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Racing toward a new understanding in Israel

Posted By Nicky Blackburn On November 15, 2007 @ 3:32 pm In | No Comments

Aric Lapter and Rasheed Nashashibi get ready for the test day in the UK. ‘We want to show the world that there’s hope for Jews and Arabs to live together in peace.’ (Photo: Harel Rintzler)Aric Lapter and Rasheed Nashashibi aren’t political activists or peace campaigners. They don’t take part in rallies or demonstrations. They are just a couple of guys who are passionate about motor racing and who share a dream to race Formula One cars. The only hitch is that Lapter is Israeli and Nashashibi is a Palestinian. However the pair have decided to exploit their differences by racing together in the British Formula Vee Championship next year in an effort not just to further their dream, but also to take a stand for peace.

“At some point you have to change the situation,” says 31-year-old Lapter, an engineer and single-seater racer. “There are so many negative things occurring in this region, you just have to do something positive that will change the balance. Right now there is nothing to hope for, and there should be something to hope for. People need it. So many people talk about peace, but we believe in just getting on and doing it. We want to prove that Israelis and Palestinians can collaborate together and work as a team.”

“We want to show the world that there’s hope for Jews and Arabs to live together in peace,” adds 23-year-old Nashashibi, the 2006 Palestinian go-kart champion. “It’s not just about war and people killing each other. Israelis and Palestinians can work together. There’s an alternative. We want to show people a better image of both nations.”

Lapter and Nashashibi, who took part in a test day at Silverstone Race Track in Northamptonshire in the UK last week, first met each other at the Go-Kart race track in Latrun in 2006. Lapter, a mechanical engineer who has built his own one-seater Formula Vee race car – the only one in Israel, was there being filmed for a documentary. Nashashibi was racing.

“I thought Rasheed was English or American at first, but when he put on his racing suit I saw the Palestinian flag and for a moment was shocked,” Lapter tells ISRAEL21c. “Then I realized it was a nice way for Rasheed to express his nationality and his patriotic sentiment. I thought to myself ‘I’m proud of my country, and he’s proud of his, so why don’t we race together.’”

Nashashibi, who lives in East Jerusalem and works as an IT analyst for the Golden Walls Hotel in Jerusalem, liked the idea and the two men began work, meeting regularly and racing together whenever possible.

“We discovered that we got on very well together,” says Lapter. “We like the same teams and have the same dreams. The only thing we talk about is Formula One cars. We don’t really like to talk about the conflict or politics or the peace process, we have our own language and our own interests that have nothing to do with the conflict.”

The pair hope their Race for Peace, will come to fruition at the British Vee Championship series, a low-cost single-seater racing category that begins in March and runs through October. They plan to race Lapter’s car, which will display the Israeli and Palestinian flags side by side. There are 14 races, and they plan to share them equally.

The pair are now looking for international sponsorship of between $80-90,000 to pay the costs of the British competition. It’s not an easy task. In Israel, motor sports are virtually non-existent.

“For people from the Middle East it’s not difficult to become professional racers, it’s almost impossible. You don’t have a chance,” says Lapter. “No one will sponsor you in Israel. They don’t care about motor sports and don’t want to waste their time or money on it.”

For both Lapter and Nashashibi, racing is a passion. Lapter, whose father was a truck driver, grew up obsessed with trucks, airplanes, and Ferrari cars. By the age of 16 he had already decided that his dream was to become an engineer or driver, whatever came first, of Formula One cars.

Like most Israelis, Lapter joined the army at 18, and began serving as an engineer. A couple of years later he started racing go-karts. At 21, he began studying mechanical engineering in Rome and starting racing Formula Ford at the Henry Morrogh racing school in Italy.

He returned to Israel to complete his studies and as part of his graduation project for Tel Aviv University decided to design and build his own Formula Vee race car with the help of British Formula Vee manufacturer, GAC. Using drawings provided by the Aylesbury company, Lapter designed the car at home in Israel on his computer using CAD technology. “I’m not sure they really believed I would go and build the car, but they said they were willing to help,” says Lapter.

After graduation, Lapter bought an old Beetle car (the basis for the Formula VW car), gathered some friends, and set up a team, Lapter-Brenner, to build the race car in his back yard in Tel Aviv. The car was finished in 2006.

Nashashibi began racing a few years ago when he went to study in England at Kingston University. He joined the Kingston Original Karting Society (KOKS), and quickly fell in love with the sport. He took part in the British University Karting Championship, and in go-kart races in Le Mans, in France. He has won several races and championships, such as the Bayford Winter and Spring cups.

On his return to Jerusalem, Nashashibi launched a club called PalRacing, which organizes races and practices.

Nashashibi is British by nationality because his mother, a Christian Arab, comes from Cyprus. Though he was born in Israel, and his mother and father have lived in Israel for most of their lives, the family only have Israeli residency.

Nashashibi was brought up in an open environment as both Christian and Moslem, celebrating both religious festivals. “I think it’s the best,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “It makes you more aware and open-minded about other religions.”

After graduation, Nashashibi returned to Jerusalem and began go-kart racing regularly at Latrun. In November this year he represented the Palestinian Authority in races at ThunderArabia, a go-kart championship in Bahrain.

Though Nashashibi and Lapter come from both sides of the conflict, they have been surprised at how well friends, family and colleagues have received their decision to race together.

“I think at the beginning friends were quite suspicious,” admits Lapter. “But when they met Rasheed as a friend, they fell in love with him and with the story. Separately our chances to find sponsors and become professional racing drivers are zero but together we are a winning team. I find it very metaphoric. Divided we fall, united we stand. When we come together we can accomplish far more than we can apart.

“This is my passion and it’s Rasheed’s as well. It’s this passion that enables us to overcome our differences. We were raised in different backgrounds with different patriotic sentiments, but racing brings us together. I’m really supportive of Rasheed on a personal level.”

“Almost everyone I know loves the idea,” adds Nashashibi, who admits that he is not political by nature and finds it tough to talk about the subject. “They think it’s great that we are doing this. Everyone wants peace. I don’t know a single person who wants war over peace. We are all human. I don’t have any problems with anyone.”

Now all Nashashibi and Lapter need to do is raise the money to let them achieve their dream. Both are hoping that last week’s event at Silverstone will inspire sponsors. “We are pioneering something new,” says Lapter, who has ploughed every penny he has into racing. “We don’t like to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do, define who is good or bad, innocent or guilty, right or wrong, we just want to show people that though we’re on opposite sides, we work well together. We hope that we can become champions in Formula Vee and act as role models for Israeli and Arab young people showing that they can achieve their dreams and they can do so through collaboration, not conflict.”