Players compete in last year’s Friendship Games in Israel.Where armies and politicians have failed, maybe basketball might finally bring peace to the Middle East. At least that’s what Arie Rosenzweig hopes. The Israeli athletic director at Tel Aviv University, Rosenzweig is coordinating the second annual Friendship Games basketball tournament slated for next week which will bring players from 16 countries to Israel to compete against each other in a round-robin style tournament.
Following an opening ceremony in the Israeli Arab village of Zemer on June 1, the public will get the chance to watch hometown players face off against teams from places like Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Estonia, and Ireland.
“It was important that Arab countries would participate and that we could find a vehicle for us to get to know each other. All of us have a mutual interest in basketball so this game was the natural choice,” said Rosenzweig.
In addition to the tournament, the Friendship Games give college-aged students of different ethnic and religious backgrounds the opportunity to come together in friendship by touring Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, Tiberias and Tel Aviv.
This year’s event will begin with a coach’s clinic at TAU led by Hawks assistant coach Herb Brown, and featuring former NBA players and coaches. A clinic is also scheduled in Amman, Jordan.
The program was conceived in 2006 by Atlanta Hawks owner Ed Peskowitz after meeting with Rosenzweig and Illan Kowalski, athletic director at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya. Their goal was to use the game of basketball to unify countries on a grassroots, person-to-person level.
“It was the vision of Peskowitz that sports would be the easiest way to get people together,” said Rosenzweig.
“We are not going to change the world,” Peskowitz added. “But you can either wring your hands over seemingly insolvable problems or try to make a difference. This is our attempt to help people find common themes, common hopes, and common dreams, rather than focusing on their differences.
“During the Friendship Games, Arabs and Jews, Christians and Muslims, and people of all faiths will live together, play together, explore together and grow together.”
Last year, teams from Northern Ireland, Serbia-Montenegro, Turkey, Jordan, Jericho in the Palestinian West Bank and teams from around Israel participated in the games.
“Watching the students play basketball and living together in the dormitories and participating in all of the cultural functions gives us great pleasure,” said Rosenzweig. “It demonstrates coexistence between nations through sport.”