Imagine living in a completely segregated society where decades of discord have created gulfs between ethnicities, religions, and cultures.
“Even within Israel, Jews and Arabs never interact,” explains David Barkan. “They share the same citizenship. They could enter each other’s villages—but they don’t. They have never met another of the other kind. They are like aliens to each other.”
Now imagine a powerful tool that helps sow seeds of peace and understanding. A round, spinning . . . Frisbee?
Barkan is one of the founders and the CEO of Ultimate Peace. The nonprofit uses the team sport of Ultimate Frisbee, also called simply “Ultimate,” to build respect and rapport among Arab, Jewish, and Palestinian teens in communities in Israel and the West Bank.
“Ultimate is the tool we use; it’s the context of building the bridges for foundations of trust,” says Barkan, who played Ultimate Frisbee internationally for years and was inducted into the sport’s hall of fame in 2010.
Why Ultimate? The seven-on-seven game has no quarterbacks or star players. Everyone catches and everyone throws.
“There’s a lot of eye contact, sharing, and cooperation,” says Barkan. “The element of conflict resolution is built into the game. There are no referees; the players have to resolve any disputes on the field. You have to be a good listener. If people can learn these skills on the field, they can use it off the field in a conflict zone, where it’s harder to manage.”
Ultimate Peace holds summer camps for 13- to 15-year-olds, and each September, the organization starts offering practices with trained coaches within the communities they serve.
“We also schedule league games and tournaments, bringing all the kids together throughout the year,” says Linda Sidorsky, another of the program’s founders. A leadership training program for 16- and 17-year-olds prepares them to be the next generation of coaches and community leaders.
Sixteen-year-old Yasmin Mresat has participated for four years and is now a coach-in-training. When asked her favorite part of Ultimate Peace, she listed a few. “Cheering on teammates. Hanging out with a Jewish friend—or having Jewish friends at all. Feeling safe talking about personal and deep feelings to someone who is completely different than me. Finding people who can be trusted is so easy.”