CSU, Chico News

Playing for Peace in the Middle East: Lecture on Nov. 6

Date: 10-30-2012

Kathleen McPartland
Public Affairs
Michael Leitner
Recreation, Hospitality and Parks Management

Can soccer programs that bring together Israeli and Palestinian youth make significant differences in the players’ attitudes toward each other? Professor Michael Leitner, Department of Recreation, Hospitality, and Parks Management at California State University, Chico, spent a year in Israel acting as the evaluator for three programs that are designed to do just that.

Leitner will present the results of his research on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 5 p.m. in Colusa Hall. The College of Communication and Education is sponsoring “Playing for Peace in the Middle East.”

This was Leitner’s third extended visit to Israel researching the changing attitudes of Israeli Arabs and Jews toward each other. During his second trip in1997 and 1998, Leitner developed a program in which senior Israeli Arabs and Jews were brought together in a recreational program. The outcomes of the senior study showed positive change in both Israeli Arabs and Jews: a reduction in feelings of hatred toward the other group and in perceptions of feeling hated, and a mutual increase in positive attitudes.

Leitner, who teaches therapeutic recreation, wanted to apply his experience in evaluating Arab-Jewish interaction to on-going recreational programs with youth on a third yearlong trip to Israel. He contacted three groups: Mifalot, the Peres Center for Peace, and the Friendship Games. Mifalot uses soccer to bring about positive changes in attitudes, and the Peres Center for Peace uses a variety of arts and cultural programs to foster peace. The Friendship Games bring together college-age teams from several Middle Eastern and European countries to play basketball and interact socially for one week.

The results of the evaluation were very positive. For example, on the issue of trust: on the pretest in one study, two percent responded that they could trust the other side; on another, seven percent said they could trust the other side. On the post-test, these percentages went up to 40 percent.

“That is a nice jump and a change in the right direction,” said Leitner. “It is going to take trust to make peace. It’s not going to solve the problem. What this is about is to lay the foundations for peaceful relations to become the norm and for peace to become the norm. We can’t force peace on people if they hate each other. Leaders need the support of people.”

For more information on Leitner’s upcoming talk, contact him at 530-898-6774 or mleitner@csuchico.edu. You can read more about his research at http://www.csuchico.edu/inside/2012-10-25/playing-for-peace.shtml