by Josh Cohen, Jew-ish.com
The prospect of Middle East peace coming from state-level talks seems bleak at best. But look down toward grassroots-level activism, and things start to look a little brighter. Ultimate Peace is one such bright spot. They are a group working to inspire change in the Middle East — and do it through the sport of Ultimate Frisbee.
Ultimate Peace’s main event so far was a camp held July 14-20 in Acco, Israel. The camp — Ultimate Peace’s first — brought together 145 underprivileged Israeli, Arab-Israeli, and Palestinian children from different villages to learn the fundamentals of Ultimate, practice the sport, and compete against each other, as well as dine, play, and socialize throughout the week. A cadre of hometown and international coaches as well as volunteers helped support the campers.
Ultimate Peace is the brainchild of David Barkan, a Jewish-American Ultimate player and former member of the Matza Balls, a Jewish Ultimate team from Santa Cruz, whose success garnered them an invitation to play in Israel’s first Ultimate tournament in 2008.
Following the tournament, the Matza Balls held a clinic, teaching the sport to local children and adults. The experience got the wheels turning (or perhaps, discs spinning) in Barkan’s mind.
“I started thinking that Ultimate would be a really great way to bring together Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians,” said Barkan.
According to Barkan, Ultimate is founded on fairly radical principles: “You don’t use referees, even at the highest levels of the sport. All disputes have to be settled on the field by the players so youth and adults alike develop some real negotiation skills. It makes Ultimate a great peace building tool.”
Barkan returned to Israel with other volunteer coaches in 2009. They toured several low-income towns and villages, showed people the sport, and eventually brought several groups of children to Tel Aviv for a one-day tournament. The experiment’s success inspired Barkan to begin planning a week-long camp for 2010.
Barkan says his goal is “to use Ultimate as a tool to bring kids from different sides of an existing conflict together, to unite them, to provide them with a shared positive experience, and to give them the kind of fun experience with their supposed enemy that they’d never otherwise have.”
Click here to continue reading this article on Jew-ish.com