Even as the U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians fell apart in September and officially broke down this week, efforts at bridging the Palestinian-Israeli divide remain strong on the ground, especially for those involved in the Twinned Peace Sport Schools program, the oldest and largest operation using athletics to promote interaction between Israeli and Palestinian children.
The program, which began in 2002, is jointly managed by the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv and the Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue in the West Bank. “This conflict will not solve itself, and we need to take the initiative to find creative ways to break the barriers between both sides,” Sulaiman Khatib, director of the Al-Quds Association, said. According to Khatib, he understood the potential on his very first day, when “I saw the kids playing together and could not see who was Palestinian and who was Israeli.”
Israeli Sacramento Kings’ star Omri Casspi plays basketball with Palestinian and Israeli children during a workshop.
Beginning with only 140 children, the program now boasts 1,600 participants within 22 schools. Over the years, a total of 2,400 students have made their way through the program, which includes biweekly sports training, language lessons, and peace discussions. Once a month, Palestinian children cross the barrier to their twinned school where they play soccer or basketball. In between visits, Palestinian and Israeli friends keep in touch with email and facebook.
While the U.S. mulls over a new way to restart peace talks, it should consider investing in such on-the-ground joint ventures, as it will no doubt take both a top-down and bottom-up effort to bring about a real, lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.