“Where do we encounter violence?” asks Ahmad Fukra, a physical education teacher in front of his soccer club of Bedouin boys and girls.
“Everywhere,” answers Salwa, a girl from the sixth grade. “At home, in society, in the neighborhood and on the soccer pitch.”
“How is it expressed?” Fukra, 28, continues.
“Both verbally and physically,” respond the children.
“Who is most violent on the soccer pitch?” asks Fukra.
“The spectators,” answers Diana, 14.
“And which spectators are the most problematic?” asks the teacher.
“Those belonging to Bnei Sakhnin,” answer the children in unison. The teacher finds it hard to hide a smile.
The short conversation opens a soccer lesson provided within the Abu Basma regional council. Education and Social Project, a non-profit operating in partnership with Hapoel Tel Aviv, runs the program for 1,200 Bedouin children from non-recognized villages in the Negev. About half the children are girls, 500 of whom are part of baseball or dodge ball teams, with the remainder playing on soccer teams. The session run by Fukra earlier this month at the Tel Arad school was given to a mixed group of 17 boys and 7 girls.
Salwa, 12, eludes the boys, fires the ball and scores a goal. The look of deep disappointment is apparent on the faces of the goalkeeper and his friends, who are dressed in shorts for a hot spring day while Salwa wears long sweat pants, a jacket and a head covering.
“It’s very hot,” she concedes after the game. “But, I’ve gotten used to playing this way. I enjoy scoring goals, and the freedom to run around and play with the boys,” she adds – her eyes burning with passion.
Salwa admits that at home, next to her father – who is married to two women – and her 10 siblings, she makes an effort not to discuss the game.
Eran Gilboa, 31, is the head of the southern office of the non-profit group organizing the after school project.
“There is no community center here,” he says. “Everything takes place around tin shacks and wooden cabins. A soccer game combining educational values with physical activity is the only after school enrichment the children around here get. Through experiencing the game, the children learn tolerance, mutual respect, violence prevention, enjoyment, empowerment and leadership.”
“Bedouin society does not take for granted girls participating in physical education lessons,” says Ibrahim Amterat, 23. Amterat, who lives in Kseifa, is the non-profit’s project coordinator for the unrecognized villages.
“Until recently, the girls at most would play hopscotch or stand by the fence and look at the boys. In order to get the girls to participate we had to go from family to family to get permission from the parents and the tribe. It wasn’t so simple convincing them that the girls should play soccer,” he says with a laugh.
“Most of all, I enjoy scoring goals, attacking and mowing down the other side,” says 13-year-old Resha, as she rolls with laughter. “The boys give girls who are struggling a hard time, but you have to get used to it. Once they would insult us, now they’ve gotten used to us, and we’re part of the team.”
“Through soccer we see the empowerment of girls,” observes Gilboa. “These are girls who are usually shy and closed up, and they are not used to talking, but the game strengthens their self image. At first, they didn’t know the rules, and now they are developing and some are even turning out to be as good as the boys.”
Back at the Tel Arad school, which runs on electricity from a generator, most of the girl soccer players sit on benches next to other girls during class, while the boys stick to the boys. Outside the soccer pitch, the separation of the sexes remains.
This is huge – just getting permission from the parents is huge. Who knew? Thanks to Eran Gilboa and Ibrahim Amterat for working this chance for girls to rise up in at least one sphere closed to them till now. There’s hope. Things are changing.
Hoping to update this if I get a chance to talk to either of the leaders of this project.