This book review has been prepared for the Baptist Minister’s Journal.
Dynamics of a Journey to Conflict Prevention and Peace in Israel and Palestine through an Olympic Sport
By Geoffrey Victor Whitfield
Published by: Emeth Press
The ‘Baptist minister and therapist’, the Rev Geoffrey Whitfield MBE is no stranger to writing about the Israel/ Palestinian conflict. His previous books include: “Amity in the Middle East” (2006), “Roots of Terrorism in Israel and Palestine” (2007) and “Israeli And Palestinian Terrorism: The ‘Unintentional’ Agents” (2009). This time, he’s eschewed a pithy title for something more all-encompassingly descriptive.
The book chronicles a ‘conflict prevention scheme’ which emerged over nine years from a casual conversation and has grown – as these things can do – into an on-going international cross-community annual event. Eventually entitled ‘World Sports Peace Project’ (WSPP), its foundation was set in the village of Ibillin, in northern Israel, and in Bethlehem, in the West Bank.
The key ingredients in this scheme are young people and football. In setting out this case study in successful cross-cultural relations, the book outlines a model to enable the development and management of similar initiatives, so that they become embedded in the community and ‘owned’ by those involved.
There would have been no point in writing the book if everything about the scheme had been straightforward. Bringing together a complex assortment of cultures, value systems, organisations, individual and corporate interests involves a high degree of diplomacy – and acceptance when things don’t turn out exactly as had been hoped.
All this adds both spice and pace to the narrative which is a welcome addition to the growing wealth of literature on practical approaches to conflict resolution.
Whitfield’s idea was to create a football project where young Arabs and Jews in Israel and Palestine could play together in mixed teams against mixed teams. So, to win, team members must put aside previous prejudices, combining skills and energies to achieve their common objective. The political implications of this sporting maxim are obvious – as are the longer term potential benefits for both the Arab and Jewish communities.
Carefully combining idealism and realism, Whitfield’s account is inspirational as a story of developing positive relationships in a conflict-ridden area. It’s also instructive because it outlines how to develop an organisation from modest beginnings into being a significant player on the international stage.
Few of the book’s readers will be working in as culturally sensitive a situation as Whitfield describes but they can take heart in the knowledge that, if it can be done successfully in the Middle East, it should be able to be done successfully anywhere.
By Bob Little