Local Hero: MUJU Peace Team

“Wouldn’t it be cool if I got my Jewish mates and you got your Muslim mates and we all had a footy match together?” Joel Kuperholz mused to his new friend Oussama Abouzied last August after they watched the movie, ‘Tackling Peace’.

The two teenagers were part of a group hosted by members of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. Joel and Oussama were so inspired by the story of the 11 Israelis and 11 Palestinians who came from opposite sides of the Green Line, and left all their politics and prejudices behind to play Australian Rules football and embrace each other as team mates.

Oussama agreed that it would be a good idea, and MUJU Peace Club was thus created by Joel Kuperholz, Zoe Lipton and Emily Sterling from Bialik College and Oussama Abouzied and Osman El Souki from Newport Islamic Society. Together the five teenagers worked toward forming two mixed teams made up equally of Muslim and Jewish teenagers that would play side by side as team mates.

Joel created a Facebook event and was thrilled by the positive response from his community. Not only did he manage to fill the quota of players in a few days, but so many others offered to come and support the match on the day as well. Osman and Oussama also had no problem filling their teams and more than 100 friends and family members ultimately  made the trip to mark the Friendly match between the two communities.

The two teams then formed their own huddle, ‘Unity’ coached by Mohamed from Newport Islamic society and ‘Harmony’ coached by Yaakov from the Jewish community. The energetic teams, made up of an equal number of Jewish and Muslim players, were very evenly matched. The skill level was very high and the score remained close throughout the 4 x 20 minute quarters. Eventually ‘Unity’ won by 2 points, and after much jumping, hugging and high fiving both teams made a circle and sung the Peace Team anthem ‘Salaam’ in a mixture of Hebrew, English and Arabic.

The organisers of the match, Oussama, Joel, Zoe, Osman and Emily, proved that football is a brilliant vehicle to break down barriers and unite these teenagers in something they love.

Martin Flanagan, a senior journalist from ‘The Age’ told the players, “The footy ground was not Christian,  Jewish or Muslim but had its own rules and the primary value was respect”.

The five organisers have stayed in touch, and the word has spread: There is now an Annual Unity Cup, with multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multicultural teams playing for the sake of broadening harmony, understanding and respect.