The game of basketball is one of absolutes, built on indisputable numbers. Either the ball went in the hoop or it didn’t. The game of diplomacy is very different. But that isn’t stopping one group from using basketball to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The most prominent example of basketball as a peace builder isn’t in Israel or the West Bank. It’s a summer camp in Otisfield, Maine. It was there that journalist John Wallach first started Seeds of Peace in 1993. The camp, which brings in American campers as well as Israeli, Palestinian, and Egyptian children to work together in team-building exercises, was looking for a new program a few years ago when camp supporter and sports super agent Arn Tellem stepped in. The end result is NBA Day, an annual basketball tutorial in which NBA players visit the camp to work with the children on the Seeds of Peace basketball courts. It has subsequently inspired several moments in which Israelis and Arabs gladly work cooperatively. Plus they’ve had the chance to meet some NBA players, which is cool.
While Seeds of Peace and its NBA Day created a unique precedent for sports as an ultimate uniter in a divided world, the Peres Center of Peace has taken the necessary next step. Founded by Israeli president and Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres as an organization looking to “build an infrastructure of peace and reconciliation,” last summer saw the organization host its own basketball day, in which international basketball talent hosted Israeli and Palestinian players, who competed together on the court. Staged outside Jerusalem and hosting children from several Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods, the program also saw participation from Los Angeles Lakers guard and Seeds of Peace participant Jordan Farmar and was seen as a major success with plans to hopefully return next year.
We may never know the ultimate results of these basketball programs, but there’s still no underestimating the power of sports on the psyches of young people. Besides, shooting hoops is so much more fun than debating.