As Wimbledon reaches its climax, a little flame of inter-community hope is flourishing in northern Israel, where only weeks ago Jews and Arabs were locked in conflict. And it is tennis that is nurturing that hope.
Three British figures — the late Freddie Krivine, his daughter Jane, and director Lee Wilson — are involved in the Freddie Krivine Initiative, (FKI), devised to bring Jewish and Arab teens together and bond over tennis. Freddie Krivine was a founder of the Israel Tennis Centres and was president of the Israel Tennis Association.
In the late 1990s he launched FKI, aimed at sending instructors to the most deprived Arab villages in Israel to teach tennis to their young people. Each summer, FKI runs day camps for Jews and Arabs aged from 10 to early teens, in the moshav of Beit Hananya, between Tel Aviv and Haifa.
This year’s programme included sessions on healthy eating, body image, Masterchef, Persian dancing, Japanese calligraphy and drama, as well as tennis. Hebrew and Arabic are also taught.
British-born Lee Wilson has been the director for the past two years. Her vision is to use tennis as a reason to have monthly community meetings of children and their families, creating opportunities for neighbours to cross the divide and meet and interact regularly. The system clearly works: the FKI tennis head coach, Mohameed Rashwan, started in FKI programmes aged eight.
Jane Krivine said: “Just over a month ago, when the skies of Israel were alight with missiles, extremists were throwing stones and attacking cars driving past both Binyamina and Jisr-az-Zarka. Today, children of both these towns are meeting, and playing together, forming bonds and challenging stereotypes”.
Parents from both communities are happy that their children take part in the camps. Dunia, from Jisr, is thrilled that her daughter has the chance to meet Jewish girls of her age. “She comes home on a high, she is so happy and full of stories”. This was echoed by Hagit from Binyamina, who said: “My daughter told me she loves the camp, and they ended the day in spontaneous hugs between the girls. It really is heartwarming to hear this.”
FKI runs four clubs in Israel throughout the year, in Beit Hananya, Fureidis, Baqa al Gharbiya and Daliat el Carmel, where they have after-school tennis and homework clubs, tournament teams, holiday activities, and more. More than 3,000 young teens have taken part in the 21 years that the programmes and clubs have been running, and more than 35 older teens have been sponsored by FKI to complete the internationally recognised Pro-Tennis coaching certificate, many returning to work with FKI in a special internship programme.