PeacePlayers International participants from Israel and Palestine promote peace at the Laureus World Sports Awards
"We have been fighting in this country for 70 years and it has gotten us nowhere. Sports has the ability to change my life." - Duha, PeacePlayers International
MONACO/ ISRAEL/PALESTINE: Duha and Heni catch up with Reach Sports and share their hoops journey through PeacePlayers International. In sharing the stage at the Laures Awards Sports Awards Duha and Heni (Duha is Palestinian and Heni is Israeli) reminded us of Nelson Mandela's words about "the power of sport to change the world. " Duha talks passionately about how "sport has changed her life" while Heni calls basketball ".. the language for peace." For these two young basketball players, basketball is life.
Seventeen years on from Mandela's powerful speech we are seeing an emergence of real life examples of how sport is creating positive change around the world. Duha and Heni met through the ground breaking PeacePlayers International programme, which uses basketball to unite, educate and inspire young people to create a more peaceful world. We are inspired by them.
Below is the Q&A with Duha and Heni.
How did you get involved at PeacePlayers International?
Heni: My old coach, Vito was involved with PeacePlayers and he recommended that I join. He encouraged me to volunteer with a mixed team of Arab and Jewish participants. The very next day, I went to Jerusalem to start coaching a team and then I began participating in other activities as I felt more comfortable.
Duha: In 2006, two guys from PeacePlayers came to my elementary school and said that they wanted to open a basketball team for boys and girls. At that time, I wasn’t a part of any other sports teams or aware of many opportunities for girls. They explained that we would also be playing with Jewish kids but I didn’t care about that, I just wanted a chance to play sports.
What’s made the biggest difference in your life since being involved in PPI?
Heni: When I first joined PeacePlayers it wasn’t easy to participate because my family didn’t support the idea. We used to argue a lot about PeacePlayers and why I wanted to be involved in an organization that worked with the other side. After I returned from the army things began to slowly change. First, my perspective on the conflict greatly changed. I started to see the other side as people and not just the enemy. Slowly, my family’s perspective also started to change as they saw how much I loved PeacePlayers and what a positive role it played in my life. The biggest difference is simply the way I look at the other side, which has greatly changed the way I live my everyday life.
Duha: PeacePlayers has changed my life in so many ways. However, the biggest difference that PPI made was changing my perspective about the other side. They taught me that not everything that I learned or heard in my past, or from school and my community was always true. I learned that I need to make up my own mind about what I think through my own experiences and that it is very important to be open minded.
How is basketball playing a role in the lives of young people in Israel and Palestine?
Heni: I can only speak to the role basketball plays in the lives of young Israelis and Palestinians in PeacePlayers. For us, basketball represents a neutral setting that has the power to overcome deep divides on both sides. Basketball allows us to look at each other as equals and develop friendships we would have never had if it weren’t for PeacePlayers. For us, basketball is the language of peace.
Duha: Basketball is a place where you can feel free and escape the hardships of living in a country in conflict. It’s a different world than the community you live in, at least for me. Sports have a huge role for Israelis and Palestinians when they are young and when they are developing their personalities and interests. Sports can teach valuable lessons that you will take with you after you stop playing sports. After High School, Israelis go to the army and Palestinians usually go to study but the lessons they learned from basketball will stay with them forever.
What was your highlight at the Laureus Awards?
Heni: The highlight was definitely being on stage and sending a message about PeacePlayers. Seeing how much the audience supported us was a moment I will never forget. At home people sometimes give us negative feedback and ask why we do what we will do because there will never be peace. At the show, to see people supporting us gave me the inspiration to continue doing what I believe in.
Duha: It was amazing to meet people from all around the world. At first, we were nervous to speak with other people but after we presented on stage we had the courage to speak to some of the amazing people that were there. The highlight was talking with them and hearing how much they supported us and admired us. It was shocking to hear this from people who are so well-known and established. The fact that they could actually be inspired by us was surprising but motivated me to keep working to bridge divides in my community and to continue to work harder to do what that I can to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians.
How important was it for you to be on stage at the Laureus Awards?
Heni: I believe it’s very important for us to show that there are many positive things going on in the world. It is important to show that people can change and overcome divides, even if they go back 70 years. I think that if one person learned from us that you can choose to be different and choose to make a change in your life for the better, then what we did was very important.
Duha: First of all, I was honoured to speak about PeacePlayers at an event like this. It was so important to me because many people from all over the world were there and it is important to spread our message as loudly as possibly. Having the opportunity to bring awareness to PeacePlayers and the work we do on such a large platform was incredible. Sometimes the media only shows the bad side of where I’m from, the violence and hatred but it was special to be able to show the world that there is another side. It’s important for us to show that there are positive things happening here and there are organizations like ours that are bringing people together to create a more peaceful place.
Thanks to the PPI team for helping us with this article and to Duha and Heni.
*images from the Laureus Archives, PeacePlayers International and Reach Sports.
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