An Unlikely Match
“PeacePlayers gave me the chance to play basketball, which is rare in the Arab community, and it made me more ambitious for the future.” – Manal, East Jerusalem
It was an unlikely match. In April of 2010, Romy, a bubbly Jewish girl from the Israeli town of Herzliya, arrived at her first basketball tournament run by PeacePlayers International (PPI), a non-profit that uses basketball to bring children together in areas of conflict. Amidst the tournament action on the court and the playing around in the stands, Romy made two new friends: Malak and Mayar, Palestinian girls from East Jerusalem. Although the girls grew up only an hour apart, their worlds were completely different. In Israel and the West Bank, deep social divides have undermined generations of peacemaking efforts. Even where Arab and Jewish communities live side-by-side, life is starkly segregated, leaving most in both communities to rely on exaggerated misinformation for their knowledge about the “other side”. PPI’s program in the Middle East uses basketball to integrate Israeli Jewish, Israeli Arab, and Palestinian children, using the neutral medium of sport to build the trust necessary for sustainable peace.
After the tournament, the three girls continued to meet and their friendships grew fast on and off the court. The girls began hanging out together, shopping, playing, laughing and talking – all the things typical pre-teens love to do. But there is nothing typical about these girls’ friendships. Malak, Mayar and Romy’s conversations are a mix of Hebrew and Arabic. Romy only speaks Hebrew; Mayar only speaks Arabic; and Malak speaks Hebrew and Arabic and helps both of the other girls understand one other. Despite these challenges, the girls’ relationships continued to blossom.
Then in June of 2012, two years after their first encounter, Romy celebrated her Bat Mitzvah. A Bat Mitzvah, literally translated, is the “Daughter of Mitzvah.” It means that a Jewish young woman is ready to observe all of the mitzvot (commandments). For many Jewish girls, their Bat Mitzvah is the most important day of their lives. They eagerly await the event, excited to celebrate their rite of passage as a Jewish youth; so it only makes sense to want all the most important people in your life to celebrate this occasion with you.
Romy held her Bat Mitzvah at Herzliya Beach, a sandy area of coastline just north of Tel Aviv. Along with her family and friends, Romy invited Malak and Mayar. For Malak and Mayar, it was their first time celebrating someone’s Bat Mitzvah. But it was not the only first for them. After the party started, the girls who were then began surfing, one of Romy’s hobbies. Later the girls went back to Romy’s house and the three danced, laughed, and celebrated this momentous occasion.
PeacePlayers International (PPI) is an international nonprofit organization that uses the game of basketball to unite, educate, and inspire young people in divided communities worldwide. Through year-round, integrated youth basketball programs in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Israel and the West Bank, and Cyprus, PPI has reached more than 55,000 participants since its inception in 2001. PPI prioritizes the involvement of girls in its programs. In Israel and the West Bank, where only 25% of participants in competitive sports are women, more than 70% of PPI’s program participants are female. PPI uses its unique curriculum to not only teach participants how to be confident, assertive athletes, but also confident, assertive leaders. Using a longitudinal model, which engages children from early childhood all the way through adulthood, PPI is creating a league of young women ambassadors for peace. PPI’s Leadership Development Program gives these young women the tools to lead the way towards peace in their local communities and beyond, and to serve as positive role models for younger girls.
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