Middle East: Catching up with Bella Kovner

March 25, 2024



We had a conversation with Bella, PeacePlayers Middle East’s brand new Managing Director, to hear her thoughts on the role of PeacePlayers in offering an alternative to the intense challenges of the region. Bella may be new to PeacePlayers, but she has decades of experience working to improve the lives of children all over the world.


PeacePlayers: Tell us a little bit about yourself.  


Bella: I’m Bella. I’m originally from Latvia. I came to Israel when I was a year and a half. For the last 10 years, I’ve been living back in Israel, after over 10 years working in Nepal, Cambodia, Albania, China and Uganda. I now live in the same Kibbutz where I grew up, and I love raising my daughter here. I also did a PhD at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with a dissertation focused on children’s rights and access to justice in conflict ridden areas. Another thing about me is I’m very target oriented. When I want something, I’ll do anything in my power to pursue it. 


PeacePlayers: Could you share a little bit about why you think PeacePlayers Middle East exists?


Bella: In order to have a peaceful and just society, in order to resolve this conflict, I think we need to start with the youth. If youth will play together, if they meet, they’ll be able to find the solutions. Because they’re the next generation, and they have the power to be the frontliners in their communities and the society as a whole. And I think there’s no better way to do it than by sport, which is something that unites people. 


PeacePlayers: As somebody who’s new to the organization, have you been able to witness any evidence of impact? 


 Bella: What I’ve seen so far is Palestinians and Israelis working together for the same cause. And I think that the fact that you go to a basketball court and you see Jewish and Muslim and Druse and Christian girls play together – It’s not something to take for granted. Maybe for someone from the outside, [it wouldn’t seem like anything special]. But I know the reality. I know how tough it is, especially now. So, to see something like that – it’s amazing. It doesn’t happen here [otherwise]. 


PeacePlayers: What do you think is the role of basketball at PeacePlayers? 


Bella: Basketball is good for your mental and physical health. It empowers children, and supports their mental growth, their resilience, and bridges between communities. I think it’s really the best methodology for peacebuilding. You know, I was doing my PhD research on encounters of Palestinian children from East Jerusalem with the Israeli law enforcement and justice systems. Well, these kids


are staying in jail until the end of the legal proceedings. They’re removed from school, from their families, for a process that can take years. What will become of this kid as an adult? But we saw that in the neighborhoods in East Jerusalem where kids had afternoon activities, there was less engagement with Israeli law enforcement and justice systems. This just emphasizes the importance of recreational activities for youth. And if we can do something that will protect those children, that will really help them gain a better future, it will also help society at large. So I think that what PeacePlayers does has a huge impact.


PeacePlayers: A lot of young people around the world are growing up in increasingly divided societies. How can something as simple as basketball make a difference in this?



Bella: We’re part of an ecosystem of different organizations all working towards the same final goal but with different approaches and different target populations. Some focus on governance and advocacy. Some work with women. We work with youth through sports. It’s a joint effort. That’s the only way that we will be able to have a sustainable impact. And the second part of the answer is working with youth. I think this is the future. This is the only way to address social problems. So if you empower them, if you help them to find the right way, that will be the path that will lead everyone else behind them.


PeacePlayers: Is there specifically something about basketball that can also help this process?

Bella: I think it’s group play. It gives you a feeling of being part of a group, and a sense of group accomplishment. If you play together, if you win together, it’s the best feeling. And if you can feel that, you can overcome anything

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