International Women’s Day was Monday, but we didn’t want to let the week go by having recognized the outstanding contributions that women are making to our work only once. A few years ago, Chad Ford, a writer for ESPN.com and professor at Brigham Young University – Hawaii, visited our work in the Middle East. Among the many stories he brought back is this one, of Bar and Serene, two girls from two of the toughest neighborhoods in Jerusalem – neighborhoods that have long stood at opposite sides of one of the world’s deepest cultural divides:
Bar, a poor Jewish girl from a ghetto in Jerusalem has a number of things working against her. But she is outgoing and quick to make friends, like many others who have joined the PeacePlayers Twinned Basketball Camp program.
On our visit to Bar’s house, Serene, a Palestinian teammate from Isawiyya, asks if she can come, too. Serene has never been inside a Jewish home. She is curious to get a picture of where her friend lives.
Bar lives in a dilapidated brick apartment building reminiscent of American ghettos. During the interview, gunshots ring out, followed by the sound of sirens. Later, we find out that a shooting took place just a few buildings down from Bar’s apartment.
Bar says the pressures not to mix are strong. “I like to become friends with everyone, it doesn’t matter who,” she says, sipping soda in her small apartment. “That’s the way I was taught. But not all the kids think that way. I’ve been teased for spending too much time with Palestinians.”
So how did she hook up with Serene?
“I remember that she said snitzel is her favorite food. It’s mine, too, so I thought we had something in common,” Bar says.
A friendship was born.
“It was so amazing to see that she was so interested to meet me,” Serene says. “I thought we could be good friends.”
The two girls embrace after the interview. There seems to be a real connection, and Serene says she is trying to learn Hebrew to facilitate the communication between the two. Over the course of the next year, Bar and Serene will have the chance to interact often as part of the Twinned Basketball Clubs. The goal is that the friendship will continue to deepen over the next five years as they continue to interact and get to know each other.
While the creation of one friendship might seem small, it’s exactly these type of bonds that PeacePlayers creates to set the foundation for peace and communication. The story of Bar and Serene, says their coach Osnat Ginati, has an important effect not only on the kids, but also on the adults.
“I think kids like that, who are willing to open themselves up despite real danger of being rejected, inspire us all to be better,” Osnat says with tears in her eyes. “Some of my family tells me I’m crazy to believe a program like this will ever work. That Arabs will never change. But I see this, and I say to myself, maybe both of us are capable of change. “
Read the rest of Chad’s article here. Full disclosure: since the publishing of this piece Chad has worked for PPI as a consultant with The Arbinger Institute, helping to develop and deliver PPI’s peacebuilding curriculum. The project is supported by the Laureus Sports for Good Foundation.