The first-ever Australia Rules Football tournament in Israel will take place this morning at the Tel Aviv Sportek.
The tournament is the initiative of Jerusalem student Yonatan Belik, who set up a Peace Team comprising Palestinians and Israelis from Jerusalem in 2011, while a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. The team was sponsored by the AFL.
The tournament is being held in memory of in memory of Henry Jolson, the son of Holocaust survivors, who was a member of the board at the Melbourne-based AFL team the Western Bulldogs and was instrumental in the establishment of the Peace Team. Jolson died in 2013 at the age of 66.
Six teams are to compete in the inaugural competition, which organizers hope to turn into an annual event. Today’s tournament is a warm-up before the Peace Team heads off for the European Championship tournament in Croatia. Success in Croatia could lead to a spot in the 2017 International Cup in Australia.
Belik competed in the AFL International Cup as part of the Peres Center Peace Team in 2008 and 2011. The experience inspired him to keep his belief in co-existence alive, especially after moving to Jerusalem. Since May, a squad of 20 players between the ages of 18-30 has been training weekly.
The Australian Embassy, which supported the previous AFL Peace Teams, is once again backing this initiative. Speaking ahead of the opening of the tournament, Australian Ambassador to Israel David Sharma said: “What the Peace Team is doing is inspiring. In these times it’s courageous to stand up for peace. The past and present Peace Team members are a motivation to all."
He added: “Australians love sport and especially AFL football. For us it’s more than a game – it’s a way of life. AFL football reflects the great Australian values of fair play, respect for others, teamwork, mateship and leadership. These values help create united teams and more harmonious societies.”