The weather was perfect, the footy was good and the snags – both halal and kosher – were tasty when the match was over.
The MUJU Peace Club’s first footy game with two teams called Unity and Harmony and each consisting equally of Muslim and Jewish youths was a winner. One of the organisers, 16-year-old Oussama Abouzeid, described the day as awesome. ”Just to see everyone happy and smiling is inspiring,” he said. Another, 15-year-old Zoe Lipton, said she was amazed. ”I thought it might just be a kick in the park. I never thought this could happen.”
The game had its origins in an evening held at Whitten Oval in August involving young men from the Newport Islamic Centre and students from Bialik College. Taking their inspiration from the half-Palestinian, half-Israeli Peace Team that recently visited Australia for the AFL International Cup, young people from both sides decided to get a team of their own going.
Joel Kuperholz, 16, worked the numbers on the Jewish side. ”Getting numbers initially was a problem. A lot of kids said, ‘Will this actually happen?’ ”
With the help of the Western Bulldogs, the game was played at the Whitten Oval. ”A lot of my friends had never even been to that side of the city.”
An anti-Semitic rant on Facebook actually helped the cause. ”I said to kids, ‘Here’s your chance to put an end to it.’ ” Joel’s mother, Sharon Kuperholz, did much of the legwork and a supportive email from AFL chief Andrew Demetriou added to the fixture’s credibility.
Most of the players play football with local clubs and the game was of a good standard. Khaled El-Haouli, known to his mates as Judd, was a cool head in the ruck for the Unity team, while up forward Ali El-Houli finished with three goals. Michael Rechtman was strong in the midfield for the Harmony team, while Robbie Brand was quick and smart, particularly around goals.
Wajih Taleb, also known as Didak, had some fine moments but failed to produce the magic goal he promised his fans. The Unity team won the match, which was watched by about 100 people from both communities, by two points.
Before the game, a message of support for the occasion from Prime Minister Julia Gillard was read to the players by Peace Team ambassador and Western Bulldogs director Henry Jolson. Afterwards, the players stood in a circle, linked arms and sang the Peace Team theme song, Salaam. ”At the start of the day there were barriers,” said another of the organisers, 16-year-old Osman El Souki. ”By the end, you could feel the barriers breaking down.”
Speaking on behalf of the Newport Islamic Centre, Abdul Kamareddine said: ”Politicians are not doing a good job when it comes to creating peace and harmony between countries. These young men have done a very much better job than all of them.”