The barrage of rockets from Gaza in early August caused the cancelation of many summer school programs in Israel. As the country held its breath, a quick ceasefire was called and Israel’s resilient society rebounded to cautious normality. That tense violent flare-up was the backdrop for the launch of the first-ever multi-ethnic sports summer camp for Bedouin and Jewish girls at Kfar Silver, near Ashkelon.
The 10-day overnight camp for girls aged 13-16, was a partnership between the Azrieli Foundation, World ORT, Kfar Silver, and Summer Camps Israel. The camp, called ONE TEAM, consisted of 25 Bedouin girls and 18 Jewish girls from all over Israel including Ra’anana, Modiin, Dimona, Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat, Tel Sheva and Abu Queidar.
The goal of the camp was to use sports as a platform to bring together diverse sectors in Israel while promoting a healthy shared society through women’s empowerment for leadership, coexistence, respect and friendship.
While it is not normative in Israel to send kids away to an overnight program that includes mixing populations and disallows use of screen devices, these challenges created a framework for building a new model that is responsive to the need for social structure during the long and blazing hot summer months in Israel. It also created a powerful space to promote women’s empowerment, diversity and shared society.
The girls at the camp experienced various sports disciplines including basketball, football, ninja, lifesaving, martial arts and athletics. The camp was supplemented by cultural activities, leadership training and workshops on nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
One of the main goals of the camp was women’s empowerment. The girls were coached by exceptional women athletes and had empowering conversations with them. Two of these athletes were Shadya Zoabi – a former World Karate champion from the Arab sector and the protagonist of an award-winning documentary called SHADYA and Liraz Barak – a former Israeli Judo champion.
These girls, who would never have had the chance to meet the “other,” are now experiencing cooperation and friendship while sharing meals and rooms with girls from a different society. Considering that most of the Bedouin girls participating have never spent a night outside their village, it is a game changer.
Meissa, 16, a Bedouin from the town of Tel Sheva, explained that the camp was the first time she had met a Jewish girl. She added, “I learned that I am strong and I can do whatever I set myself and that we are all the same.”
A typical day at the camp included sporting activities in the morning, workshops, ice-breaking games and social and cultural activities such as the Bedouin embroidery workshop in Laqiya and a special Shabbat service.
The values of the camp were expressed through these cultural activities.
One of the toughest requirements of the camp was that the girls were not permitted to have their cell phones. This is an important policy of Summer Camp Israel as it creates a rare space for stronger interpersonal connections. In addition, the parents were sent photos and updates on the girls via a parent WhatsApp group which created another valuable layer of connection between parents.
Dr. Moshe Leiber, head of pedagogy for World ORT and Kfar Silver noted: “The girls connected within days and played together just like in a regular youth movement. The Shabbat – Jummah experience was particularly meaningful. I hope this camp is the first of many to come, as we are confident that it contributes to the coexistence and the development of girls from different parts of society.
The camp ended on August 21st, exactly two weeks after the last missile landed in the Negev. The sadness that the camp was over was evident through the tearful smiles of all the campers. The new friendships were about to morph from reality to the virtual world on hand screens. But this experience was real and the impact profound.
An external evaluation was conducted by Prof. Michael Leitner, an expert and lecturer in “Conflict Mitigation through Sports” from Tel Aviv University and California State University, Chico. When the girls were asked if they would invite girls from the other communities to their home (an Arab girl inviting a Jewish girl and vice versa), 51.5% answered ‘strongly agree.’ When asked if they would return next year or recommend it to their friends over 90% answered yes. Prof. Leitner concluded that the camp was a resounding success and recommended that the camp program be repeated and expanded. Organizers are already planning to expand similar programs around the country.
All the campers have returned to their villages and towns as goodwill ambassadors in their different communities. Many will remain in contact with the “other.” Their unique experience at ONE TEAM has given them ONE DREAM – to return next year as a counselor-in-training and to actively participate in building a shared society for their generation.
Hanan Abu Queidar, head counselor from the Bedouin village of Abu Queidar summed it up:
The camp was better than I ever imagined. The girls connected closely. We are laying the groundwork for a peaceful future for the next generation in Israel. This is avodat kodesh – holy work.
The Jewish New Year is a time of opportunity and hope. May we take these opportunities to create a healthier and more peaceful society in Israel. Shana Tova!