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.






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!

Player Profile: Full Court Press with Yarden Salem

In today’s blog post, American Fellow, Courtney Douglass interviewed PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) participant, Yarden, who plays on the Nahariya Naharot 16-and-under mixed (Jewish and Arab) All-Stars team about her experience with PPI – ME.


Yarden (left) with her teammates and American Fellow Courtney

Yarden, tell us a little bit about yourself:

I’m 15 years old and am from a kibbutz (communal-style village in Israel) called Gesher Haziv located outside of Nahariya. I have been playing basketball for eight years and this is my fourth year with PeacePlayers. I currently play on the Nahariya Naharot 16-and-under mixed (Jewish and Arab) All-Stars team. Two of my favorite things to do outside of basketball are playing the piano and drawing.

How has your season been going so far on the Nahariya/Tamra All-Stars?

So far everything is going really well. Everyone is getting along and we have been working very hard together. Our team is currently undefeated and in first place in the league. We have made really good progress and I think the bonding is getting better the longer that we have been in PeacePlayers.


Yarden (#55) soaring over opponents to snag an offensive rebound

How did you first find out about PeacePlayers?

I really didn’t know much about it until my coach at the time told our team we were going to play with a team of Arab girls in special practices called “Twinnings.” The first couple of years my team from Nahariya met for Twinnings with a team from Tamra. Now we have progressed to being on a mixed All-Star Team together.

How has PeacePlayers impacted you?

When I was growing up my parents never said anything bad about Arabs, so I never thought anything bad about them, but I also didn’t have much interaction with them. PeacePlayers has given me a chance to learn more about “the other side.” I see my Arab teammates as regular people who want to play basketball just like I do. I believe that it’s all about doing what you love.

What is the most important thing you have taken away from your experience being a part of PeacePlayers?

There are so many kids in the world who want to play basketball but are not able to. So, I really appreciate the fact that I can play basketball and my parents and friends support me doing something I love so much. I feel like our team is a family. When we are on the court our differences don’t matter. All that matters is that we want the same thing – to win as a family.


Nahariya Naharot All-Star team huddling after a victory

Rapid Fire Questions

If you could meet any person dead or alive, who would it be?

Michael Phelps

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Hawaii, Africa, Australia – too many to name one

What is your favorite food?

Kanafeh – Middle Eastern honey cake

What is your favorite artist or song right now?

Carry on my Wayward Son – Kansas

What is your favorite animal (besides dog or cat)?

Dolphins or elephants




Reflections of Hope: PPI-ME Visits Oklahoma City

In mid-November, PeacePlayers International (PPI) received the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum’s “Reflections of Hope Award” for the work it does abroad to bring divided communities together through basketball. PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) was fortunate enough to send two participants and a coach to the ceremony in Oklahoma City.


Reflections of Hope co-chair Sam Presti (left) leads a panel discussion with PPI-ME participants Liraz and Malak, coach Rifka, and Co-Founder/Executive Director Brendan Tuohey. Photo courtesy of

This year’s Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum “Reflections of Hope Award” was presented to PPI on November 14, 2016. PPI-ME was fortunate enough to send two participants and teammates, Liraz (Jewish) and Malak (Arab), and their coach, Rifka (Jewish), to Oklahoma City to participate in the ceremony and share with the audience what PeacePlayers means to them. The award represents the beliefs of the Oklahoma National Memorial Foundation that hope can survive and blossom despite the tragedy and chaos of political violence, and that even in environments marred by such violence, peaceful, nonviolent approaches are best. These beliefs align seamlessly with PPI’s vision and mission and it was an honor to be recognized.

The trip consisted of many meetings, lots of amazing food (no PPI-ME trip is complete without a visit to Shake Shack!), sightseeing, and some NBA fun, but what made the trip was special for each PPI-ME attendee was unique.


The ladies enjoying a nice meal

For Liraz, the trip was special because in addition to attending the awards ceremony, the girls had a chance to tour the museum and learn about the  1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The tour was quite emotional and different from any museum Liraz had visited before. When tragic events occur where many lives are lost, the public usually only hears about the number of casualties or certain stories that are brought to light. The memorial museum in Oklahoma City highlights every victim’s personal story. This made the museum highly memorable.

For coach Rifka, the trip was special because she got to see firsthand the magnitude of support that PPI has in the U.S. She also got to see her players in a new light. Rifka already knew that Liraz and Malak are both great players and people, but the trip allowed her to get to know them better. She got to hear her players speak about their lives in the Middle East and see them represent PPI. She was inspired by her players and will cherish the trip forever.


PPI holding the award. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma City National Memorial  & Museum.

For Malak, the trip was special because she got to eat at Shake Shack again, which never gets old for many PPI-ME participants. She also found the museum tour emotional and inspiring because it was her first time learning about the Oklahoma City bombing. Other highlights for Malak were the conversations she had with Rifka and Liraz about the Middle East conflict and the opportunity to share her story with so many people who were interested to learn more about PPI.

Thank you to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and the Oklahoma National Memorial Foundation for their wonderful hospitality and for honoring PPI with this year’s Reflections of Hope Award!

Kfar Saba and Meiser Bring the Energy!


The entire Kfar Saba and Meiser squad and their coaches after an awesome twinning!

