Youth Entrepreneurship Program Is Up and Running!


Some of the participants of Peacestagram, one of the Youth Entrepreneurship Program initiatives, after attending a photography exhibit together

In November 2015, PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) announced two new programs (view original post here). One of these is the Youth Entrepreneurship Program (YEP), in which six graduates of the Leadership Development Program work in mixed Palestinian and Israeli pairs to create their own peace building initiatives. Here’s an update on the progress of the program.


An Israeli and Palestinian participant from GGG

The first year of YEP was spent arming participants with the tools to create and successfully run a peace organization. Participants attended lectures about grant writing and budget-making, and presented their ideas in front of a panel modeled on the show “Shark Tank,” where they requested money to fund their initiative. Thinking through the logistics of creating a new organization was challenging and, at times, intimidating for YEP participants. One of the Palestinian participants, Duha, says she felt uneasy because her project used a medium she had little experience with: art. This is the first time any of the participants have been involved in starting an organization and they wanted their projects to be unique. With the help of mentors and Project Manager, Jamie Walsh, the participants created three special projects.

Duha (Palestinian) and Liraz (Israeli) created Girls Gone Green (GGG), an initiative that brings together Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls in Jerusalem through art. The participants tell stories about their cultures, families and other topics through traditional art forms, such as pottery and painting, as well as using gathered recycled material. The participants will display their creations at an exhibit the girls will host for friends and family.


The first Peacestagram meeting

Participants Aysha (Palestinian) and Neta (Israeli) created Peacestagram, an initiative that brings together Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls in Jerusalem through photography. The participants will learn different photography techniques with the goal of producing high quality photos covering topics such as religion, food, sports and other personal issues. The participants will display their work on social media and in an exhibit this spring.

The last initiative was created by participants Ibrahim (Palestinian) and Ofir (Israeli). They will host an event this spring that pairs able-bodied kids with kids with disabilities for a sports activity in Jerusalem. While interaction between Palestinians and Israelis in often limited, there is an even larger gap when it comes to interaction between Palestinians and Israelis with disabilities.


Traditional Moroccan slipper key chains made by GGG participants

Implementation of the three YEP initiatives has just started and is going well. The participants of Peacestagram have already taken a trip to a photography exhibit and the participants of GGG have started tapping into their creativity by making traditional Moroccan slipper key chains. Stay tuned for more updates as these initiatives progress!

Coach’s Corner: Interview with Dor Dayan


Coach Dor Dayan has shown incredible commitment and passion working with PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) over the past two years


This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) blog post is about 27-year-old Israeli coach Dor Dayan. Dayan played basketball in the top professional league in Israel, before deciding to become a coach five years ago. He has been working with PPI – ME for the past two seasons and is the head coach of two of our mixed (Arab and Jewish) All-Star teams in Northern Israel. Here Dor talks about his experience as a coach and the impact that PeacePlayers has had on him.


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Dor speaking with the girls during a timeout in their win against Iblin

How did you get into coaching?

My mother encouraged me to become a coach. She thought I would really be good at it. At first I just did it for fun, but then I loved it so much that I wanted to do it professionally as a full time job.

Is there a coach that you look up to or that has influenced how you view the game and your own coaching?

David Blatt (Former coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers) because he is very intelligent, knows the game very well, and knows how to speak with his players.

What is your favorite team to watch?

In Israel, it’s Maccabi Tel Aviv (former team that David Blatt coached – the most popular team in Israel). In America, it was the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan played on the team and now it is the Golden State Warriors.

How are your teams doing so far this season?

This season is going really well so far. I think the All-Star Yeladot team (14-and-under mixed team) will continue to get better. Our team is successful when we play aggressively and together as a team. The All-Star Naharot team (16-and-under mixed team) is also doing really well. We are 11-0 in the league and we can only hope that this will continue for the rest of the season.

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Dayan pushing the girls during a pre-season beach workout in Nahariya

 How did you find out about PPI – ME?

