Saltman Center’s “Streetball Hafla” Film Screening Helps Promote Tolerance

Mon, 10/29/2012
Streetball Hafla Panelists
See more photos of this event here

Former professional basketball player and Runnin’ Rebel Ricky Sobers was on the UNLV campus Oct. 23, but it wasn’t to meet with the basketball team or to shoot some hoops. He stopped by the university to help promote tolerance and understanding.

“No matter where you go, sports are a universal language. They can foster understanding and peace,” he told the audience at a 7 p.m. film screening and panel discussion of “Streetball Hafla,” an event sponsored by the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution at the Boyd School of Law.

The event was part of the Center’s Peace in the Desert series, designed to provide expert commentary on conflicts around the globe and offer ideas on how to resolve them. Some 75 audience members – including community members, Boyd faculty and staff, and students from across UNLV – watched the 40-minute film about how basketball helped foster harmonious relationships between Jews and Arabs in Israel before participating in a panel discussion and question-and-answer session.

“We all know there’s no hotter hotspot in the Middle East than Israel. By educating people (through events like this), we hope to help achieve peace,” said Jean Sternlight, Director of the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution and Michael and Sonja Saltman Professor of Law.

The film, directed by David Blumenfeld, documented a three-on-three basketball tournament in Hillel, Israel sponsored and organized by the Saltman Center and the Anti-Defemation League (ADL). The 2009 weekend brought together 160 Jewish and Arab teenage boys to play basketball against and with one another, share rooms, and participate in the ADL’s anti-bias training program.

“Even though those kids lived a couple kilometers apart, they never saw each other,” Michael Saltman told the crowd inside the UNLV Student Union Theater. “You have to bring people together, and what better way than through sports? It all starts with kids throwing a basketball back and forth.”

Michael Saltman wants to build on the success of the tournament. 

“Hopefully we’re going to do another (tournament) in the near future, a much bigger one,” he Saltman said. “My dream is for people to get along.”

In addition to Michael Saltman and Sobers, panelists included: Sasha Nizgoda, whose mother was raised Jewish and whose father was raised Muslim; Gilad Berman, a young Israeli Jewish tennis player who grew up in Israel and now attends UNLV; Mohammad Nasereddin, who grew up in the West Bank and now attends UNLV; and Tom Jackovic, executive director of the USA Track & Field Foundation.

Jackovic traveled to Israel to serve as commissioner of the Streetball Hafla Tournament.

“Some of these kids, the way they look at the other side is a byproduct of the media. They don’t have their own thoughts,” he said at the event. “You really gain respect for people when you play basketball with or against someone. (This tournament) broke barriers.”