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Can basketball influence change in Jewish and Arab youth?

PeacePlayers’ program of leadership, sport and peace education is directly linked to positive behavioral change in young Jews and Arabs

As part of a multi-year randomized control trial study, researchers from New York University examined the impact of the [PeacePlayers] program among participants in the Middle East. Preliminary results have found that participation in the program is directly linked to kids adopting what PeacePlayers calls “positive peacebuilding behavior.”

PeacePlayers International was founded in Washington, DC in 2001 by Sean Tuohey and his brother Brendan on the premise that “children who play together can learn to live together.”

The organization’s Middle East program, which receives funding from USAID, launched in 2005 and operates in the Jerusalem area, central and northern regions. About 75% of participants are female, which Doubilet says might be due to lack of opportunities for girls in disadvantaged and conservative communities in Israel.

The program, a long-term model beginning with children as young as six, consists of several stages. During the first part of the program, players from one Arab and one Jewish community participate in local basketball practices and skill sessions. About once a month, they come together for a joint activity involving mixed teams, dubbed a “Twinning."

In the second stage, the “all-stars program,” the teams and communities merge into one competitive team that plays in the Israeli Basketball Association Youth League. The other teams in the league are unaffiliated with PeacePlayers and typically are Jewish-only or Arab-only.

“Most of the kids who come to the program don’t come for the peace part. They come for the basketball. That’s the hook and that’s what allows us to get into communities that might not normally take part in activities where they’re meeting with the other side,” said Doubilet.

The third stage of the PeacePlayers program is the leadership program, which encourages veteran participants to become coaches and leaders in their communities through hands-on training and social action projects. Currently, 60% of coaches and facilitators are former PeacePlayers participants.

Families of both the Jewish and Arab players are getting involved as well. There have been joint Ramadan dinners and Lag B’Omer bonfires spearheaded by parents, where both cultures were able to learn about each other.

In June this year, PeacePlayers was awarded the 14th annual Institute of International Education (IIE) Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East specifically in recognition of its work bringing together Jewish and Arab women from the Arab and Israeli communities of Tamra and Nahariya.