In Jerusalem, Double Yerushalmi is a local organization attempting to build closer relationships between Arabs and Jews through cultural activities such as shesh besh – the local name for backgammon. Backgammon dates back 5,000 years to the ancient Iraqi city of Ur, and is a mainstay in the Middle East. For centuries, Jerusalem has been one of the central cities for playing the beloved game.
Zaki Djemal, an Israeli of Syrian Jewish descent, is one of the organizers of the game and says despite Jerusalem being “segregated in many ways” the organization “wanted to create some crossover between neighborhoods.” Adding, “Politics is not at the center of this, but it’s around.” So far the backgammon competitions have been held in both Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.
“You want to win, but it’s friendly too,” says Karem Joubran, a 27-year-old from Shuafat camp, a Palestinian refugee neighborhood in north Jerusalem. Despite having to go through checkpoints to get to the event, Kareem says that it’s worth it. “It’s good, to bring people together.” Binny Zupnick, 22, who moved to Israel from New York, adds, “There aren’t many mediums to meet people from the other side of the fence.”