This weeks blog is written by Jamie Walsh, PPI – ME’s newest International Fellow. Jamie played varsity women’s basketball at LaSalle University.
I have been in Israel about two weeks now and have already experienced two amazing events. On Sunday I attended the annual Peace League tournament at the Hand in Hand school (the only mixed Palestinian – Israeli school in Jerusalem). This event combines registered PPI participants with external teams, aiming to provide children who are not associated with the PeacePlayers program a chance to witness and partake in coexistence activities. As I have learned already, this is no small feat as most children never meet the other side, let alone interact and mingle for a whole days worth of basketball!
The event featured the Hand in Hand team (Palestinian girls who study at the school), the U-16 Jerusalem All Stars team, as well as two unaffiliated teams from the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot and Pisgat Zeev. The tournament went off without a hitch as these girls competed intensely and had a blast while doing so! As I am very new here and still learning the ins and outs of the program, it was amazing and moving to watch these girls play together without any obvious divide or dissention. Whether the kids were playing in the game, cheering from the bench or keeping score, everyone seemed to be having a great time. There was never a dull moment throughout the day and it was such a great way for me to experience just how significant and impactful the Peace Players program truly is.
Following the Peace League tournament I also witnessed Arbinger facilitators Nissreen Najjar and Renana Gal put on a remarkable session in the Anatomy of Peace methodology with a few of the teams. Although most of the session had to be translated for me, the girls really seemed to open up and share some of their thoughts and feelings about seeing others as people regardless of race, religion or any other differences they may have. I was fortunate enough to join in as well, sharing stories of my own about how the inner conflict of seeing others as people vs. objects can occur on AND off the basketball court. I can’t help but feel extremely fortunate to be a part of this program that not only uses basketball to build bridges and change perspectives but also encourages the constant back and forth communication that helps to break down barriers.