A basketball team can unite a school. A football championship can bring a town together. And, occasionally, Ultimate Frisbee can bring peace.
That’s the philosophy behind Ultimate Peace, an organization that brings Israeli and Palestinian children together to play Ultimate Frisbee and break down racial and cultural tensions between them.
Freshman Aaron Weiss traveled to Israel at the beginning of April with the group and experienced the transformation firsthand.
Weiss, who is on the GW Ultimate Frisbee team, heard about the organization through a friend on the team and was immediately drawn to the opportunity.
“I am Jewish, have been [to Israel] twice before and am always looking for an excuse to go back,” he said. “Ultimate Frisbee has taken up a lot of my life. Mixing the two seemed like it would be a good time.”
The five-day event took place in Tel Aviv. Each day included a planned activity that encouraged cooperation and understanding through the teaching and playing of the sport.
“The nice thing about Frisbee, the thing that makes it different from other sports, is you get to call your own fouls and all arguments are settled on the field,” said Weiss. “It teaches them to solve their own problems and get along together.”
Weiss, the only GW student on the trip, worked with a small group of volunteers traveling with the organization. Most of the travelers were coaches: 20 in all, with an equal male-to-female ratio. Together, they split the children, ranging from ages 8 to 13, into twelve teams.
Weiss’s team, “Team Jam,” consisted of girls ages 11 to 13 and was headed by Mike Payne, a famous Ultimate Frisbee player who works with the Ultimate Players Association, and his wife, Samantha Salvia. Though honored to be playing alongside these “gods of the sport,” Weiss entered Israel unsure of what the trip would hold.
“Going into the trip I wasn’t really sure what to expect . I was just hoping it would be a good atmosphere,” he said. “But we never had any problems with kids refusing to play with each other or being mean to each other.”
The trip had different days devoted to teaching the children to play Ultimate Frisbee and seeing them interact. In addition to this, two days were reserved for tournaments between the different teams – where progress really happened.
“There was definitely a gap at the beginning, but in the end when we had them scrimmage it didn’t really matter anymore. It wasn’t Israeli or Palestinian. It was this team versus that team.”
At the end of the trip, the Israeli and Palestinian children both performed cultural dances and cheered for one another.
“You just hear words like Arab being used as an insult. It’s just important to have kids at a young age come and see that they’re the same and they have the same interests,” he said. “Hopefully when they go back to their communities and hear those insults, they can say, ‘Hey, that’s not true. I’ve seen them, played with them and become friends with them, and the things we hear aren’t true.’ “