Beliefnet
ABU GOSH, Israel, May 31 (AP) - For a few hours on a sweaty afternoon, Arabs and Jews in this town had something of a rare encounter, gathering in a restaurant Friday to watch the opening match of the World Cup soccer tournament on a big screen TV.

As Senegal upset France 1-0 in Seoul, South Korea, there was no talk here of politics and battles beyond the soccer field.

"This is the time to bring together both sides, Arabs and Jews for one month to put politics on one side and watch the game," said Arab businessman, Jawdat Ibrahim, who invited Jews to his restaurant to watch the games in the coming weeks.

A few dozen Arabs and Jews sat at tables, eating humus, smoking tobacco water pipes and drinking beer. They cheered together as Senegal's Papa Bouba Diop kicked the ball past French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez 30 minutes into the match.

During the last 20 months of fighting, Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel have kept their distance from one another, even in Abu Gosh, a mostly Arab town, where residents have had long-standing links to Jews and have ties to its government.

Israel's Arabs, which account for more than 1 million of the country's 6.5 million people, have become increasingly isolated. They are Palestinians who remained in Israel during the Mideast wars of 1948 and 1967.

In recent years, they have complained that successive Israeli governments have neglected their communities and schools. Tensions peaked in October of 2000, when Israeli Arabs demonstrated in support of the Palestinian uprising. Police moved to quell the demonstrators, killing 13 Israeli Arabs.

Friday's World Cup match was a chance for a few to come together.

The meeting produced some awkward moments and some funny questions.

"Some Jews asked me, 'Do Arabs like football?'" Ibrahim said. "They didn't know."

Most of them sat at separate tables, occasionally asking each other to pass an ash tray or some salt.

Israelis and Palestinians have played together on the soccer field before. A team of Israelis and Palestinians beat a squad of Italian pop singers 6-5 in Rome in May 2000.

The charity soccer game, dubbed the "Match of the Heart," scored some symbolic points: the Israeli and Palestinian teammates talked to each other, passed to each other and even wrapped arms around each other after goals. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, now Israel's foreign minister, watched from the stands.

Ofer Bearman, an 18-year-old high school student, came to the restaurant Friday with a few friends from the nearby town of Har Hadar. He said he's comfortable with the Arabs of Abu Gosh. The soccer match provided a pause in the hourly newscasts which bring reports of the Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

"The whole world stops during the World Cup," he said. "Everybody's watching the game."

An Arab waiter, Majd Ibrahim, 40, brought them drinks and food. He was wearing a World Cup 2002 T-shirt with a picture of France's Zinedane Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants.

"He's the best player, the best. But he's injured now," lamented Majd Ibrahim. The Arab midfielder has a partially torn left thigh muscle that forced him to miss Friday's game.

Majd was happy to see Jews in the restaurant for the game - a moment of eased tensions.

"We missed it for a long time," he said. "Everybody was waiting for this day. ... It's like the old days."

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