridges between cultures and I think tennis is the best game to build that bridge,” said Moralli.
“Tennis teaches you to respect each other, to complement each other. It’s a different game. There is a lot of respect in working together. I think that’s what we lack, Israeli society, ”Moralli told CBN News.
Moralli, who has been coaching for decades, explained his guiding principles.
“The first thing I teach my players is to give 100% of the effort in what they do, to be 100% positive in what they do, to focus on specific goals, not on the winning or losing party, to enjoy the process and to complement the opponents. By doing these things, you know, you develop the talent to be successful in this sport, “said Moralli.
Moralli’s family has a long history with tennis. His great-grandfather joined the British Army, became an officer, and served in Egypt. Because he had a tennis background, he coached King Farouk’s daughter.
“He told me about his experiences as a coach and then I was hooked by that, by this sport,” said Moralli, who started playing tennis at the age of six.
Alam Ibrahimi is director of the ITEC Sajur Center (in northern Israel) and coordinator of the Abraham program for Arab-Jewish partnership working with Arab communities in Israel.
“When the players are playing against each other, each one throws the ball, hits the ball to the other side. The same player who receives the ball must return the ball to defend what he has, ”Ibrahimi explained.
“And as such, it teaches the child how to be responsible, independent, how to protect their personal interests, for the greater good,” Ibrahimi told CBN News.
Ibrahimi says that when Rahat’s children finish school in the afternoon, there is no activity for them.
“So the Tennis Center came and offered a helping hand and saw that it was a partner in influencing the people and producing children who are good for society,” he said.
Born and raised in Rahat, Abu Shouhaiban was first a teacher and principal. He especially now says that sport can be a bridge between Arabs and Jews.
“They start by shaking hands and end up shaking hands. This is what is good about this sport, ”said Abu Shouhaiban.
“The added value, especially in this time, in this time that we have all lived as citizens of Israel, is to join hands. There is no other place to live. We have to live together, speak the language of sport, it is everyone’s language, not the language of another race or religion, ”Abu Shouhaiban added.
The day ended with an open-hearted roundtable. Froman says they plan to build a tennis center in Rahat.
“There is a partnership here that has developed between the town of Rahat and the Tennis Centers and so this is really the start of what I think is going to be a great era of coming together, of learning to live together, to use tennis as a way to do it, ”said Froman.