Canadian Participates in Israel Hoops Peace Program

Nine-year-old Winnipegger Dov Corne had the thrill of a lifetime when he took part in a special basketball clinic last month conducted by the Los Angeles Laker’s Jordan Farmar for Israeli and Palestinian children.

The clinic was part of a “Twinned Peace Sports Schools” program organized by the Shimon Peres Center for Peace.

Corne, this writer’s son, along with Israeli and Palestinian children, played with the 21-year-old Lakers point guard, who is the only Jewish player in the NBA. Farmar, who doesn’t speak either Hebrew or Arabic, communicated with the children using basketball as a common language.
The Palestinian children arrived from Jericho and Tulkarm and the Israeli children from Kiryat Gat. All the kids wore identical red jerseys provided them by the Peres Center. Each team was mixed with Israeli and Palestinian children.

Corne, who speaks Hebrew, sat with the Israeli children at the opening of the clinic, which was designed to promote teamwork and co-operation and help teach the benefits of coexistence.

“We are happy to have Dov come today to see the work we are doing to try to allow Israelis and Palestinians to get to know the other side, to break down barriers, and to foster an atmosphere of reconciliation,” said Israeli coach Shachar Elyakim, who has been involved in this unique program for the past five years. “The idea is that all kids can try to learn to play together. The kids find a way to communicate with each other. They give each other high fives.”

Corne was included in the program after the Peres Center was contacted and told that Dov badly wanted to meet Farmar. When Farmar saw that Corne didn’t have a red jersey, since he was not a regular member of the program, he handed Corne the jersey the Peres Center had made for him.

“Thank you,” Corne said, “but I can’t wear it because it’s much too long and I can’t run in it.”

At the outset of the clinic, Farmar, who is the son of a Jewish mother and an African-American father, told the children, “We’re going to have fun today… I’ve come a long way to spend time with you guys.

“I think it’s really beautiful that all of you guys can come together here to play.”

Farmar’s comments were translated simultaneously into Hebrew and Arabic by Palestinian and Israeli coaches.

“Having Jordan Farmar here gives the kids a boost of confidence. It means that heroes support a mixed group [of Israelis and Palestinians]. All of the children wear the same red jerseys, and when you mix them up on teams, you really can?t tell who?s who,” Elyakim said.

Corne had the opportunity to shoot baskets with the talented Jericho-born coach Ferris Sweetie, a Palestinian who lives in Ramallah and teaches basketball at a private American institution in both Ramallah and Jerusalem.

“The kids come here to see friends and make friends,” said Sweetie, who hugged the Israeli coach when he arrived.

Sweetie, who speaks English and some Hebrew in addition to Arabic, has been in the program for five years. “I have made friends in Israel and I come to Tel Aviv quite often to go to the beach. There isn’t a beach near where I live. I sometimes come for Shabbat to be with friends. I usually don’t have any problem crossing the checkpoints,” he said.

Michal Rubin of the Peres Center said, “We see our work here as starting to prepare the groundwork for a real peace that will occur at the political level one day.”

He added: “The situation can be complex. Parents of the children in some of the Palestinian communities are sometimes scared to send their kids to activities we have in Sderot. This kind of flips the situation on its head.”

At the end of the clinic, Farmar told the children, “Today you played together and that’s a start to finding a solution to the problems in the Middle East. Today you learned basketball skills together. If you keep working on them, you will get better. It’s the same in life. If you keep working on your relationships, things will get better.”

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