• Nov 22nd 2008 at 12:34PM
  • 19

Click above to view Racing 4 Peace in high resolution

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East is not an area we typically cover here at Autoblog, but for all our love of wheelspin and tire smoke, there's no better reason for spinning your wheels than the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Diplomats and militants, moderates and extremists have tried for decades to reach some sort of agreement, but their efforts towards achieving peace invariably end up slipping through their fingers like so many grains of sand – at best – or more often blowing up in their faces. While politicians seem resigned to leaving the negotiations for dead, two young ambitious locals have taken the wheel on their own in hopes of showing the world that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of doing more than fighting. They've got this crazy idea in their heads that gasoline can be used to fuel race cars instead of rockets.

We headed out into the desert outside the border town of Arad to see what they were up to.

Photos courtesy of Harel Rintzler.

Silverstone, Modena, Indianapolis.... Among the places you'd expect to find a racing team take shape, Arad wouldn't factor in the Top 100. It sits nestled between the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert, which could very well hold the record for the highest concentration of air force bases in the world. But while state-of-the-art fighter jets routinely take off and land at the plethora of high-tech air bases nearby, Aric Lapter and Rasheed Nashashibi have to test their vehicle and sharpen their skills at Arad's abandoned airstrip, overgrown with weeds pushing up through the tarmac like the grassroots of their endeavor. Founded under fire and enduring under constant existential threat, the bulk of Israel's national resources – both financial and human – have historically been devoted out of necessity to its defense. That's left little room for developing the type of motorsport framework in place across Europe, North America or even across the region in the gulf emirates. While circuits are constructed and renovated on a regular basis around the world, in Israel the Arad airstrip is about as close as you'll find.

That and a handful of karting tracks, which is where Aric and Rasheed met. Born into a prominent east Jerusalem family, Rasheed Nashashibi won the Palestinian Karting Championship and went on to compete in events abroad while coaching a future generation of Palestinian racers. Meanwhile Aric Lapter, after winning several local karting events, completed his degree in mechanical engineering at Tel Aviv University by designing and building a Formula Vee race car in his garage, earned his racing license in Italy and set about getting his car to Europe to race it there. As the two suited up one day for a kart race at Latrun (a former outpost on the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv), each eyed the flag on the other's suit. But instead of seeing a pretext for hostility, the two saw an opportunity to collaborate.

Without any established support network, Aric and Rasheed came to a realization that seems to elude their national leaders: namely, that they'd be capable of achieving more together than either could on his own. The two started Racing 4 Peace, a sort of cross between racing team and NGO. Their basic goal is as simple and straightforward as any childhood dream: to race, win and ascend to the top. But to get there, Aric and Rasheed knew they'd have to start small, so they've set their sights on the British Formula Vee Championship, one of the first rungs along the international motor racing ladder. As we reported back in September when we were invited to test-drive their car, Formula Vee offers aspiring drivers the opportunity to compete against one another in rudimentary single-seat racing cars based on Volkswagen Beetle mechanicals that can be built in a home garage and raced on a relatively modest budget.

Unfortunately, even a modest budget in international motorsports can quickly run into six figures. After exhausting the local pool of potential sponsors to little effect, Aric and Rasheed are soliciting donations through their website, Racing4Peace.com. While donations have already started arriving, they're a long way off from reaching their goal, but Aric and Rasheed remain cautiously optimistic.

Formula Vee is a humble enough place to start, but from there, the sky's the limit. If they make it in Formula Vee, Aric and Rasheed could move up to series like Formula Ford, Formula Renault or Formula BMW. Success there could earn them a ticket to Formula 3, which could in turn lead to international racing series like GP2, the upcoming Formula 2 revival or, perhaps most appropriately, the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport. From there it's one big step to Formula One.

Of course that's a long way off, and Aric and Rasheed are focused in the meantime on the task at hand. But while hundreds if not thousands of aspiring drivers around the world are dreaming up the same plans, what sets Racing 4 Peace apart is the message which Lapter and Nashashibi hope to bring with them to countries where the average person knows little more about Israelis and Palestinians than the seemingly endless conflict.

The idea of two individuals with no official mandate pursuing peace by driving race cars may seem far-fetched to some, but the notion is not entirely without basis even in the established schools of international relations and conflict resolution. While negotiations between government officials – known as Track 1 – garner all the attention, the diplomats and statesmen aren't the only ones sitting down to talk. Track 2 (also known as Citizen Track) negotiations take place between academics and professionals from both sides of any conflict who, based on common ground, seek to iron out the details of how peaceful coexistence, once agreed upon by their political leaders, will be realized on a practical level. And while racing drivers may not usually factor into the formula, Aric and Rasheed aren't about to sit around and wait for their invitation.

To support Aric and Rasheed, visit www.Racing4Peace.com.
Photos courtesy of Harel Rintzler.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Good. We need more of these people to try and work together with projects they both enjoy, and I doubt both of them enjoy shooting and bombing each other every other day.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I've never heard of these two, even though I live in this country, where everyone seems to know each other, and work in a large motoring-related website.

