Through the next several months, our staff in the Middle East will be following the activities of the Jerusalem All Stars here on the blog. These teams are one of PPI – ME’s newest initiatives and a major achievement: the first ever teams with participants from both East and West Jerusalem in Israel’s National Basketball League. In the first installment, learn about this exciting project and find out the results from their first two games. Check back to learn about their progress throughout the season – PPI – Middle East will post right here on the blog every Thursday.
“These girls are fighters,” said Vito Gilic, PPI – ME’s Basketball Operations Manager, “They know it from life that they need to make the best of every opportunity that comes their way. Basketball in that sense is like life.”
He’s right, of course. For almost an hour and a half during their first game on October 5th, the girls of the PPI – ME All Stars fought for every rebound, never allowed an easy shot, took the ball into the paint, and generally did everything else they could to win.
The PPI – ME All Stars consist of two teams, one with 9th and 10th graders and one with 7th and 8th graders. Each consists of both Jewish and Palestinian girls playing in the Israeli Basketball Association’s official youth league. This is the first time that PPI – ME has registered teams to play in this official league, the highest level of youth basketball in the country. This is the real deal. Israel’s future generation of basketball players plays here.
The PPI – ME All Stars consist of veteran participants hailing from the East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem and the nearby town of Beit Shemesh. These teams are the crown jewel in this season’s PPI – ME activity. They are the best example there could be that PPI’s work can – and does – bridge divides and change perceptions. From complete strangers, many of whom had never met someone from the region’s ‘other’ community just a few years before, they have now become true friends on a team that meets to play and learn together four times each week. Whenever they meet, it’s hugs and hi-fives all around.
And now PPI – ME wants to show them off, to prove there is a better way – a way of tolerance, a way of peace, a way of knowing the other. These girls, integrated teams playing in an Israeli league, are ambassadors of peace and acceptance.
The season opener for the 9th and 10th graders took place last week, on a cool Tuesday evening, in Pizgat Ze’ev, a Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. The All Stars girls took the court with excitement. The game began hesitantly. It took some time before any of the teams managed to rack up some points. The girls of Pizgat Ze’ev proved to be skilful players, but soon enough the All Stars opened a lead. They insisted on taking the ball into the paint and consistently boxed the girls of Pizgat Ze’ev out of the lane, grabbing rebounds and scoring on second, third, and one time even a fifth chance. Gal, a Jewish girl from Bet Shemesh, led the effort on the boards, with her Palestinian friend Renine exhibiting wonderful scoring skills.
Not at any point in the game did the All Stars allow an easy basket, and they continually fought for quality shots. The final whistle settled on a striking 54-30 score for the All Stars, and only then did the girls let out a smile or breathe a sigh of relief.
They have a long season ahead of them. This week’s game was in Givat Ram, in the center of West Jerusalem, against a team already established as one of the best in the league. The All Stars lost 60-55 in a tight contest. But one thing is already clear: the ambassadors for peace got game. They will fight hard against every team in the league. They are in it for the challenge and they will take on their opponents with pride and poise, illustrating the value of coexistence every step of the way.