My name is Aya Deeb, and I’m 15 years old. I live in a beautiful village in Jerusalem called Bait Safafa. I’ve been with PeacePlayers-Middle East since 2009 and am also a part of the Leadership Development Program (LDP). I joined PeacePlayers because my dad and older brother encouraged me. My older brother is also part of PeacePlayers (PPI) and he really enjoyed the program.
Because of my brother’s previous participation, I, of course, did not have any family objections to joining, but I did have some fears of my own. I feared all of the differences we, Palestinians, had with them, the Jews. We have different mentalities, different languages, and come from two different sides. I didn’t know how it was going to be playing with them. At first, my brother was at my side during the Twinnings and he helped me with communication and just to understand what was going on. But after some time, I was able to communicate and became familiar with the program. Over time, I became accustomed to the idea of PeacePlayers and have come to the realization that PPI isn’t just basketball, it’s about respect for all people.
After some time in PPI, I began playing on an All Stars team, which is a mixed team consisting of Palestinians and Jews. This time around I did have some fears of course, but they were not the same fears I faced when I joined. After a short time being together on the team we got to know each other better, spoke to each other more, and got used to playing together. I remember one day, one of the Jewish players, Toot, invited the whole team over to her house. Initially I was against the idea and did not want to go. I had never been in a Jewish person’s home and the idea seamed foreign and scary to me. In the end, my family persuaded me to go. It was a sleepover, so when I arrived I had just told the girls I was staying for a bit and not sleeping over. I sat with her family and I was a little bit nervous of their opinions and mentality. But I quickly saw that her parents wanted us to be as comfortable and happy as possible in their home and I began to feel very at ease in their home — something that I didn’t think possible. In fact, I was enjoying myself so much that I decided to sleepover! It was such an amazing day and we bonded as a team. We all pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones and benefited in the end.
Last summer was an extremely difficult time in Jerusalem because of the violence and then the outbreak of the war. It even got to a point where I feared getting on buses. It was a period when none of us felt any safety or security. It was during this time that PeacePlayers made things much easier for us. PeacePlayers helped us to keep the racism, discrimination, and violence from impacting us in every aspect of life. We had a getaway from all of the nasty reality into our own PeacePlayer reality. During this time, we didn’t all grow apart from each other, but instead we became closer and cared for each other more.
PeacePlayers has changed me for the better. I no longer differentiate people based on their religion and now love to learn about people who come from different cultures than mine.
In the end, it’s true that we have different religions and different languages but what I’ve learned with PeacePlayers is that we are all humans. It’s important that we respect and try to understand each other in spite of the conflict.