Palestinian and Israeli children are batting for peace

By Nathan Jeffay, March 28, 2013
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Shehadeh Salamin (right) with a young Jewish player

Shehadeh Salamin (right) with a young Jewish player

A Palestinian boy who plucked up the courage to play cricket with Israelis has won an international prize for the Israel’s biggest cricketing organisation.

Three months ago, Shehadeh Salamin, 16, from the West Bank, entered an International Cricket Council-Europe competition entitled “How cricket has made a difference to your life?”

He wrote about how his sporting contact with Jewish youngsters has given him a “new lease of life”, and as a result won a rollout cricket pitch for the Israel Cricket Association (ICA).

Mr Salamin wrote in his story: “All my life, I dreamt of being a famous Palestinian footballer…until our village was introduced to cricket. The game rapidly became our flagship sport, with most kids preferring cricket over soccer.”

The local youngsters decided to play with Israeli youngsters in Beersheva, even though Mr Salamin admits that he had “concerns”, but the Israeli coach’s “words broke the barrier of fear in me”. He wrote that cricket made him more confident.

He concluded: “Today I dream of a cricket club in Palestine and of becoming the first Palestinian cricketer to play in an international league. I’m sure that with those Israeli and Palestinian children who participated with me, we can also realise the dream of peace together.”

The ICA’s Cricket for Peace programme has signed up 120 children, half of them Israeli and half Palestinian, who play cricket together in Beersheva or Dimona once a month.

The Peres Centre for Peace oversees the complex logistics involved in getting permits for the youngsters to pass through Israeli checkpoints.

The accolade has special significance given that in most of the 37 country members of the International Cricket Council-Europe, cricket is far more widespread and well resourced than in Israel.

The International Cricket Council-Europe’s development manager for Europe, Nick Pink, said that the ICA has “deservedly received worldwide recognition for the way they have used cricket as a vehicle to break down global barriers in and around Israel”.

Herschel Gutman, cricket development officer for the ICA, said that the friendships that the youngsters build on the pitch continue between matches. “The players are connecting all the time with each other on Facebook, as are the coaches — it is building relationships and creating connections.”

For the ICA’s chairman of 19 years Stanley Perlman, the award was recognition of a longstanding vision. “This was a dream of mine, to have Palestinian kids playing with Israeli kids,” he said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to have world recognition for something that has been so hard to do.” The future of the Cricket for Peace programme is not certain, despite the award. It costs £30,000 a year to run, and only half of its costs for 2013 have been secured.

Last updated: 8:45pm, March 28 2013