“This is not normal,” says Ross, 26, a Jewish-American basketball coach living in Israel. “This doesn’t happen. You can’t find this anywhere else in the city.” Ross is talking about the two teams she coaches for PeacePlayers (PPI), an organization whose mandate is to bring divided communities, such as Palestinians and Israeli Jews, together through basketball.
When the team first started, many players were concerned about their differences. “I thought the Jews would hurt me, or they’d grow up to hurt me,” says a 16-year-old Palestinian player. While a 15-year-old Israeli player offers her side, “I had heard that all the Arabs were terrorists, and everyone wants to kill us, and I thought we were supposed to hate each other.”
“The biggest thing PeacePlayers could teach me is to see the other side,” says an 18-year-old Israeli player named Toot. Off the court, Jewish and Muslim players are spending time together at each other’s homes. “The food is different,” says Ofi, an Israeli Jew. “But we have everything in common except religion.”
“It’s basic, it’s just seeing people as people,” says Jinaan, an Arab player. “It doesn’t matter who they are or where they are from. Once you get to know the person, without any borders or anything, you have no idea where it might take you.”
And as for the success of the teams themselves,ESPN reports that “the season ended with victories for both of Ross’ teams at the championship game in April, but more than a month before that, the PeacePlayers teams had already clinched those divisions for the first time in program history.”