      Anyway, it always strikes me odd to discover all these 'undercover Israelis' in forums and blogs around the world. Where ARE you hiding, people?

      That being said, I find it pretty saddening that the author keeps referring to Israel as being a war-zone, like all we do all day is fight and shoot each other. That is a really, really incorrect picture. Life here, at least in the center of the country, is quite relaxed lately. I really hope Autoblog readers do realise this is a serious exagerration.

      Regarding motoring culture in Israel, we could really benefit from its development. The simple fact is that, at the moment, motor sports are illegal in Israel, at least to some extent. As far as I'm aware, that makes us unique (in the bad sense of the world), as no other country has a similar law. I don't care if it's on Sabbath or not, but I'd really like to see some serious motoring events in Israel. Even though I don't usually watch these kinds of events, I'd gladly buy tickets to see something professional. After all, we are a nation which has a public interest in motoring - it just needs a little kick in the right direction.

      Anyway, good luck to these two. I don't think they'll be able to change anything - but as long as they pursue development of local motoring sports, I'm in.
        • 6 Years Ago

        I agree with every word. I was about to write a similar comment untill I saw yours.

        I really didn't think that there are any israelis visiting auto blog.

        I really hate seeing in every foreign website I read where they are talking about Israel they treat it like a country with more tanks or airplanes than cars, like we fight with every Arabic man we see.
        That is so far from the truth. In most places in Israel you can really think that there is no war at all.
        It's not like it's the first time arabs and israelis work together, you can see it in a lot of places here in Israel. This article is still very special and meaningful but it won't change the situation by a bit.
        Its just good to know.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Thanks to everyone for their feedback. I'll take this opportunity remind everyone to keep their comments relevant and tasteful.

        Tal, you raise an important point. Of course there's more to Israel than the conflict, as I've come to appreciate over the time that I've spent in the country. Israel has a great deal to contribute culturally, religiously, economically and in a great many ways to the world. The unfortunate reality is that these things tend to get overshadowed on the global scene by the ongoing conflict. That's the point of the article. I'd say that Israelis tend to see what eludes the rest of the world, but I'm not sure that's true either. Case in point: Racing4Peace has been covered in several major Israeli newspapers, on local radio and in television news reports. And yet, here's someone who works in a "large motoring-related website" who has never heard of it. Nobody's hiding anywhere, they're screaming for attention. So let's help them get the word out.
        • 6 Years Ago

        What I've been trying to say in my post is that there's so much more to Israel than just roaming tanks and jets. An unknown fact is that Israel has the second biggest amount of high-tech companies after the US. Which is impressive if you consider the relatively low population of the area. It's also a rather beautiful country, and there's plenty to do around here. What I meant, and I hope you felt this way when you were in Israel - that you don't feel all of this when you walk around the streets of Tel Aviv spotting cars. The conflict does seem to be very, very far from you - which is both good and bad, since some people are ignorant to the suffering of the Sderot people.

        I have honestly never heard of these two, and I regularly monitor Israeli motoring websites. As for the 'large website' - why, it is quite large. I work at iCar.co.il, I reckon the Israelis here know it. Unfortunately, we don't cover motor sports but rather consumer-oriented stuff. I wish this team the best of luck, but I really don't think this will solve the conflict. Not even symbolically, since these things have been , and still are, done with music, theater and even high-tech companies.


        The newspapers supply the public's need. Currently, the public in Israel enjoys football (which I don't like) more than motor sports. You can't expect them to cover something that's not interesting to the readers. Otherwise they won't read the paper.

        Don't blame the media. The passion for motorsports starts first and foremost from 'inside', from 'inside people' who enjoy motoring. When motorsports are officially allowed and backed up by the government, we'll see less people getting killed in car accidents as a result of better understanding of what's right for the road, and what's right for the track. Then, when people are actually interested, you'll have the newspapers covering it as much as you'd like. As for now, we and the government simply aren't doing enough to promote it.


        While you have a point, your post is rather simplistic. 'Occupying land'? You, my friend, are sitting on occupied territory 'stolen' from the Indians. Without delving into politics, the Palestinians had their fair share of opportunities to get everything they want - including peace. After the disengagement, did we see any improvement? No, only barge after barge of rockets. How do we know this will be different when we 'give back' (give back? It's ours) lands taken in the '67 war? Just a point to think about.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I happened to come across a small snippet covering Lepter's FVee plans, but nothing serious. Also, how can you blame a country where motorsports coverage in, for example, the Ha'aretz sports section is nearly zero?

        Two of the most exciting Formula 1 finishes in history were covered by half a page each, and sometimes the regular races aren't even mentioned on the Monday that follows. Forget about NASCAR, IndyCar, GP2, FIA GT, or even Le Mans - none gets a mention. Compare that with Italy where the '07 British GP got three-four pages of coverage, with explanations, interviews and technical details (I was in Italy at the time) - and this wasn't even an exciting race.

