Last week, PPI – ME’s youngest participants (known as “Mini’s”) came together for their first Twinning. The children, who are in grades 1 and 2, came from the Keshet School in the Jewish community of Katamon and from a neighboring East Jerusalem community. While the two neighborhoods are right across the road from one another, the children attend segregated schools and speak different languages. As such, the Twinning was a first-time opportunity for these young participants to meet and play with children from the “other” side. Naturally, there was great anticipation.
PPI – ME’s Basketball Operations Manager, Vito Gilic, led the event with a special program of drills designed to facilitate cooperation and contact. The event started off with an icebreaker: dribble around the court, and when you see someone who doesn’t have a ball, pass the ball to them and learn each other’s names.
Naturally, the Arabic names are unfamiliar to the Jewish children and vice versa. Nevertheless, numerous children excitedly raised their hands at the end of the drill to share all the new names they had learned. The young PeacePlayers did more than just say names. They spoke to each other, as well. Despite the language barrier, the Palestinian and Israeli children found a way to communicate – with elaborate hand gestures, the message (which was usually ‘Want to be my partner?’) got across.
During the hour of practice the children progressed from learning each other’s names to working together in pairs and teams. The drills, which incorporated power, athletics and coordination, required the Palestinian and Israeli children to work together. Even though it was their first time meeting, they held hands, gave high fives, and smiled the whole time. Later in the practice, the kids even migrated into their own integrated cliques. The older children hung around older children, regardless of their background. They didn’t feel they had to stay in their original teams anymore. They preferred to make alliances based on their basketball skills.
In the closing huddle, you couldn’t tell who came from where, who was Jewish and who was Arab. The whole group brought it in at the end, with a loud: “We are PeacePlayers!” The children from Katamon and Beit Safafa can’t wait until their next Twinning. Both teams have been repeatedly asking their coaches when they will meet again. This will happen soon, later in November, when the children meet at the Hand in Hand School for their next Twinning activity.
The two communities, Katamon and Beit Safafa, are right across the road one another. Yet the children from both sides felt they had the world between them. Now they understand that across the barrier, beyond the worries and behind the cultural segregation, there are neighbors who would love to play basketball with them and be their friends.
This group of Minis is generously supported by the Bellacita Trust.