This week’s post is written by American Fellow LaToya Fisher, who talks about the developing tension between Arabs and Jews and how PeacePlayers-Middle East is still able to make an impact despite these hard times.
How do you measure success? How do you truly know if PeacePlayers’ vision of “bridging divides, developing leaders, changing perceptions” is really working? Over the past few weeks there has been a worrying increase in violent events in the area. Security has been heightened especially within Jerusalem and many people are extra alert or on guard. In order to protect the safety of our participants, programming has been scaled back until things calm down. Yet each day current and former players and participants are proving that not only do they “talk the talk” but they also “walk the walk” of PeacePlayers – Middle East.
Bridging Divides: How do you measure true friendship? Often a good test is to see who is there when things get tough. One recent alumni is in the midst of the violence on a daily basis due to being in the middle of her mandatory service in the Israeli military, serving in Jerusalem. She has told me how she needs PeacePlayers now more than ever. She relies on friendships she made, both Arab and Jewish, through the program to keep her going and talk about the tough situations she faces. These girls still take the time to keep in touch and be there for each other because their bond is deeper than basketball.
Developing Leaders: This to me is probably the easiest part of the vision to see during this time of conflict. A leader is someone who is not afraid to do stand out from the crowd and do his or her own thing. Throughout all of the fear, tension, and violence of the past few weeks, the All-Star teams, which are mixed Palestinian-Israeli teams that compete together, have never stopped practicing and having games. There are countless hi-five’s, hugs, and smiling. It’s almost as if the outside world doesn’t exist. It’s an escape I look forward to every day.
At a time when many people want you to choose a side, these girls are choosing each other. They are choosing peace and coexistence. A Palestinian girl on an All-Star team said it best when she said, “The basketball court is the most peaceful place for us. Once we’re out there, we worry about nothing.”
Changing Perceptions: Last week I watched one of the All-Star teams, coached by Rivka Ross, cruise to a 79-28 victory. While the on-court performance was very impressive, it was what I witnessed before the game that stuck with me. Prior to the game Coach Ross was outside with two veteran Palestinian Youth Leaders discussing the current conflict. There was no yelling or fighting; in fact, there were a few periods of laughter. The fact that such a dialogue could take place in such a peaceful manner says a lot. Also, the fact that Coach Ross mentioned in a previous post that she once saw “Arabs as the enemy” and is now engaging in conversations with them and trying to learn Arabic in order to better communicate with her Palestinian players speaks volumes.
Many people ask how I feel about being here right now, if I feel scared or at risk and if I think PeacePlayers-Middle East is working. The answer so far has been no, I don’t feel scared or in danger. It is saddening to see these young adults, who I have grown to care about, go through this but I am amazed at their strength and maturity. The conflict and current uprising only reiterates the need for a program like PeacePlayers-Middle East to impact change and remind others to “see people as people.” I definitely think PeacePlayers is hitting the mark!