        Motorsports coverage, image and organization is at a very low level here. That's what needs to change. Though it's a pleasant surprise to see other Israelis on AutoBlog.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I do wonder how I've never heard of it. Lepter's FVee plans are quite known (though a couple of years old), but I wasn't aware of an actual Karting championship here - never mind a Palestinian one. Makes me wonder where exactly they've managed to fit a track and prevent the army from stopping the event.

      It's a sweet gesture, though like all those things, it never actually moves something in the political sense.

      I do hope they'll come over to Tel-Aviv some time. Motorsports in Israel are in a sad state - we only have a law allowing it in the first place for 4-5 years now, but no real tracks. Apart from the annual cross-country rally, it seems, nobody's interested in building a track or organizing a street-circuit.

      There were plans for a 1970 Formula 2 GP of Israel, but it was canceled since they wanted to run it on Shabbat (Saturday) and the religious Jews stopped it. 40 years later, though, nobody minds events on Saturday - especially not in the atheist Tel Aviv, which is basically the center of Israel - but we're lacking a track or willing government.

      I suspect Israel is the one place where the question "Do you watch Formula 1?" is usually followed by "Formula WHAT?!" or "Yeah, Schumacher, Need for Speed?". Here, people actually have no idea something beyond FnF/NFS exists - and "Racing" is illegal for most of them. "I watch Racing" is like stating "I like rooster-fights".
      • 6 Years Ago

      What's wrong with not having a race on Shabbat? All the F1 races are on Sunday. All the Nascar cup races are on Sunday or Saturday night after shkia [sundown]. There's the old stock car racing saying, regarding support from automakers, "win on Sunday, sell on Monday." It's almost as though you, davka, want to have the race on Saturday. I'm not asking you to wear tzizit and move the Mea She'arim, just to please show some respect for your own heritage. You'll find that others will respect you for that.

      When the Formula 1 circus visits Bahrain, I'm pretty sure they're very careful to not offend Muslim sensibilities, why shouldn't they do likewise regarding Judaism?

      From grandprixcities.com:

      "Bahrainis are mostly Muslim, practicing the laws of Islam. The original dates for the inagural race were to be either March-April or October for logistical reasons, that is before or after Melbourne or Sepang at the begining of the season or before or after Suzuka in Japan, at the end. However, the Holy Month of Ramadan, basically the Muslim month of fasting, usually starts sometime in October, so the October date was less favoured by locals. Muslim fasting is different from Christian fasting, as it obliges Muslims to not eat anything from sunrise to sunset and to increase their prayer time. There is a feeling on the island that such a Holy time would be difficult to observe respectfully with international tourists and the excitement and noise of the event happening all around. This is not the only example in racing history where religious observances have effected race dates. The traditional Friday no practice day at Monaco derives historically from a religious holiday that came in the middle of the race weekend. "

      From f1-pitlane.com:

      "• Bahrain is a Muslim country, so please be aware of local customs, particularly if your visit coincides with the month of Ramadan.
      • Unlike some nearby Muslim countries, the sale of Alcohol is permitted in Bahrain. However, caution should be exercised when drinking so as not to offend.
      • Although Bahrain is quite progressive, it is recommended that you dress conservatively, particularly for women."
      • 6 Years Ago
      this is what I call good sport.
      • 6 Years Ago
      "Born into a prominent east Jerusalem family, Rasheed Nashashibi"

      Nashashibis, along with Khalidis, Husseinis, and Nusseibahs are old land holding clans who have long exploited by the Arab peasants of the region and the conflict with the Jews. Arafat and the Grand Mufti (who spent WWII in Berlin) are Husseinis. Rashid Khalidi was a spokesperson for the PLO back in the day.

      It's nice to see Nashashibi work with a Jew, but then back in the early days of the Zionist enterprise, the clans would sell land to the Jews... only to later agitate the fellahin, the Arab peasants, to dispossess them. That way they could sell the same land more than once.
      • 6 Years Ago
      You guys went crazy with those tags.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The word "roadmap" takes a literal turn :)
      • 6 Years Ago
      P.S. The reason the race was cancelled all those years ago, was not because the race was due to be held on a Saturday, but because the qualifying session was supposed to be held on a Saturday, the race on Sunday as usual. The religious groups didn't like it, and... Crashed the party. It was a F2 race which, if memory serves me right had Jackie Ickx participating.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Disco Disco Good Good!
      • 6 Years Ago
      It's unity like this that gives me hope for the region. I know the years and years of suffering and anguish between the two sides will not & cannot be forgotten, but collaborations like this will definitely help to ease the pain. This is progress, this is moving forward, and this another very small step towards peace.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Sports is probably one of the best ways to bring peace and unity. Go on guys, the world needs more people like you.
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