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PeacePlayers: The Tournament

10/20/2009

I invented that "Basketball Does Good" category over there mostly to write about PeacePlayers International, which does so many great things encouraging young people, through basketball, to overcome differences in areas of conflict.

In the Middle East, they have had some success bringing together Arab and Jewish teens to play side by side. Mel Bazalel of the Jerusalem Post on their recent tournament in Jerusalem. Draft guru and peace expert Chad Ford once explained to me that the point of such things is to get youths to focus on "superordinate goals," as in goals that are bigger than their identities as warring people. Making buckets works nicely as one such goal:

"They're not joining because it's PeacePlayers or integrated, they come to play basketball and because we offer free equipment, uniforms, tournaments and trips. We're reaching kids from lower economic backgrounds," Doubilet tells The Jerusalem Post a few minutes after the Gilo-Esawiah Bulls triumph in the 12-14 year-old age bracket.

But regardless of whether integration is the initial motivation for the players, who all hail from East and West Jerusalem as well as Bethlehem, the outcome is gratifying.

The teams are split into an older bracket -- four teams of 14-16 year olds -- and a younger one - six teams of 12-14 year olds, and are all made up of mixed Arab and Jewish players.

One team's fusion is simply illustrated by its name -- "Abu Shemesh" -- an alliance between the Arab-Israeli town of Abu Ghosh and the Jewish town of Beit Shemesh.

Each group of players trains as a twinned team twice a month and as singular communities twice a week - led by Arab and Israeli coaching duos.

Although the youngsters don't immediately integrate with ease, one team, Beit Safafa-Katamon Lakers, is now solely coached by a Arab instructor, which Doubilet says is testament to the trust that has built up within the teams.

Sixteen-year-old Amir Abu Dalu, from Beit Safafa, played in the league for three years and is now a coach for PeacePlayers.

Abu Dalu acknowledges that he didn't join for the coexistence element.

"I joined a new school and there was a new team in the village. I just wanted to play basketball. At the beginning the team felt separate, but we soon started passing to each other and we learnt that there is no 'I' in team," he says.