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LA Lakers Jordan Farmer and Dov Corne at basketball clinic for Israeli and Palestinian children.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Jordan Farmer with Israeli and Palestinian children. When the children wore the same uniform you couldn't tell them apart.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Palestinian Israeli Sports Schools
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Dov Corne with Palestinian coach Fares Sweetie.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


By Rhonda Spivak, November 1, 2009

Kiryat Gat, Israel-   Nine year old Winnipeger Dov Corne, had the thrill of his life when he  participated in  a special  basketball clinic   conducted by the Los Angeles Laker’s Jordan Farmer, for Israeli and Palestinian children.  The clinic was part of  a  “Twinned Peace Sports Schools”  program organized by the Shimon Peres Center for Peace which took place in  August 2008.

Corne [ who is the writer’s son] and all of  Israeli and Palestinian children  an unforgettable experience when they played with  the 21 year old  Laker’s point guard, who is the only Jewish player in the NBA.  Farmer communicated with the children using basketball as a common language, since he speaks neither Hebrew nor Arabic.

The Palestinian children, who arrived from Jericho  and Tulkarem, and  the Israeli children, from Kiryat Gat, all wore identical red jerseys given to them by the Peres Center. Each team was mixed with Israeli and Palestinian children. Corne, who speaks Hebrew, sat with the Israeli children at the opening of the clinic, which was designed  to promote teamwork and co-operation and help teach the meaning of co-existence .

“We are  happy to have Dov come today to see the work we are doing to try to  allow Israelis and Palestinians to get to know the other side, to break down barriers, and to foster an atmosphere of reconciliation. The idea is that all kids can try to learn to play together.  The kids find a way to communicate with each other.  They give each other high fives,” said the Israeli coach Shachar Elyakim, who has been involved in this unique program for the past five years.

 At the outset of the clinic, Farmer, who is the offspring of a Jewish mother and an African-American father, told all of the children,  “We’re going to have fun today.. I’ve come a long way to spend time with you guys …I think it’s really beautiful that all of you guys can come together  hereto play..”  Farmer’s  comments were translated simultaneously into Hebrew and Arabic  by  Palestinian and Israeli coaches. 

Corne was included in the program after the Peres Centre was contacted and told Dov badly wanted to meet Farmer.

When Farmer saw that Corne did not have a red jersey as he was not a regular member of the program,  he said  “Here you can have my Jersey if you want,” giving  Corne a  jersey that the Peres center had made for Farmer.  “Thank you, but I can’t wear it because it’s much too long, and I can’t run in it,” Corne replied.

“Having Jordon Farmer here gives the kids a boost of confidence.  It means that heroes support  a mixed group [of Israelis and Palestinians].  All of the children wear the same red jerseys and when you mix them up on teams, you really can’t tell who,” said Elyakim.

Corne had the opportunity to shoot baskets with the very talented Jericho born coach Ferris Sweetie, a Palestinian who lives in Ramallah and teaches basketball at a private American institution both in Ramallah and Jerusalem. ‘ The kids come here to see friends and make friends,” said Sweetie, who hugged the Israeli coach when he arrived.

Sweetie, who speaks English and also some Hebrew in addition to Arabic,  has been in the program for five years.  “I have made friends in  Israel and I come to Tel-Aviv quite often to go to the beach.  There isn’t a beach near where I live. .. I sometimes come for shabbat to be with friends. I usually don’t have any problem crossing the checkpoints.”

Corne asked whether the Israeli children ever went to Jericho to play basketball and it was explained to him that by law Israelis are not allowed to go to the  PA territories for safety reasons. “But since you have a Canadian passport, you can come visit me in Palestine,” Sweetie told Corne.

Michal Rubin of the Peres Center said “We see our work here as starting to prepare the ground work for  a real peace that will occur at the political level one day.”

She added, “ The situation can be complex.  Parents of the children in some of the Palestinian communities are sometimes scared to send their kids to activities we have in  Sderot.  This kind of flips the situation on its head.”
At the end of the clinic, Farmer told the children “Today you played together and that’s a start to finding a solution to the problems in the Middle East.  Today you learned basketball skills together.  If you keep working on them, you will get better.  It’s the same in life.  If you keep working on your relationships, things will get better.”

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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