Royalty and driving rain are as familiar sights as strawberries and cream at Wimbledon every year – and last week was no different.
But while inclement weather usually signals the end of play, the organisers of the new Sport for Peace project and special guest Prince Michael of Kent were determined to ensure play gets underway at a new state-of-the-art sports centre in Israel. It’s aim: to bring young Israeli Arabs and Jews together to compete alongside each other and increase understanding.
The facility, built by the Arts and Culture Foundation on a £40m site donated by Israeli Arab philanthropist Saed Sarsur and his family, will see youngsters of all religious backgrounds join forces to play football and tennis, as well as take part in educational activities and training programmes. It’s due to open late next year.
Addressing His Royal Highness and a gathering of Muslim, Christian and Jewish figures at the All England Club, the Unibin chief executive claimed the impression of constant inter-community tensions in Israel created by media coverage was “fake news”. He said: “We are living in peace and love with our neighbours and we’ll continue to do so. It’s important to see what brings us together rather than what divides us. Giving land for this is one of our greatest privileges.”
Led by his father, the Sarsur family has long supported initiatives bringing Israelis together across the faiths but now wants to build on success which, he says, has seen youngsters “become more open to each other. It’s our future and the future of our children. We need to build a comprehensive strategy to defeat the likes of the boycott divestment and sanctions campaign. The only way of doing that is to have projects like this.”
The 40-hectre facility will boast eight football pitches and six tennis courts, costing nearly £4m to build. Boosted by top-class coaching, organisers hope mixed teams of Israelis will compete internationally.
ACF London was launched last year to highlight the Foundation’s work in Israel over the past quarter of a century. The London branch is organising a series of workshops at the New School in Kfar Kassam and the Hayovel School in Herzliya in which Israeli and Arab students pair up to produce artwork with the theme ‘Together we are stronger’, with three groups being invited to London thus summer.
Surveying an exhibition of eye-catching designs, Prince Michael pointed to his favourite featuring two arms bearing the Star of David and the Muslim crescent, with hands interlocked and the words ‘We are nicer when we’re together in peace’. HRH described the message on the canvas by Janet Kheralla and Shenhav Hadad as “simple and true”.
Event host and chair of the ACF, Lord Reading, said the Royal’s presence underlined his long-time interest in issues of reconciliation.
The peer, who has played a staggering 56 sports in his life, said: “What better way to bring people together than through sport. You learn so much about people by playing sport.” Hailing the passion of Sursur, he added: “If this is a success I’m sure we’ll think of other initiatives.”
Photo credit: Micha Treiner.