Encounters between Israeli and Palestinian groups are central to peacebuilding. Several NGOs committed to this goal have discovered that some Israelis and Palestinians are eager to participate in encounters that involve a shared love of play. Games are structured, have an agreed upon set of rules, and require participants to communicate with one another and work together. These opportunities give participants a chance to get to know one another separately from the tense political situation that surrounds them.
For example, a project called Jerusalem Double was launched by the non-profit Kulna Yerushalayim to connect Jews and Arabs living in Jerusalem by inviting them to participate in backgammon (or “shesh-besh” in Hebrew and Arabic) tournaments in Jerusalem’s Old City. As founder Zaki Djemal states, “Backgammon is played throughout the Middle East, so we have this game in common. It’s fun, down to earth, accessible and inclusive. Games have an amazing power to reduce tension and create empathy.” Participants quickly learn commonalities, such as some Israelis being able to communicate in Arabic and a shared love of Middle Eastern music.
Boston Partners for Peace is excited to be co-hosting Zaki Djemal in Boston for a fun “beer and backgammon” event on April 11. Zaki will talk about the founding of Jerusalem Double and the power of people-to-people connections through backgammon competitions. We invite community members in their 20s and 30s to break out the boards with us and learn to play.
Another organization called Squashbond uses a similar model by leveraging the game of squash to create youth connections across diverse communities in the Israeli cities of Haifa and Raanana. Jewish and Arab Israelis come together to play and form bonds while learning the values of cooperation and sportsmanship. The program enables youth to overcome cultural, religious, and socioeconomic divides between their communities. Nicky Capelouto, the Chairman of Squashbond claims, “Through the spirit of sport we can create whole new level of tolerance and understanding that will benefit [Israel].”
By nature of living in a shared region, Israelis and Palestinians have some similar traditions and interests. Discovering these commonalities can help to erode pre-existing notions of the other. Through shared activities people learn tolerance, build mutual respect, and hopefully discover one another’s humanity.