I learned about PPI – ME from another basketball coach in Nahariya. I saw the Arab and Jewish girls playing together and it seemed like something I would be interested in. The next season the chairman of our club informed me that I would be coaching two PPI – ME teams and so far, I am really enjoying it.

How has PPI – ME impacted you?

I am now able to see the other side of the conflict. I think we can live together, but there is still a lot to work on. I think if Arabs and Jews spend time together from a young age, as they do with PPI – ME, that it would really help them as they become adults. I sincerely hope that the girls can build a connection with one another. I think that if our teams can continue to play together it will really help them in the future.

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Dayan (second from the right), the Nahariya Naharot players and other PPI – ME Staff after a team win

What is the most important thing you have gained from your experience with PPI – ME?

The project has given me a broader perspective on the Middle East conflict and has shown me that not everyone from “the other side” is a bad person. Through PPI – ME, I have met great people and built relationships and connections that I never would have made otherwise. It has also given me the opportunity to coach a group of girls and hopefully have a positive impact on their lives.






Dinner in the Old City of Jerusalem

This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) blog is written by American Fellow James Levine.


Some people go to the Old City to see Jesus’ tomb. I prefer to play basketball.


The Old City in Jerusalem is a fascinating place. It is thousands of years old and home to some of the most sacred sites in the Abrahamic religions. Another amazing thing about the Old City is that people still live there, and they live regular, modern lives. Near the tomb of Jesus Christ, one can find restaurants and cafes. Down the road from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, there are people working out at a local gym. Across from the Western Wall one can find regular K-12 schools.

I have been working out a player who lives in the Old City over the past couple weeks and I was excited when he invited me to have dinner at his house. This isn’t something that I’m accustomed to in the United States, but the warmth and openness of people in Jerusalem is unparalleled. In Jerusalem, it’s not unusual to receive an invitation for Shabbat dinner from a stranger or to have tea with a taxi driver.


Always bring a local when navigating the Old City’s windy corridors!

Obviously I accepted my player’s family’s invitation. Eating at someone’s house in the Old City is a really cool experience. The area has a palpable energy at night and, especially at dusk, you feel like you have been transported to another time. When I arrived at my player’s house, I entered through what seemed like a secret door leading down a narrow hallway that opened up into a beautiful terrace. Inside, the house had a modern kitchen and furniture, but the ceiling and parts of the walls were curved and made of Old City stone.

Dinner itself was even better than expected. I love Arab food and food culture; it is incredibly relaxed and welcoming. Guests are encouraged to eat and the food is delicious. My player insisted that his mom’s maklouba, an Arab dish consisting of chicken and rice, was the best in Jerusalem. Little did he know that I’ve tried maklouba before, and I’m well-aware that everyone claims that his or her mom makes the best maklouba in Jerusalem.

After lots of talking, eating, and unsuccessfully searching for a sports channel broadcasting a game between the Jordanian and Palestinian national basketball teams, I went on my way, with a belly full of maklouba, through the winding alleys of the Old City back to my apartment.



Bowling and Bridging Divides with Meiser and Kfar Saba


Githa, PPI – ME Program Director in Northern Israel, and some of the girls from Meiser and Kfar Saba

On January 1, 2017, PeacePlayers International – Middle East’s (PPI – ME) boys’ and girls’ teams from the cities of Meiser and Kfar Saba met for a fun afternoon of bowling and pizza. There were 47 participants: 22 from Kfar Saba (Jewish), plus their coach Eyal, and 25 from Meiser (Arab), plus their coach Renan. The teams spent over two hours at the bowling alley competing against one another in mixed groups.


