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Israelis and Palestinians come for the basketball, stay for the camaraderie

Members of PeacePlayers International, visiting the United States as part of an exchange program, participate in a basketball
         clinic at Blessed Sacrament School in Washington, D.C., on March 19. Photo by Imagine Photography

Members of PeacePlayers International, visiting the United States as part of an exchange program, participate in a basketball clinic at Blessed Sacrament School in Washington, D.C., on March 19. Photo by Imagine Photography

Malak, a 16-year-old Palestinian, said she first heard about PeacePlayers International – a group that unites Israelis and Palestinians to play basketball – five years ago. She wanted to learn basketball but was nervous about being around Jews.

“As an Arab, as a little kid, you’re going to be scared,” she said. So she went to her father for advice. He told her, as she recalled, “They’re not bad people. You should give it a try and if you still feel scared, you don’t have to keep going.”

She did give it a try and, over the years, became best friends with an Israeli. People around her didn’t understand, especially when a boy in her East Jerusalem neighborhood was killed by members of a radical Jewish group.

“Everyone told me I was a traitor,” Malak, who asked to use only her first name, recounted during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., with the group. It was painful, she said, especially coming from her own people. “It’s really hard to feel that way.”

She was tempted to quit the team, but it was her Israeli friend who convinced her to stay.

“There’s not one side to every story, or even two – Arab and Israeli – but many sides.” — Israeli teen Toot Imbar
In the divided communities, PeacePlayers provides a neutral space where young people can bond, said Chad Ford, a professor of conflict transformation at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and a PeacePlayers board member.

“It dissolves stereotypes. They see the humanity on the other side, and within months they’re friends,” he said. Parents, once reluctant to let their children participate, “are cheering together in the stands” at the games.

The organization works with youth ages 7 to 16 and currently has 25 teams. The mixed Israeli-Palestinian teams play games with other club teams and compete in the league championships. If players stick with the PeacePlayers program, they can train to become paid professional coaches of their own youth team when they turn 18.

The program benefits them by not only broadening their minds, but by providing them with language training in English, professional training in basketbal,l which allows them to be certified as coaches and earn a salary, and travel to the United States as part of an exchange program, Ford said.

Members of PeacePlayers International participate in a basketball clinic at Blessed Sacrament School in Washington, D.C.,
         on March 19. Photo by Imagine Photography

The basketball clinic was part of a 10-day cultural exchange supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Photo by Imagine Photography

PeacePlayers is funded partly by the U.S. State Department and USAID, and has peace-building programs in Northern Ireland, South Africa and Cyprus, in addition to the Middle East.

The difference between PeacePlayers and other dialogue-oriented programs that seek to unite Arabs and Jews is the dialogue programs tend to attract those who already have moderate views, said Ford. Sports programs attract more hardline parents, who want their children to get athletic instruction, and eventually they are won over by the other participants, he said.

One of the visiting Jewish players, 18-year-old Toot Imbar, recalled that during the Israeli-Gaza war in 2014, sirens blared one night and her family had to take shelter in their basement. The first text message she received on her phone was from a Palestinian friend she made on the basketball team, asking if she and her family were OK.

“That moment showed me there’s not one side to every story, or even two – Arab and Israeli – but many sides,” she said. “That’s what I hope people learn about this program.”

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The post Israelis and Palestinians come for the basketball, stay for the camaraderie appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Are airstrikes successfully weakening ISIS?

Smoke and flames rise over a hill near the Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the
         Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, October 23, 2014.
         U.S. military forces again focused air strikes on the area near the Syrian city of Kobani in their campaign to turn back Islamic
         State forces and also hit oil facilities held by the militant group, the U.S. Central Command said on Thursday.     Photo
         By Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

Read the full transcript below:

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN:  The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has drawn recruits from all over the world, so-called foreign fighters.

The U.S. director of national intelligence has put the number at 38,000, including an estimated 250 recruits from the United States.  But, this week, the Pentagon said the pace of ISIS recruiting has dropped 75 percent, from 2,000 fighters a month to 500.

One reason, according to the military, consistent U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS positions.

Joining me now from Washington to discuss this is Doug Ollivant, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and now a partner at the global management consulting firm Mantid International.

Nice to see you.  Thanks for talking with me.

How accurate do you think these numbers are?

LT. COL. DOUGLAS OLLIVANT (RET.):  They’re probably a good guesstimate.  It wouldn’t surprise if there’s a 10 percent tolerance either way, but I think we have a pretty good feel for how large the flow is.

And, certainly, we can see it’s down.  So, it may not be 25 percent, but it is significantly fewer than a year or two ago.

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN:  And does this give you any insight into exactly what is happening inside of ISIS?

LT. COL. DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:  Several things are happening.

First, as the military points out, they are killing a whole bunch of them.  But ISIS has lost significant amounts territory inside Iraq and Syria.  And, perhaps just as importantly, they have lost a lot of their money.

We have actually physically blown up large stocks that they had in banks and houses in Mosul. And, as we know, we have also cut off their ability to smuggle out the oil.  So, they no longer have the appearance of winning in Iraq and Syria.  They have lost major cities.  And they can’t pay large salaries.

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN:  Do you think this indicates, then, that there is going to be a movement from this idea of creating a caliphate in Syria and Iraq to having lone wolves, if you will, stay where they are?

