This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) blog post was written by Yossi Levin, PPI – ME’s Director of Strategic Partnerships.
In a small gym in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, I witnessed an amazing site last month – one that I was not expecting.
I grew up in Nahariya and have seen it grow from a tiny community in the 1970s and 80s to an expanse of Mediterranean seaside family complexes today. When I grew up in Nahariya, it felt like I was growing up on the wrong “side” of Israeli society – it was a neglected periphery – but on that Thursday last month, I saw Nahariya shine in a way that I never expected.
I joined PeacePlayers five months ago and this was the first “twinning” I attended. I am a long-time veteran of Middle East peace initiatives, however, and thought I’d seen it all. But when I stepped into the small gym where the twinning was taking place to film part of the activity, I was taken back. I grew up only about two blocks away from the gym where the activity was being held, but it was nothing like any activity that took place there when I was a kid growing up in Nahariya. Jewish kids from Nahariya and Arab kids from Tamra, a nearby Arab village, practiced basketball drills together, all the while chatting and laughing. Following the drills, the teams sat together in a circle with their local coaches, Shady (Tamra’s coach) and Courtney (Nahariya’s coach), along with PPI – ME facilitator, Githa, to translate the basketball skills into life skills. The kids were encouraged to speak about their experiences, to reach out and touch each other through games, and many hugged at the end of the session.
I watched the activity from the bleachers and what I saw should make every parent of that group proud and every participant even prouder. It all seemed beautifully natural to the kids. Twenty years ago, I sat in that very place and never saw or spoke to Arabs, and certainly never touched one, even though I grew up surrounded by Arab villages.
It all seemed so natural to the kids – seamless and easy – but to me it looked like magic.