A visitor to the Tokyo Nisgaoka Soccer Stadium this week is likely to hear a strange mix of languages. A Palestinian child may shout, “’Urkud!” (“Run!”) An Israeli child may call for his teammate to pass the kadur (ball), while a Japanese child may put down the ball to prepare for a ko-na-kikku (corner kick).
The latest movement to try to forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians is happening this week with “The Executive Committee for the First Japanese-Israeli-Palestinian Children’s Friendship Soccer Match 2003.” The weeklong program involves a casual sports competition between Israeli, Palestinian and Japanese schoolchildren in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan.
“Our intention is similar to Seeds of Peace,” said Kazunori Sakata, a spokesman for the committee, referring to the summer camp that brings Israeli and Palestinian children to the United States for a summer.
“We are very aware of the tragedy of the Middle East,” said Sakata. The news is broadcast on Japanese television and reported in newspapers. But, Sakata says, the soccer competition is a positive response to the violence. “This is very refreshing news,” Sakata said. “Very good news.”
The program is the brainchild of Daitetsu Koike, the president of Takasaki University and a Buddhist monk. Koike first came up with the idea in January, and since then Koike and his committee of Japanese athletes and academics have been working with the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo and the Palestinian Permanent General Mission in Japan to make it happen.
The 11 Palestinian children (nine Muslims, two Christians) and 11 Israeli children (10 Jews, one Druze) and their parents left Israel shortly before the August 19 bus bombing in Jerusalem; there was some tension, Koike said, but it soon dissipated. The players from the Middle East met with 11 Japanese children and began playing soccer.
“Yesterday we had a soccer match,” Koike told the Forward two days after the children had arrived. The match, Koike said, went extremely well.
“The Japanese people should have a role in world peace,” said Koike. “This is my deed.”