Over the past decades, several social and political attempts have been made to resolve the Palestine-Israel crisis. Out of all of these diverse solutions, I believe the particular initiative that you are about to read is by far the most creative. So what is this brilliant project? The answer is literally a basic circular disc tossed around in the air.
According to Wikipedia, Ultimate, originally known as Ultimate Frisbee, is a non-contact team sport played with a flying disc. This innovative sport was developed in 1968 by a group of students at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey. Even though Ultimate is quite similar to many traditional sports, its focus on self-officiating is the key difference that makes it stand out. In other words, there are no referees to enforce the rules. Instead, this activity relies on the sportsmanship of players and invokes “Spirit of the Game” to maintain fair play. The athletes call their own fouls and should any dispute occur, the players must reach an agreement amongst themselves before continuing the game.
In April of 2009, Ultimate has transported to the Middle East thanks to Ultimate Peace, a non-profit organization that depends on donations to give youth in the Middle East a chance to build friendships by playing this potentially life-changing sport. To paraphrase the words of David Barkan, who volunteers as the chief executive of Ultimate Peace,
“Well, we’re not trying to bring peace to the Middle East. That’s not the goal. It’s about changing a mindset through the values of the sport that we know leads to peace between people. If you win, but you don’t gain the respect of your opponent, then what have you won?” Barkan also stated, “We’re talking about deepening understanding and building empathy for people you’ve always seen as your enemies. They become best friends with these people, and they know that all the stuff they’ve been indoctrinated with is just a bunch of crap.”
Some of you may ask, “Isn’t it a bit naïve to think that a frisbee can solve a conflict that has been going on for over half a century?” Well, let’s observe some of the results that have been achieved first and then assess afterward. In July 2010, Ultimate Peace held their first summer residential camp in Acre, Israel to validate whether their idea would help unite divided communities. “For a week, 145 Jewish-Israeli, Israeli-Arab, and Palestinian teenagers lived together on a youth village, learning how to play Ultimate and learning about each other at the same time” with 60 staff members and 40 coaches. Nadin Shlosh, an Arab coach at the camp, said that she had never heard of Ultimate and researched about it extensively. It was only during the camp that Shlosh realized the true value of the sport.
In addition, Haneen, one of the teenage members in Camp UP, sent a Facebook message to her new friends which read as follows, “The most beautiful times of my life… Our cooperation will not end and will remain in every heart.” Haneen was one example of many many others who shared memories, messages, and jokes with their new friends after the event was over. More importantly, the camp proved that one simple game can bring together societies of different circumstances regardless of their religious or political views.
As a future plan, Ultimate Peace hopes that “If youth from different backgrounds learn the values taught by Ultimate now, they will be empowered as adults to work together and solve the difficult challenges facing the region”. And it must be going well as another camp was held 2 months ago in Ashkelon, Israel.