Israelis and Palestinans play ball for peace

Israeli and Palestinian youngsters compete in an exhibition basketball game at Tel Aviv University on Tuesday.

isr-pal basketball 298  (photo credit: )
isr-pal basketball 298
(photo credit: )
As Israel marked 40 years since the start of the Six Day War on Tuesday, a group of Israelis faced Palestinian opponents - but this time in a basketball game aimed at promoting peace. The exhibition game, held at Tel Aviv University, formed part of the second annual Friendship Games - a basketball tournament that has attracted 30 college teams from 17 countries, including Jordan, China and Serbia. "We believe when we are playing basketball it is better than shooting bullets," said TAU athletic director Arie Rosenzweig, the president of the Israeli Academic Sports Association. "The aim of this tournament is to get together through sport to demonstrate coexistence through this means. We hope with sport - with basketball - we can talk to each other." According to Tzahi Rozenstein, the manager of the Ruppin Academic Center, which provided the team representing Israel in the tournament, "It was a very important game. I believe sport can make the army and the politicians and all these guys think." Although the game lacked somewhat in quality, it made up for it with the players' determination and heart. Having scored eight points without reply, Israel was pegged back by a Palestinian side which, as a cohesive unit, went from strength to strength in the first quarter, ending it trailing by only three points. However Israel, represented by a strong squad from Poolin, managed to stretch its lead to make it 27-17 at the half. But this was no ordinary basketball game. Before the start of the second half, some of the Israeli and Palestinian players exchanged shirts. The Israeli jerseys were yellow and the Palestinian ones were blue. "In the second half we played with mixed teams," Rozenstein said. "Our players played with the Palestinian players and they also played with us. "All the players played with the same language - the basketball language. It is very important for the players. They talked with each other, they assisted each other." After the swaps the game got underway and although the quality seemed to dip the attitude and feel of the game became much more relaxed and sociable: before halftime it was an exhibition, after it was a friendly. The quality of the basketball improved as the game progressed and the players got used to playing together with fine interchanges and link-ups between Palestinian and Israeli players. The teams seemed much more even too, the scores at one point aligning to 32-32. In the end Israel prevailed 43-39 but all realised that it was not the result that was important. "I am proud of my players," Rozenstein said. "It is not important whether we win the game or lose the game, it is the game that is important." The Friendship Games resume Wednesday when Israel faces Ireland for a place in the semifinals.