By Abigail Klein Leichman - May 17, 2018

Originally appeared here in Israel21c

Philip, like many of the teens involved in Arab and Jewish Jerusalem running group Runners Without Borders, doesn’t know enough Arabic to converse with his counterparts from Arab neighborhoods. But as a recent Russian immigrant, he barely speaks Hebrew either.

While running through Jerusalem’s Liberty Bell and Mesila parks for training once a week, Philip nevertheless has made friends.

“He found common ground with both sides, communicating with signals and a few words as they run together,” says Israel Haas, cofounder of RWB, which encourages Jewish and Arab residents of the city to meet, interact and cooperate through athletics.

Haas recalls that when some of RWB’s youth runners participated in the London Marathon in April 2017, Philip spent his free time in the city’s Arab Quarter with his friends from East Jerusalem.

RWB was formed in November 2014 in response to a tense year punctuated by racial violence and war. Haas was organizing a mixed boys running group and Shoshana Ben-David was separately organizing a mixed girls running group.

“We did not know each other and we were connected by some friends,” Haas explains. “We decided to join forces and establish an NGO.” They engaged a Jewish coordinator and an Arab coordinator in addition to professional running coaches.

From the very beginning, Haas felt that typical Arab-Jewish coexistence efforts based on the Western emphasis on dialogue don’t take into account the Middle Eastern mindset and are therefore of limited value.

“When you want to bridge between two sides you can’t use the tools of one side and not the other. That’s why Shoshana and I chose sports, and specifically running, because we both are runners and we know it’s a very easy platform. In football or basketball you need to communicate in a common language but in running you just run together and everybody is equal.” Read More