Today’s blog is written by Aaron Chan. Aaron is a former seminarian turned peace activist, world traveler, and teacher. He currently lives in Geneva where he works for a Landmine Action NGO and teaches English at the UN.
Three weeks ago I was able to attend a mixed Jewish and Arab basketball practice in Jerusalem. I was anxious to attend because I had already visited PeacePlayers International in Northern Ireland with students from the Sandy Spring Friends School. The students and I had helped organize a school fundraiser to support the wonderful work PeacePlayers does.
Although this was my sixth time in Israel-Palestine since 1999 – I had worked as a peace activist with Israeli and Palestinian peace groups before – this was my first time visiting a peace group like PPI. To be honest, I’ve seen the situation and hopes for peace get worse in the region since 1999, with violence escalating in the early 2000’s and peace groups constantly having to adapt.
Having traveled there after living in Switzerland for eight months, the contrast was glaring. The tension was tangible. Yet, in this little bilingual Hebrew-Arab school where PPI practices take place, there was a sense of normalcy. It was just kids playing together for fun and for friendly competition. In their basketball jerseys, most people wouldn’t be able to tell who was Jewish or Palestinian.
While the politicians bicker amongst themselves and peace groups scramble to expose the various injustices to get the world to respond, a simple game has the power to at least temporarily put those outside distractions away to let kids just play and be kids. This can grow and endure. Even during the middle of the recent violence in Gaza, many of the veteran PPI kids kept in touch. Palestinians have been invited for Shabbat and Jewish kids have been invited for the breaking of fast during Ramadan. It’s an image of what can be once the politicians start thinking about their own people and choose the only viable solution: a peaceful and just one. Until then, PPI is keeping the flame of friendship and fun alive.