Some of the boys of Meiser and Kfar Saba at the bowling alley

This is the second year that the teams from Meiser and Kfar Saba have played together. Meiser is an Arab village in northern Israel and, before PPI – ME started working there, there was no basketball program in the village. Meiser’s coach, Renan, was determined – and still is – to make basketball the new favorite sport in Meiser. Kfar Saba is a Jewish city located about 30 minutes from Meiser. Kfar Saba’s coach, Eyal, works as a full-time coach, and is constantly looking for ways to improve himself and his players. He has been a huge advocate for PPI – ME’s programs and he and Renan have developed a great partnership with their teams.

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The participants enjoying pizza after bowling

The kids on Meiser and Kfar Saba have made huge strides since they started twinning together last year. As with most teams, the kids were hesitant at first, but after spending some time together, they relaxed and starting getting close. Their twinnings are always filled with energy, fun and friendly competition. Their coaches often comment that participants on both teams ask when they will next be seeing the kids from the other team. They are really showing signs of developing true friendships.


The girls showing off their bowling form!

At the first twinning of this season, we were all curious to see how the participants would respond to seeing one another again and if the connections they’d formed last year would still be there. Immediately, we could tell that they were; when the buses from Meiser and Kfar Saba arrived to meet each other, the participants rushed off to look for their friends from the other team. The hesitancy and nervousness from the previous year before had been replaced with excitement and delight as        they raced out onto the basketball court to play with one another.

The twinnings between Meiser and Kfar Saba continue to be exceptional. We have seen even more growth this year because the participants were able to build on the foundation they established last twinning season. The bowling and pizza party was a chance to reward these kids for their commitment and another chance for them to see their friends from the other side. We truly hope that through their unrelenting teamwork and dedication to PPI – ME these two groups will only continue to grow – on and off the court.



Nahariya-Tamra All-Stars Throw a Pajama Party!

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Lilian (left) taking a selfie of the entire team at the party

On December 16, 2016, the girls from one of PPI – ME’s awesome All-Stars teams, the Tamra/Nahariya under-14 team, came together to celebrate the 13th birthday of one of their teammates, Roni Tamir. Roni and her mother, Osnat, organized the entire event: a pajama party for the whole team. The girls arrived at Roni’s house on a Friday afternoon and spent the entire afternoon and evening together playing “get-to-know-you games,” singing and dancing to karaoke in three languages (English, Arabic and Hebrew), and eating lots of birthday treats.


Some of the birthday treats that Roni and her mother, Osnat, prepared for the girls

Here is what Osnat had to say about the party: “The girls seemed so comfortable and natural with one another. It felt like any other birthday party for a 13-year-old, with everyone happy and celebrating. I think this is because of all the time they’ve been spending together during games and practices and also from the retreat they attended in Tel Hai. The retreat really took this team to the next level because they were able to see that there are more similarities than differences between them. The girls seemed to have a wonderful time at the party. I hope we will do more activities like this off the basketball court.”

After talking with Lilian, a Jewish player from Nahariya, I learned how special the party really was. Lilian said it was the most fun the girls have had together thus far. She said they were able to connect on a deeper level and learn more about one another outside of basketball. They took a ton of photos and videos, and Lilian even put together a “Mannequin Challenge” video to share with the rest of the team.

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The birthday girl, Roni, setting up decorations and waiting for her teammates to arrive

One of the most impressive things about the pajama/sleepover party is that it was organized entirely by the girls, without PPI – ME’s involvement. These girls and their families are making an effort to become more than just teammates who play together. They are becoming friends who genuinely care about one another, on and off the basketball court. The bonds they are forming outside of PPI – ME are also helping them on the court; the Tamra/Nahariya under-14 All-Stars team is in first place in their division right now and are looking to continue their success. There is no coincidence that teams who are able to get along, trust in one another, and build friendships off the court, also are able to reap those benefits on the court.

Yalla-Bye: An Introduction


This week’s blog post is written by International Fellow James Levine on how he can’t wait to play Yalla-Bye upon his return from the US

Hello and happy 2017 to our From-the-Field readers! I just returned to Jerusalem after spending the holidays in the US and am just starting to process everything that has happened over the past few weeks.

