The Humble Power Of Interfaith Soccer In Jerusalem's Old City

Peace goals
Peace goals
Ariela Piattelli

JERUSALEM — In front of Zion Gate in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, just a short walk from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, lies a soccer pitch. Standing on the field, nestled beside an Armenian church, you can see the city walls and the rising minarets of mosques.

This pitch and the soccer academy surrounding it were built with funds donated by several notable figures in Italian sports, from soccer coach Carlo Ancelotti to Olympic swimmer Federica Pellegrini and motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi. The academy is run by the Italian soccer team AS Roma, and provides a unique experience in this divided city: Children from all backgrounds and religions — Arab, Israeli, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian alike — play and train here together.

An opportunity to get to know each other better in a land where communication is often complicated.

"With the recent participation of the Armenian community, we've added another important piece of the cultural puzzle we're trying to build here," says Samuele Giannetti, vice president of the Roma Club Jerusalem. He and his organization have worked for years on this multicultural project, seeking to build dialogue on the soccer field and prove that people of all cultures can live together in harmony in Jerusalem.

For Giannetti and the academy, sport can be an antidote to ignorance, suspicion, and mistrust. "It's an instrument of reciprocal contact that goes far beyond the sport itself," says Giannetti. "If this pitch didn't exist these kids would never meet each other, whereas now they are bringing home an example of intercultural dialogue."

Hosted in the Armenian quarter, the academy was originally proposed by the Italian consulate in Jerusalem, which promoted the project with the support of the city's Armenian Patriarchate. "The school offers these children an opportunity to get to know each other better in a land where communication is often complicated," says Fabio Sokolowicz, the Italian consul.

Fabio Sonnino, president of the Roma Club Jerusalem, says the modest effort may at least offer another way into the peace process. "Our project is just a drop in the ocean," he says, "but it's a start."

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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