(photo credit: Ron Friedman)
Israeli basketball star Omri Casspi, chose to spend one of his last few days in
Israel before returning to California to prepare for the next season with NBA
franchise, the Sacramento Kings, with Palestinian and Israeli youth as part of
the Peres Center for Peace’s Twinned Peace Sport Schools project.
Wednesday Casspi held a basketball clinic with the children at the Jewish-Arab
community Center in Jaffa.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post
Casspi said he was happy to take part in such a program that promotes
coexistence and that it proved that through sports people could overcome any
“Sports in General and basketball in particular are a tool
to help bridge gaps and overcome differences. Sports connects people from
different cultures, religions and nations and I am happy to be able to play a
role in the cause,” said Casspi.
When asked about his thoughts about the
diplomatic negotiations currently taking place in Washington, Casspi said, “Like
everyone in Israel I would like to see peace and look forward to a time when we
can live in co-existence.”
Casspi, who just returned from a successful
campaign with the Israeli national team in the qualifying round of the World
Basketball Championships, said he was approached to participate in the program
by both the Peres Center and the National Basketball Association.
NBA encourages lots of community activities and I take part in such programs
with the team back in Sacramento and with the Jewish community there. When they
heard about the Peres Center’s initiative, it was important for them that I be
here,” said Casspi.
Casspi said that he was enjoying his time in Israel
and especially spending time with family and friends and that he hoped to soak
up as much support as possible before returning for a long 10-month period
Casspi, who is the first Israeli player to play in the NBA,
surpassed all expectations when he made the NBA All-Star Rookie Challenge team,
last year and earned an opening spot on the Sacramento Kings’ roster. When asked
if he hoped to repeat last year’s performance, he made it clear that he wanted
to surpass it.
“Looking ahead this is a very important season for me. I
want not only to repeat last year’s success, but work hard towards doing even
better,” he said.
Upon entering the basketball gym in Jaffa, Casspi was
met with enthusiastic cheers by the 100 children participating in the clinic.
The participants, children from Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi, Sderot and Be’er
Tuviah on the Israeli side and Jericho, Bethlehem and Bayt Sahur on the
Palestinian side, as well as both Jewish and Arab children from Jaffa, peppered
Caspi with questions about his career and playing basketball at the highest
level, before taking to the court for a friendly tournament.
Hay-Sagiv, who manages the Peres Peace Center’s Sports programs said that the
Twinned Peace Sport Schools project, which is now entering its sixth year,
includes 1,600 children (aged 10-15) from across the country.
is to provide an extra-curricular activity for children to go to three times a
week, which can also help them meet with children from the other side. Once a
month we hold joint activities for the Israeli and Palestinian children with the
aim being that they get to know each other and find a common language with
them,” said Hay-Sagiv.