This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East blog is written by International Fellow, LaToya Fisher. She shares about the first twinning between two teams: Kfar Saba (Jewish) and Meiser (Arab).

Every international fellow worries about the dreaded first twinning between two teams from different communities. You never know how nervous or shy the participants will be or how quickly they will warm up to each other. Meeting and playing with new people is always scary; throw in a language barrier and cultural differences and you just never know! The fellows and coaches have to figure out instantly what to bring to the activity in order to engage the participants and encourage them to return. You never know what the fellows will pull out of their bag of tricks and this twinning did not disappoint.


Fellow Courtney Douglass cheering on two of the participants

Last week fellow Courtney Douglass and I were faced with this challenge as two of PeacePlayers International – Middle East’s teams in the north – Kfar Saba (Jewish) and Meiser (Arab) – had their first twinning of the year. Because many participants on both teams played the previous year, and they came with great attitudes and helped us put on an amazing twinning.

The twinning started off with a dynamic warm-up, in which participants worked in pairs to complete different dribbling tasks and chase down loose basketballs. After the warm-up, the boys went outside to play 5-on-5, while the girls stayed inside and did drills with me and Courtney. In one of the drills, the girls were divided into two groups, each lined up along the sidelines opposite each other. They then did funny movements while advancing toward the mid-way point between them and, when they met in the middle, performed some type of silly action, such as a hi-five, touching basketballs, wrapping basketballs around each other, or doing a “fist bump” with the basketballs.


These two participants are professionals with their bunny ears technique!

The girls loosened up so much during the warm-up activities that we were able to get them to do funny things like hop with the ball between their knees while making bunny ears, make kissing noises while touching basketballs mid-court, and come up with hilarious and cute team names such as the “Bunny Ballers.”

After the fun activities concluded, it was time for some competition and teamwork. We split the girls into teams and took time to learn each others’ names. During the competition we encouraged lots of cheering and dancing. The level of jumping up and down and cheering for each individual and for the teams as a whole was off the charts. A first twinning this energized and fun is every fellow’s dream, but it is somewhat of a unicorn. It’s the type of the thing that when it happens you embrace every moment and try to bottle some of the greatness for events to come!

Team Building in Tamra

This week’s blog from PPI-ME is written by International Fellow, Courtney Douglass, who recaps a fun team building event the Tamra/Nahariya All-Stars participated in. Courtney returned to the Middle Easter after an exciting summer in the U.S., and she is currently working with the participants in the north.



The players of the Tamra/Nahariya All-Star team enjoying fresh food and great company


Hello, hello, hello!

It is so great to be back in the Middle East and start another year of programming! This year I am living in Nahariya, so I will be able to spend a ton of time working with and giving support to our 14-and-under and 16-and-under All Stars (mixed teams of Arab and Jewish girls who play in the Israel Basketball Association’s elite youth league), as well as all of our other teams in the North. Our Tamra/Nahariya All-Star teams are practicing extremely hard to get ready for the upcoming season, and we are really looking forward to seeing all of that work come to fruition during games.


The players enjoying a beautiful sunset

One element that we think is extremely essential to building a strong team on the court is the connection the players feel off the court. One of our biggest goals this year is to hold more activities outside of practice to build and foster relationships between the participants on these teams. We understand that not everyone on a particular team will be best friends for life, but in order to build a resilient team, one that never gives up and is willing to give everything they have for one another, it starts with the trust and connection they feel off the court. Building that trust and connection takes time and effort from all parties involved, which is why we are so thankful that the players, coaches, and parents from Tamra and Nahariya agree and have been willing to start coming together for activities outside of practices and games.

The team building aspect started at the retreat in Tal Hai on September 30 and October 1 that our amazingly talented fellow, LaToya Fisher, blogged about a few weeks ago. Our most recent team building activity took place on Wednesday, October 19 in Tamra at Lena’s (a 14-year-old Arab participant) family farm. While visiting with Shadi, one of our incredible coaches from Tamra, I learned that most families living there all have their own plot of land that they farm. These farms are all family run, and they don’t sell anything that they farm; it all goes back to their family and friends. They of course eat the olives that come off the trees, make their own olive oil, and also have a few smaller items that they grow like herbs and spices that they use in their own family dinners and gatherings.


Laffa bread fresh out of the oven smothered in za’atar

Players, coaches, parents, and other family members arrived a little before sunset and took a short tour of the farm before we helped pick a few olives off the trees. We then were able to watch Lena’s mother prepare laffa bread and put a traditional Middle Eastern spice, za’atar, on top before placing it in their family’s personal oven. The za’atar comes from plants that they grow on their farm and she also made the laffa dough by hand. It was amazing to watch Lena with her mother, as well as other parents from the team help prepare the meal for everyone with such love and attention.

While the food was being prepared the girls chatted with one another about basketball, life, and of course took way too many selfies. It’s in these simple moments of watching the girls interact and connect outside of basketball, that I realize the importance of PeacePlayers and the impact its having on their lives. I see how it isn’t just bringing a group of girls on a team together; it’s bringing their families, friends, and other acquaintances along for the ride. I feel so lucky to be a small part of their journey and I am looking forward to many more team building activities during this year!

Until next time,