What do you get when you cross Palestinian-Israeli cooperation and conflict resolution education with intense b-ball action on the court and a little R&R on the beach? You get PeacePlayers International – Middle East’s annual Peace Education Retreat. From May 5-7, 50 children and teens from Jerusalem, Mateh Yehudah and Holon converged on Kibbutz Sdot Yam on the Mediterranean coast for three action-packed days, with Palestinian and Israeli kids playing, dining and lodging together. Participants were divided into two age groups, with teen participants serving as counselors and mentors for younger kids. Youth leaders served as positive role models, offering a positive example of coexistence, tolerance and cooperation.
As part of the retreat, young participants received an in-depth immersion in PPI’s Peace Education Curriculum, which is based on the Arbinger Institute’s Anatomy of Peace model. The PPI curriculum, which relies on personal storytelling and which takes place wholly on the basketball court, aims to teach Palestinian and Israeli kids to see each other as people, instead of as objects. The youth of the Leadership Development Program even led an educational session themselves, showing that their years learning the curriculum had paid off.
One of the highlights of the retreat was a special tournament with a guest basketball team from Zichron Yaakov, just a wee 10-minute ride from the kibbutz. Kids were divided up into 3 integrated teams, with each team being led by two teen coaches, one Israeli and one Palestinian. Youth coaches worked with kids to strategize plays and build teamwork. At the end of the tournament, all teams received medals for their efforts and then convened on the grass outside for corn on the cob and other snacks.
The kids learned hard and played hard, so we made sure that in between they got a chance to relax their minds and muscles, and enjoy the sun and sand. Yes, there were sandcastles, Frisbee throws and water fights a plenty.
You and I would call this peace building. We would say that these children are actively helping bridge the deep divides that pervade every aspect of their day-to-day lives. They, on the other hand, would just call it fun. “Why do you grownups have to make everything so big and complicated? It’s the easiest thing in the world,” they said as they ran by us on the sand amidst giggles and a game of tag.