By Rebecca Stadlen Amir - August 12, 2018

Despite growing up in the diverse city of Jerusalem, where Jews and Arabs encounter each other at the grocery store, cinema and public transportation, a Jewish teenager named Toot had never spoken to an Arab her age.

She joined PeacePlayers, which works to unite communities through sport, and became a member of one of the first mixed Jewish and Arab basketball teams in Israel.

While training and playing alongside Arab girls her age, Toot formed friendships that existed on and off the court.

“It’s very unique that they’re a mixed team in the league and it really accelerates the impact on the girls. They are together sometimes up to six times a week, practicing and traveling around the country together for games. It’s an accelerator for friendships,” says Karen Doubilet, managing director of the Middle East branch of PeacePlayers, a nonprofit organization that  uses basketball to unite, inspire and educate young people in divided communities around the world.

As part of a report monitoring change as a result of the program, Toot recalled that when Israel and Gaza experienced a tense period of fighting in the summer of 2014, her Arab teammate and friend Aysha sent a text after a siren went off to see if Toot and her family were okay.

Read More: Israel21c