Scores of teenage boys Thursday - Israeli and Palestinian - helped kick off the second season of the Jerusalem Peace Basketball League, a joint initiative of the Jerusalem municipality and PeacePlayers International - Middle East. The league comprises six integrated teams of Arab and Jewish youth, who participate in the Twinned Basketball Clubs program, and four other teams from across Jerusalem and a West Bank town.
The league is actually in its second incarnation, according to Michael Vaughan Cherubin, the organization's operations manager and co-director of the league. The first, he explained Thursday, ran about six years before falling apart in the early days of the Al-Aqsa Intifada.
Cherubin noted that the involvement of Americans helped to bring this league to fruition in a city entrenched in the heart of the conflict. He said the Jerusalem municipality, which ran the first league, "thought it was a dead idea, but they were happy to financially support it as soon as they understood it was possible."
The league draws from youth who have been playing basketball with PeacePlayers since 2006, practicing twice a week in their communities and twice a month with their twin club. "They were getting older and lacked a competitive league structure," said Cherubin, who came from the U.S. after studying for a master's degree in peace and conflict resolution at the American University.
Cherubin says the league works because the kids "have been playing together for years." The neutral, American nature of the organization made it easier for Palestinians to not feel guilty about participating in such a league, he noted. After building the connections in recent years, Cherubin said, the league became an easy sell. "Instead of making a cold call to someone, I could say: 'You know me, you trust me. We want to start this league. What do you think?'"
Cherubin feels lucky to have a hand in helping the youths strengthen their bonds, especially after the recent fighting.
Still, in light of the ongoing conflict, it must be difficult for these brave children to play knowing what is going on outside the arena.
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