Amidst the chaos, the violence, and the pain that is in Hebron these days, we also have had some fun. Last week HIRN hosted the Easton Cowboys and Leeds Republica Football team from Bristol and Leeds, England. Following up on previous Cowboys tours and last year’s successful Cowgirls tour, the 18 men arrived for a week of football (soccer) with teams in the Hebron and surrounding area. With the Cowboy motto of “Freedom Through Football” as a guide, the team played games against a variety of opponents – a hard fought 4 on 4 game played on tarmac at Hebron University, games played on stony fields in the rural villages of Susiya and Um al Kher, at a refugee camp in Bethlehem, and concluded their tour on the final night playing 11 aside against a local community team on a rudimentary field, deep in the valley at A Taffuh. Along the way, the Cowboys won some games, they lost some games, but it wasn’t about winning and losing.
At one of the villages, in the midst of the game, the ball went over the fence to the nearby settlement – a settlement with a history of animosity, harassment and violence towards the villagers, a settlement that is home to residents who stood by the fence and cheered last fall as homes in the village were demolished by Israeli authorities. Everyone wondered what would happen next. In a moment of sheer grace, nearby settler children retrieved the ball, happily threw it back, and then were drawn in by the fun of the moment and stood watching the game – until their parents arrived and quickly took them away. It was a moment that gave pause for thought.
Using football as the medium to meet local people, the Cowboys learned about people’s lives here, about individual people trying to live as normal a life as possible amidst the restrictions, fear and violence that comes from the Occupation. They experienced the horror of the violence. They listened, and they cared. Through their presence, they brought a moment of distraction to those troubled by recent events, a smile and laughter to worried faces, a momentary reprieve from the burdens of Occupation. As they shared the simple joy of kicking a football around with local boys, and a common passion for the game that transcends language, cultural and political barriers, they forged friendships that will long be remembered.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom,