Israelis and Palestinians find peace on the playground

Tue Nov 18, 2008 2:39pm EST
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By Claire Sibonney

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli and Palestinian youngsters are finding some common ground on a school playground.

Basketball games, hosted in Jerusalem by Hand in Hand, one of the few Israeli public schools where Jews and Arabs study together, are giving youths aged 10 to 16 a chance to try to bridge a wide political and religious divide.

"I'm not afraid but I'm tense," said Azeza Shiquart, 15, of the village of Jabal Mukaber, in the occupied West Bank on the edge of Arab East Jerusalem, preparing for her first basketball game against Jewish teenagers from west Jerusalem.

"I want to let the Jewish girls know we are peaceful."

Last March, a Palestinian gunman from Jabal Mukaber killed eight Israelis in an attack on a Jewish seminary in west Jerusalem before he was shot dead.

In July, another Palestinian from the same village rammed a bulldozer into an Israeli commuter bus, cars and pedestrians on one of Jerusalem's busiest streets, killing three people.

Many of Azeza's team were playing sports for the first time, and their headscarves and layers of long clothing set them apart from the Israeli players, who wore shorts and t-shirts.

Karen Doubilet, of PeacePlayers International (PPI), the group that organized the year-long basketball program, said strides toward peace could be made through such "baby steps."   Continued...

<p>Palestinian and Israeli girls run during a PeacePlayers International basketball practice in Jerusalem, November 6, 2008. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte</p>