In short, the past few weeks have been amazing. In mid-December, I went to Bethlehem with a few other coaches from PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) to see the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. While there we ate unbelievable knafeh – a traditional Middle Eastern cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup. Then I boarded a plane bound for Boston, Massachusetts where I was bombarded with questions from family and friends about Jerusalem, PPI – ME, and my life abroad.


PPI-ME coaches Khaled and Odai mean-mugging at Jesus’ birthplace

The most common question I received was what I like about Jerusalem. I didn’t have just one answer. Sometimes I would talk about how I love coaching younger kids and seeing them improve so quickly. Other times I would say that I enjoy learning and living in a place that is so different than anywhere I have ever been before.

The truth, however, is that the thing I missed most was a game we play at PPI – ME called “Yalla-Bye”! Yalla-Bye is, arguably, the most intense, non-basketball related activity we do at PPI – ME. Yalla-Bye is more than a game, it’s a way of life. To play one must be patient, agile, and possess nerves of steel. Yalla-Bye is only meant to be played by those who are fearless and unafraid to be pegged by a basketball.

The game is simple. At the end of practice our players stand in a circle with their arms by their sides. A coach – usually LaToya, because she is the Yalla-Bye specialist – stands in the middle of the circle with a basketball. The coach then either passes the ball to a player or fakes a pass to a player. If the coach makes a pass, the player must catch the ball. If the coach fakes a pass, then the player to whom she has faked the pass must resist the urge to put her hand up to catch the pass.


Yalla-Bye in action. Watch out!

The kids who are most afraid of the ball usually get out quickly trying to protect themselves from fake passes. The most adept Yalla-Bye players are impossible to get out – they are seemingly unafraid of a ball coming straight at their heads!

I missed the intensity, the passion, and our 3rd and 4th graders’ technical mastery of Yalla-Bye. And now that I’m back, I can’t wait to play!

Older and Younger Participants Learn From Each Other at Overnight Retreat


The entire group after a fun retreat


Two participants working hard at the dribbling station

On December 16-17, PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) held an overnight retreat at Kibbutz Sdot Yam near Caesarea, where participants from the West Bank, the Friday basketball clinics and the Leadership Development Program (LDP) came together for a weekend of basketball and other activities designed to build trust. Approximately 60 participants attended the retreat, ranging in age from 9-17 years old. Participants were divided into two groups by age: the younger participants from the Friday basketball clinics and the West Bank made up one group and the LDP participants made up a second group. The younger group activities were primarily led by American Fellows Courtney Douglass, LaToya Fisher and James Levine, with the help of local coaches, while Heni Bizawi led the LDP activities.

Here’s a recap of the weekend’s activities. On Friday, the younger participants had two sessions, each with a very different focus. The purpose of the first session was for participants to get to know each other and learn to work together. These activities were light on basketball and heavy on fun; they generated a lot of laughter and really loosened up the group.


LDP participants leading drills with younger participants

The theme of the second session was trust. Participants worked in small groups of four and each group was given an object that was placed somewhere in the gym and had to be retrieved. The catch was that the person designated to retrieve the object would be blindfolded and the rest of their team could only guide that person through verbal directions. The best part about this activity was watching the Jewish participants trying to understand directions in Arabic and the Arab participants trying to understand directions in Hebrew – and trying to teach each other in the process.

The LDP participants spent part of the day Friday in the classroom learning about coaching techniques and preparing drills they would run with the younger participants on Saturday. After finishing up in the classroom, the LDP had a basketball practice with coach Rebecca Ross. It was a tough but fun practice and showed them how a veteran coach leads.


LDP participant Malak helping a younger participant

On Saturday, the LDP participants ran drills with the younger participants. The LDP did an excellent job at coming up with fun and creative drills, and the younger participants loved it. After each activity was completed, LDP participants were given feedback in real time so they could try to implement it when they worked with the next group of young participants.

The weekend was short and sweet but fun and memorable as always!