Last week in the midst of the Israeli – Gaza conflict, PeacePlayers International – Middle East continued its peacebuilding programming, believing in the power of its youth leaders to overcome the challenges of living in a country at war. This week, PPI would like to share this remarkable blog post written by PPI – ME Development Associate, Rifka Miyara.
In the midst of this past week’s violence in Israel and Gaza, a group of Palestinian and Israeli PeacePlayers got together to prove that their friendships were not so easily threatened by the missiles raining down on either side of the border, and to learn a new game: golf. In two events, one a basketball clinic led by former NBA greats Brian Scalabrine (of the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls) and Will Perdue (of the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs) and the other a golf clinic led by golf legends Amy Alcott, Hunter Mahan, Sean Foley (famed golf instructor who coached Tiger Woods) and Michael Thompson, youth from East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem and Holon got to forget momentarily the recent trouble in the region. The events were made possible by PPI board member and top sports agent Arn Tellem and his wife Nancy, entertainment and digital media president of Microsoft (formerly president of CBS Television Studios), who hosted the events as part of a golf-inspired mission to Israel. Thank you to the Tellems for providing these opportunities for our youth.
In Tuesday’s event, Scalabrine and Perdue whipped members of our LDP and league teams into shape. Our kids impressed with how much they were able to keep up despite their height handicap to Scalabrine’s 6 ft. 9 in. and Perdue’s 7 ft. 1 in. statures.
At Thursday’s event at the Caesarea Golf Center, Alcott, Mahan, Foley and Thompson introduced PPI kids to the game of golf, which is relatively obscure in these parts of the world. Alcott spoke of golf’s virtues, saying that it helps build patience, which is something we sorely need around here. Sean Foley warned kids that “golf is addictive.” By the enthusiasm our kids gave to practicing their swings, it seems he may have been right. At the event, which took place a day after the Israel launched its military operation against Hamas in Gaza, I was asked if we had thought about cancelling the event in light of the events, or if any kids had cancelled because of them. “No,” I answered. These were longtime participants, ones who knew enough about “seeing people as people” to be able to process these periods of violence without reverting to hatred and fear towards their fellow PeacePlayers.
Although veteran participants are generally able to transcend outbreaks of political unrest in the area, they still present challenges to building bridges and inspiring Palestinian and Israeli youth to hope for better. We spoke with curriculum facilitator Renana about what it was like to conduct Arbinger workshops during this time of conflict. “It wasn’t easy,” she admitted, speaking of a facilitation she conducted Wednesday evening in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh, at the height of rocket fire from Gaza, and just hours after a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv. To complicate matters, the team coach had been right down the street from where the bomb attack occurred.
How does one talk about peace in times like these? Once again, it’s not easy. Tensions were high among the girls, with some very emotional about the situation. Some girls were able to apply the Arbinger Institute’s lessons of see people as people to the political context, saying “just like our people are suffering, their people are suffering too,” while others stuck to more hawkish perspectives. “It’s hard,” agrees fellow facilitator Nissreen, “especially as an apolitical organization. When talking about seeing the other side, it’s hard not to get into politics because politics are our reality here.” However, despite the tension (and also regardless of each Beit Shemesh girl’s take on the situation), Renana said that there was unanimous anticipation by the Israeli girls to see their Palestinian twinning partners, a testament that even through the tensions, friendship prevails.