Prince William Kicks Off Historic Israel Visit at Soccer Game With Jewish and Arab Children

Britain's Prince William has become the first senior British royal to embark on an official visit to Israel since the country gained its independence in 1948.

During his five-day visit to the Middle East, the Duke of Cambridge will travel throughout Israel and the West Bank.

William touched down in Tel Aviv on Monday evening following his tour of Jordan. Beginning his trip to Israel, the prince visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem. William said the "very moving tour" helped him understand the horrors of what had happened to those who suffered in the Holocaust.

Prince William speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, during a meeting at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on June 26. Thomas Coex/Pool via Reuters

The future king traveled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his residence, at the request of the British government. Not everyone was pleased: Rather than praising a diplomatic coup for the internationally embattled prime minister, the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper suggested the meeting simply reinforced "Britain's growing irrelevancy."

The royal family's official website caused a brief stir when it announced that the duke would be visiting the "Occupied Palestinian Territories"—a term scorned by some Israeli politicians. The prince's itinerary will also include stops at historic and sacred sites in Jerusalem's Old City, which Israel annexed in 1980 but which much of the rest of the world considers occupied territory.

Regardless, William and his hosts were all smiles. The meet and greet with the prime minister complete, William moved on to his chat with President Reuven Rivlin, who was born in the British Mandatory Palestine in 1939. Rivlin asked the prince to convey a message of peace and goodwill from Israel to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whom William will meet later this week.

Young soccer players look on as Prince William takes a penalty kick at a pitch in Jaffa, Israel, on June 26. Rami Girdish

Peace and goodwill were very much the cornerstone of the prince's next stop, a mixed Arab-Jewish soccer game in the historic city of Jaffa, today part of the Tel Aviv metropolis. The event was hosted by the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation and the Equalizer organization, which both work to bring young people together across religious and ethnic boundaries, the Equalizer focusing particularly on sports.

The prince showed off his soccer skills, taking penalty shots against some of the young people who had just played a short match against one another. As an Englishman, he was always going to miss the first one. But the prince dispatched the second to cheers from onlookers.

William has been winning fans all day, and the kids were equally impressed. Yasmin Damirjulu, an 11-year-old at Komemiyut School in majority-Jewish Pardes Katz, north of Tel Aviv said it was very exciting to play soccer with a prince. Before he took his penalty, Yasmin wished him good luck, and it seemed to do the trick.

"He scored against my friend, and it was a pretty good goal," she told Newsweek. "I've never seen an amazing goal like that."

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and this month's World Cup has all eyes fixed on Russia. A big football fan himself, the prince wanted to know whom the local kids thought would win glory this year. "The prince asked me who'd win the World Cup, and I said Germany because I like Germany," said 11-year-old Moueed Oudam, a striker from Jaljulia, a majority-Arab town northeast of Tel Aviv.

Asked what he thought of William, Moueed said, "He smiles a lot, he's very nice to the kids."

Yasmin Damirjulu and Moueed Oudam pose for the camera after meeting Prince William in Jaffa, Israel, on June 26. Rami Girdish

"It was a once in a lifetime experience" for the young people, said Tami Hay-Sagiv, director of the Peace Education program at the Peres center, who described the opportunity as "a privilege." The group's sports program has been running for 16 years and takes on around 1,000 children each year from all different backgrounds.

Lubna Ouda, a coach of the Peres center team and mother to one of the young players, said the game was tremendously exciting for the children, and they didn't want to go home even after it was over.

"We use football as a language because it helps us to overcome many barriers that we have due to the conflict," Hay-Sagiv explained. "It's a powerful tool.… The impact of it touches the kids, the parents and other parts of the community."

Though some might be skeptical of such an approach to one of history's most intractable conflicts, Hay-Sagiv believes the project is vital to help humanize others. "We create human ties through the game," she said.

For the Peres center, soccer is an educational tool that helps the children overcome cultural, language and political barriers. Hay-Sagiv told Newsweek that such activities help young people "to believe and have some hope. Because this is what we have a lack of."