LT. COL. DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:  We are hearing some reports, that actually now is what ISIL is telling people that they’re talking to on social media:  Don’t come here.  Stay home.

I think that’s making lemonade out of lemons.  They can’t pay them, so, instead, they tell them to stay home.  But that’s obviously something we’re just as concerned about, if not more so, are these radical jihadists in their home countries doing these lone wolf or very small group attacks.

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN:  So, ultimately, does this drop lead to people outside of ISIS obviously feeling safer?

I mean, if you have a number of lone wolves who are operating — and I would think some of these attacks are relatively low-cost and maybe not even organized by a network — does the end goal feel like we’re safer?

LT. COL. DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:  Well, no.

If — this is good news for the fight in Iraq and Syria.  This is bad news particularly for Europe, where a much larger percentage of these foreign fighters come from, and, for that matter, the other countries in the region, the Saudis, the Tunisians being the two largest countries providing foreign fighters.

If their radicals stay home, you have to wonder what they’re going to do there.

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN:  Doug Ollivant, thanks for talking with us.  Appreciate it.

LT. COL. DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:  My pleasure, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN:  You bet.

 

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Brussels departure hall opens for first time since terror attacks

Travellers check in in the departure hall after a ceremony at Brussels Airport as it reopens 40 days after deadly attacks
         in Zaventem, Belgium, May 1, 2016. Photo By Eric Vidal

Travellers check in in the departure hall after a ceremony at Brussels Airport as it reopens 40 days after deadly attacks in Zaventem, Belgium, May 1, 2016. Photo By Eric Vidal

The departure hall at Brussels main airport was partially reopened Sunday for the first time since two suicide bombers killed 16 people on March 22. The militant group that calls itself the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

The entire Zaventem Airport was shut down for nearly two weeks following the assaults that also included a separate bombing inside a busy subway station in Brussels. Another 16 people were killed there.

The airport reopened on a limited basis April 3 amid tight security and as Belgian and other European officials launched an international dragnet that branched out across several European countries. But the departure hall remained closed for renovations.

Members of staff and travellers walk in the departure hall after a ceremony at Brussels Airport as it reopens 40 days
         after deadly attacks in Zaventem, Belgium, May 1, 2016. Photo By Eric Vidal/Reuters

Members of staff and travellers walk in the departure hall after a ceremony at Brussels Airport as it reopens 40 days after deadly attacks in Zaventem, Belgium, May 1, 2016. Photo By Eric Vidal/Reuters

In an opening ceremony held 40 days after those attacks, Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport Company, lauded the efforts of those who worked to reopen the departure hall, which will initially house the operations of 25 airlines before later becoming fully functional.

“We’re again seeing the familiar image of passengers in our departures hall, a big step towards the return to normal activities at the airport which will give a boost to the economy of the entire nation,” Feist said. “That we are returning to an almost normal situation in so little time, is important for the confidence of our business, investors and foreign tourists.”

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Ringling Bros. circus ends controversial elephant act after 145 years

Elephants perform during Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus' "Circus Extreme" show at the Mohegan
         Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, The elephants will perform in the circus for the last time on Sunday
         before the company ends the practice.  Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Elephants perform during Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ “Circus Extreme” show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on April 30, 2016, The elephants will perform for the circus for the last time on Sunday before the company ends the practice. Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will use elephants in its performances for the last time on Sunday.

The circus company has used elephants in its shows for the last 145 years but changed its policies after animals rights’ groups and others campaigned against the practice. Public opinion on the subject has also shifted over the years.

A Humane Society report called “The Truth Behind the Big Top” claimed elephants and other wild animals used in circus acts were “beaten, poked and shocked.”

But Feld Entertainment won more than $25 million in 2014 from the Humane Society and other animals rights groups when claims of mistreated elephants were not substantiated, according to the Associated Press.

Senior Elephant Handler Alex Petrov prepares an elephant for a performance at Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus'
         "Circus Extreme" show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 29, 2016.
         Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Senior Elephant Handler Alex Petrov prepares an elephant for a performance at Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ “Circus Extreme” show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 29, 2016. Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Ringling Bros. Executive vice president Alana Feld said 11 animals will be transferred to its own 200-acre facility in Florida, the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, after separate shows Sunday in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

The elephants performance in Rhode Island will be live streamed on the company’s Facebook page on Sunday night.

Elephants are led back to their tent following a performance at Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus' "Circus
         Extreme" show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 29, 2016.  Photo by
         Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Elephants are led back to their tent following a performance at Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ “Circus Extreme” show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 29, 2016. Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Ronald B. Tobias, who wrote a book called “Behemoth: The History of the Elephant in America” told the Associated Press that much of American society would prefer to see elephants in natural settings rather than zoos and circuses.

“I think people will get a lot more satisfaction out of elephants living their real lives than to see them performing as clowns,” Tobias said. “It’s kind of a new age in our understanding and sympathy and empathy toward elephants.”

Elephants have been a part of some circus performances for more than two centuries, according to the AP, dating back to the early 18oos.

The Humane Society said more than a dozen circuses continue to use elephants in performances.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect the correct verdict in a lawsuit. Feld Entertainment won more than $25 million in 2014 from the Humane Society and other animals rights groups when claims of mistreated elephants were not substantiated, according to the Associated Press.  

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