This week, PPI – ME Arbinger Facilitator Renana Gal will share some stories from monthly peace education workshops she conducted over the past year with Israeli PeacePlayers teams. She and her Palestinian counterpart Nissreen Najjar help teach Palestinian and Israeli youth the value of “seeing people as people” in their own lives through the Anatomy of Peace curriculum. Her stories, which focus on three unique PPI teams, reflect the intense and thorough educational process our peace educators experience with the kids, and provide great insights about the power of basketball in creating a safe space for dialogue.
Beit Shemesh: Our team members from Beit Shemesh, a lower socioeconomic Jerusalem suburb with one of the largest immigrant populations in Israel, are teenage girls, who love basketball — but who sometimes prefer to chat over their smartphones, rather than pay attention to their coach or me. The team had a hurdle to cross: they needed greater discipline, sportsmanship and team cooperation in order for my work to be effective. The situation in the group has shifted thanks to the Peace Education Retreat we held last March. After the girls from Beit Shemesh had a serious bonding session with their Palestinian twinned team from Hand-in-Hand School in Jerusalem, they started caring more about their attitude. They enjoyed being with the other girls so much that they made sure to behave properly, so we will invite them for more shared outdoor activities with their twinned team. I guess every team first needs good friendships to jumpstart the team-building process.
Haifa Minis: I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t believe that 8-year-old girls would grasp the concepts of our curriculum. I was proved wrong 10 minutes after I met them for the first time: If you close your eyes and listen to these girls, you would easily mistake them for sharp, intelligent 12 year olds! They easily understood every Anatomy of Peace concept I taught them, and and were able to apply them in their lives. They also really enjoyed sharing stories with me: One day a girl chased me to the bus, and eagerly told me a story about the way her teacher treated her as “person,” by not making her feel like a fool when she couldn’t solve a math problem on the board in front of the class. When they met their twinned team from Tamra, they found a wonderful way to overcome the language barrier: They taught the girls from Tamra some gymnastic exercises, and in return they learned new exercises too! Their cartwheels put the Olympics to shame, not to mention their joy when they found another shared athletic interest.
Hadera: My story with this team is truly a love story. Not only are these 9-year-old girls supreme with ball, they are also supreme with each other and with their twinned team from Jisr az Zarka. I was especially moved by the way they helped the girls from Jisr (perhaps the poorest town in Israel), who are completely new to basketball, in part due to the lack of a proper basketball court in their village. The Hadera girls, who have already been playing basketball for a few years, made their best effort to make sure that the gap between the basketball skill level wouldn’t interfere in their twinnings. In one of our conversations, one of them told me that “after all, us coming together is not only about sports, it’s about something greater than that.” If she only knew how wise her words were, and how well they summarized the meaning of my job, and the core of our program.