MAGIC CARPET: Budo for Peace


One of the things that I love about Israel is the possibility of driving for less than an hour and feeling as though you have been transported to another land. In this case, it was as though we had been whisked away on a magic carpet and delivered into  a distant Arabian village at sunset.  It was hard to believe that  a few miles north of Tel Aviv, just a little ways off of Route 2, there is a little (and very pot holed) road to small Arab village Jisr al-Zarqa, lined with olive trees and an occasional camel and donkey, made alive by the alluring calls  of the mezzuins announcing prayer time.

We had come to visit the city’s Budo for Peace club, located in the small town of 13,000’s  community centre. Budo for Peace has twenty such centres spread throughout Israel where students are taught the discipline of a martial art,  alongside a special philosophical framework  designed to impart the values of tolerance, co-existence and respect for the other.

Because we were coming to see an afterschool activity, Flowers in the Desert , had arranged an afternoon tour and some of us had brought our own children. As we drove into Jisr, our kids stared out the window, entranced by the narrow dirt roads, the ramshackled houses and the groups of young bedraggled kids hanging out in the road. “Where are their mummys and daddys? Where are their shoes?” my 3 year old wanted to know. Indeed, the kids we saw roaming the streets are from one of the poorest communities in Israel.

Jisr al-Zarqa has the lowest average monthly wage of any locality in Israel, coming in at a little over  $1100.  According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Jisr’s 12% highschool drop-out rate is the highest in the country.   The only Arab city in Israel located on the coast, and the residents of Jisr al-Zarqa are primarily Muslim.

We began our tour at the nice-looking community centre on the outskirts of the village. It is a modernish building, whose appearance belies the true state of the community.  The sad truth is that the centre is completely bankrupt, and its co-ordinator,  there to greet us and proudly guide us through the village, has not been paid a salary for the last six  months.  The situation in the rest of the city is just as bleak.  In fact a few weeks prior to our visit, Haaretz reported that schools in Jisr had been shut down because the cleaners, employed by the local council, which had recently gone bankrupt,, had not been paid since March 2011.  To add insult to injury, the Mekorot Water Company had disconnected the water supply during the day due to the town’s mounting water debt. In fact the overall financial situation has deteriorated to such a degree due to low tax-collection rates, that at the end of 2012, the council’s financial deficit was over NIS30 million and its staff had not received wages for six months.

None of these facts seemed to dampen the enthusiasm and passion of  head of the the community centre who took us on a tour of the village.  Jisr al Zarqa means “bridge over the blue” and refers to the beautiful fresh Tananim Stream whose mouth feeds into the sea just north of the wide expansive beach. Walking along the beach with the sun setting red in the winter sky and the picturesque fishing boats silhouetted against the glorious sky, we could see the affluent suburbs of Caesaria to the South.  Hard to believe that we were a stone’s throw from some of the richest neighbourhoods in Israel.

Returning to the community centre, we watched as children filled the streets at this twilight hour. But then a strange thing happened. From amongst the ranks of tired and dusty children, there emerged a troop of smart-looking, young kids dressed in black uniforms and yellow sashes, walking purposefullly and confidently towards the community centre. These were the kids who were participating in the Budo for Peace weekly class, for which the community centre is kept open.

We didn’t need to observe the next half hour of the class to see the incredible impact  this activity has on the kids. Their self-assuredness and dignity was evident just in the way they walked. But watching the class re-affirmed everything I had heard of Budo for Peace. The children, ranging from 5-12 years,  were remarkably disciplined in their practice, watching their coach who had come from the neighbouring town of Faradis. They conducted themselves with such concentration and then broke out into delighted smiles when praised or complimented.

The Budo training incorporates the values of tolerance, self-respect and honor  for all involved. Participants are taught that their opponents are not enemies but partners,  there to mutually develop skills. In fact the word “Budo”, often loosely translated as Martial Arts, actually means “stopping conflict.”

At the end of the class, we were given a chance to speak to the childen. I asked them what they had got out of these classes. The resounding answer: “happiness”. I asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, knowing of the town’s abysmal school drop out rates. The answers: “Doctor, chemist, sport teacher, surgeon.” I asked them if they could go anywhere in the world, where would they travel? The answer: “Faradis,” an Arab town no more than ten minutes away by car.

Our magic carpet was ready to whisk us back to our homes and neighbourhoods where the children I know are likely to become doctors, chemists and surgeons. Where the children I know have already flown around the world before the age of five. From my home, I hoped with all my heart that a magic carpet would arrive to help these incredibly dignified young children fulfill their dreams, even, at the very least, if this magic carpet would materialize in the form of a simple karate mat.

To read more about Budo for Peace on this blog go to this link.

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5 Responses to “MAGIC CARPET: Budo for Peace”
  1. Naomi and Stephen says:

    What a fabulous description of a fabulous organisation- Budo for Peace certainly deserves to win the prize.

  2. Sarah Morrison says:

    This is a great story and reminds me of the wonderful work that the Field Band Foundation is doing in SOuth Africa for young people in similar circumstances. Igniting the imagination and giving young people a sense of purpose – great stuff!

  3. Saul says:

    Amazing essay, you feel like you are there and so connected to such amazing kids and teachers.

    From a very proud husband

  4. Amanda Klein says:

    What a lovely description of Jisr and of an organization doing such powerful work. Great photos as well!

  5. This is my first time visit at here and i am truly impressed to read
    everthing at alone place.

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