Making peace through basketball

Even on the basketball court of one of Israel's few integrated public schools, the divisions between Arabs and Jews caught between six decades of conflict are more obvious than their different coloured uniforms. For many of the conservative Muslim teenage girls from East Jerusalem, wearing layers of clothing and head carves, it not only their first chance to play on a sports team, but the first time they will meet any shorts-and T-shirt-clad Jewish girls from West Jerusalem. Basketball games, hosted in Jerusalem by Hand in Hand, one of the few Israeli public schools where Jews and Arabs study together, are giving youths aged 10 to 16 a chance to try to bridge a wide political and religious divide. "It's to help us forget about the occupation, and also so the Jews can have a positive opinion of us. Yes, it's so we can teach Jewish girls not to have a bad view of Arabs, we are here for peace," said 15-year-old Azeza Shukirat, at warm-up for a game at her school in the village of Jabel Mukaber, which gained notoriety earlier this year as the home of the attackers in two deadly incidents against Jews in Jerusalem. Last March, a Palestinian gunman from Jabal Mukaber killed eight Israelis in an attack on a Jewish seminary in west Jerusalem before he was shot dead. In July, another Palestinian from the same village rammed a bulldozer into an Israeli commuter bus, cars and pedestrians on one of Jerusalem's busiest streets, killing three people. "We have hope in this project as there is also a new year coming up. I do feel though that the girls want to learn about Jewish culture and traditions, and how Jewish people think. Aside from this, they want an exchange to take place of culture and language. They want to integrate. They are all excited and are looking forward to training together, they want to be come as twins are," Rania Abu Shabaan, a Palestinian school girl said. Fifteen years after the Oslo Accords failed to bring peace between Jews and Arabs in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, scores of grass-roots organisations in the region are still trying to mend the hatred and violence by uniting children in segregated communities. "As I said, we are really working with children and -you know - some of them are ten, twelve, up to sixteen. Firstly, when we started with them, it's just about basketball, about having fun, about making a few new friends. We are not necessary trying to do some... it should be possible with these kids," said Michael Vaughan-Cherubin, a basketball coach. “The idea is that we will be able to touch hopefully by the time - you know - thousands and thousands of kids by the end there will be some sort of nucleus of change in Jerusalem and around Israel, but for the mean-time we are trying to show this kids a different side of the other side from what they see in the newspaper or maybe what their parents are telling them," he added. Peace Players International (PPI), which leads similar projects in places such as Northern Ireland and South Africa, uses basketball as a medium of communication for 10- to 16-year-old boys and girls to interact through a sport that unlike soccer is relatively non-political, non-contact, and more acceptable for even devout girls to play. Such programmes involving sports, arts, theatre and summer camps make up a large number of the co-existence initiatives which aim to do more than one-off workshops and discussion forums. One of the Israeli children taking part in the scheme, Tamar Millgram, explained why he was taking part in the scheme. "Because I like basketball and it's fun and I want to know other people and Arab people," she said. Other challenges are the inequalities in infrastructure between Israeli and Palestinian communities, language, the stigma associated with befriending the other side and psychological barriers, such as the perception of the "occupied" versus "occupier," illustrated by one of the PPI's Palestinian coaches afraid to discipline an Israeli child for fear of going to jail. Several recent studies by both Palestinian and Israeli organisations and university programmes have shown that short-term programmes inevitably lead to short-term results and that follow-up interventions are necessary for lasting results, and PCI is to be fully integrated within Israel's Arab and Jewish education systems, such as Hand in Hand, which lends the use of its gymnasium for the integrated basketball programmes. At the end of the hour-long basketball session, the Arab and Jewish girls from East and West Jerusalem were not only talking, but laughing, hugging and exchanging high-fives.
Source: http://news.sbs.com.au/worldnewsaustralia/making_peace_through_basketball_562951