PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A bus filled with hockey players pulls up to the Robert Morris Island Sports Center. But these travelers have a different set of goals. The Jewish and Arab teens from Israel play together.
Mitch Miller of Ottawa is the North American liaison for the Canada Israel Hockey School.
“I think sport has an amazing opportunity to get people to work together for a common bond,” he says. “So although hockey’s not the normal sport in Israel, to get them to come out and be on the ice, just being together, is a start. Then they get to talking, and they get to find out the other guy is not as bad as my grandparents told me.”
Their meeting on Neville Island gives them a chance to put their differences on ice.
Team captain Mayyas Sabbagh is a Jew from Golan Heights. Fadi Haj is an Arab from Nazareth. But on the rink, they are teammates and friends.
“No politics in sports,” says Sabbagh. “We play like we’re one team. It doesn’t matter who you are and where you’re from. It’s just, like, we’re playing hockey.”
“He have come here to just play hockey,” Haj adds “We don’t look at whether we are Arabs or Jewish. We are one family here.”
Good thing. Haj says most of his neighbors know almost nothing about the sport he’s chosen.
“They’re surprised when I say I play hockey. They don’t know the game, because it’s not on TV, and no one watches it,” he says.
Now, the two cultures have the chance to put their best skate forward.
“Hockey is a sport that’s certainly known for violence,” Miller says. “But I think these kids are creating an opportunity for peace.”
Sabbagh guarantees a good reception here in Pittsburgh, by saying, “My hero is Sidney Crosby.”
That’s hockey diplomacy.