On October 6, 30 Israeli and Palestinian youth basketball coaches from PeacePlayers International – Middle East visited the USA for a two-week cultural exchange supported by the U.S. Department of State’s SportsUnited Program. The exchange was the culmination of a two year in-country Leadership Development Program to facilitate a cadre of young Palestinian and Israeli coaches who will work together through sports. After returning home, Neta Daniel, a member of PPI’s All-Stars team which recently won the Israeli National Championship, reflected on her time in America.
Hi. I’m Neta Daniel, 18, from Jerusalem, and I’ve been in PeacePlayers for four years. Right now, I’m part of the Leadership Development Program, and I play for the Jerusalem All-Stars [integrated league teams].
Last month we got back from a two-week trip from the U.S., which were two weeks that I will remember for the rest of my life. I’d waited for this trip all year, and at every LDP meeting, we’d talk about what would take place there, prepared for the encounters we would have, and mostly dreamed about what it would be like.
All of this excitement was cut short by the events of this past summer. For anyone who doesn’t know, we didn’t have the easiest summer. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict stretched beyond their usual boundaries and became closer to us than ever, as people close to us were hurt, and every few days there was a siren [in Jerusalem], after which we had to run to the shelters.
When it came to the flight, this crazy period had calmed down a bit, but I flew with mixed feelings. I felt that, on the one hand, the fact that we are all flying together shows that our friendship is strong, but on the other hand, I wasn’t sure just how strong, and I was afraid that the situation would be undermined and change, and that being in the U.S. would destroy [our friendships] even more.
I was wrong. In America, I learned to what extent the friendships that I formed in PPI are strong, profound and capable of resisting extreme circumstances such as those we experienced in the summer.
Our friendships only became stronger in the U.S., and every day, I felt like I learned new things about my Arab friends, and about myself, whether it was a conversation we had on the subway or while waiting in line for a ride at Six Flags, a conversation with people from the PeacePlayers board, or even just a conversation before going to sleep – all of these experiences and little conversations are what made this trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The trip was so packed with so many events and meetings. The fun experiences like Six Flags, shopping, an NBA game, accompanied experiences like the activity at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, where we ran an activity for elementary school kids, and the visit to the White House, and visits to the homes of the amazing and special people, each of whom have a special connection to PPI.
At all of these events, I met people like Mark and Marty Tuohey, Evan Ryan, Ron Shapiro, The Lipman Family, R.C Buford, Dr. Chad Ford, Brian Kriftcher, Win Sheridan and many more people, every single one of whom inspired me. Every one of them gave me faith in what we are doing in PeacePlayers. Each one gave me motivation to continue to believe in the particular way that I chose to play basketball. Each one of these people made me understand how important and significant this activity, which seems to us so ordinary – playing basketball together – can change awareness, perception, a human being and an entire family.