Liraz is a 16-year-old Israeli who has been a member of PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) for three years. Liraz plays on both PPI’s U16 and the U18 Jerusalem All-Star teams (made up of both Palestinian and Israeli girls), which both finished first place in the official Israeli national youth league this year! Liraz is also a member of PPI’s Leadership Development Program and PPI-ME’s most recent Youth Social Entrepreneurship project, a program that helps six young Israelis and Palestinians work in mixed pairs to launch their own social change initiatives that will help bring Palestinian and Israeli youth together.
Below, Liraz talks about her experience with PPI-ME:
My name is Liraz. I am Israeli and I live in a community outside of Jerusalem called Givat Ye’arim. Before PeacePlayers, I did not have any interaction with Palestinians because of the conflict and I was even a little afraid to have a conversation with them. After joining I realized the Palestinian girls on my team are just like me. They love basketball, they have sad moments and happy moments, they cry, and they have the same goals in life that I have. The more I participated the more I loved the idea and concepts behind this organization.
In the beginning my parents felt a little weird and uncomfortable about the idea. I think my dad became comfortable after he came to a game and he saw us laughing together, cheering for each other, how we played together and were united whether we were winning or losing, just always supporting each other. I think he really liked what he saw. Then, at the end of the last season, we had a barbecue at my house and my entire family got to meet my team and they saw how happy I am when I spend time with these girls. My teammates were also very happy to meet my family and learn more about me. In that moment I think my family realized how important being on the team and a part of the organization are to me.
Outside of basketball, there are so many great things and experiences that I have had that I never even dreamed of. I had the chance to meet Villanova coach Jay Wright last summer before he won the national championship for division I collegiate basketball. I flew on a plane for the first time and got to visit the United States for 10 days. This has been my best memory so far because I got to spend 10 uninterrupted days with some of my closest friends. There were no distractions such as school, stress, or family.
I got to hang out with my friends, have lots of conversations, and really connect with everyone. We left the Middle East as friends and came back as family.
PeacePlayers has allowed me to make some very strong and powerful friendships. The organization has taught me to see people as people and not categorize them based on race, religion or anything else that makes us slightly different. Because I now see everyone as an individual, I am able to have tough conversations regarding the conflict or life with my Palestinian friends in a peaceful way and really listen to their point of view.
I am very happy and proud to be a part of PeacePlayers; I met a lot of amazing people and have learned lots of new things. Now I can’t imagine myself without PeacePlayers or without these people in my life.