Backgammon As a Bridge


Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid look at the popular game of Backgammon. No one knows where it started, but it may influence peace in the future.

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Transcript


Voice 1

 Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2  

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

Zaki Djemal lives in the country of Israel. It is not always easy for people from Israel and people from Palestine to live together. There are complex political and religious reasons for this. There is often violence between the groups. But Djemal is friends with all kinds of people. One night he was talking to his friends. They talked about how to bring different people together using something they loved, like music. Djemal explained to JewishBoston.com,

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“During this time together, we got into a debate. In the middle of that, a friend suggested we take a break and play a game. We would return to the discussion later. He suggested backgammon. Both our Israeli and Arab friends knew the rules. It has been played for a long time in the area. We did not have any bigger plans other than playing. As we started playing, all of the bad emotions we felt in this discussion were suddenly gone. The debate was forgotten. We saw there was real power in playing a game. We thought: This is working so well with us, why not expand it? That is how the idea was born. It has moved from that living room and now involves thousands of people.”

Voice 2  

Today’s Spotlight is on how a game like backgammon can cross cultural and political divides.

Voice 1  

Backgammon is one of the oldest games in history. There is evidence that backgammon is around 5,000 years old. Because it is so old, we do not know the whole history of the game. There is archaeological evidence found in many different places. So no one knows for sure where backgammon began. Different people think that the game came from ancient Iraq, India, or China.

Voice 2  

Backgammon is a game for two people. The game is played on a square surface called a board. There are triangle points around the edges that make a path. The pieces on the surface are small circles called checkers. Each player has different colored checkers. Each player must move their colour checker around the path. The game ends when one player has moved all their checkers into their end, or home. Players roll two numbered dice to move their checkers. There are several other rules that guide which checkers can be moved and when. But it is really a simple game. It combines both skill and luck. Bill Riles is the president of the U.S. Backgammon Federation. He believes the beauty of backgammon is this balance of skill and luck. He explained to Bloomberg.com:

Voice 4  

“I can sit down and teach anybody how to play in 15 minutes. It is a very simple game. But I am still learning about its details after 40 years of playing.”

Voice 1  

Backgammon is popular around the world. But it is more popular in some countries than in others. It is very popular in the Middle East. This is why Djemal thought of it. People from Israel and Palestine both know the game well. The political conflict between Israel and Palestine has existed for many years. But most people just want to live their lives and be at peace. Isabel Kershner wrote about this for the New York Times.

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“For years nothing has happened in the political peace process. A growing number of Israelis and Palestinians are searching for creative ways to go around politics. They are taking action to find connections for work, new resources, and like-minded people. People are trying to find a common language for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Voice 2  

Djemal thought that backgammon could be a good common language for people. After seeing how backgammon could change the conversation with his friends, he thought it may work for other people. He explains,

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“We thought: ‘Why not organize a backgammon event for Israelis and Palestinian people? To meet beyond the everyday work of riding the buses, standing in line at the store or waiting at hospitals? We wanted there to be connection between communities that for years have been completely separated.”

Voice 1  

So Djemal created a backgammon event called the Double Jerusalem. He invited people from different areas of the city to come and play backgammon. But not everyone was ready to trust the other side. Djemal explained,

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“It took time to show people that this effort was worth their time. We had one man, an Israeli man, who said he would do it. But then had a lot of excuses. But we kept telling him to come. He did not want to go to this neighbourhood. Israelis rarely go there. He was afraid. Backgammon was the key. We have played since we were children. It is a deep a part of our lives and of our families’ lives.”

Voice 2  

The first event brought together hundreds of people to play backgammon. It went so well that they held more events. These events now normally get around 500 people to attend. Many play games of backgammon. But other people come to cheer their friends who are playing. Or they come to talk, listen to music, and have fun.

Voice 1  

Djemal has even been invited to set up official backgammon events. Players come from around the world to play. He has helped create a backgammon event as a part of large music festival that celebrated peace.

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Backgammon may never solve all the political problems between Israel and Palestine. The situation is not clear or easy. But games like backgammon can bring people together. They can connect people. They can even change the way we talk about difficult topics. The backgammon events may even help make peace. The Prime Minister of Israel, who wrote on Twitter about one event, said:

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“Tonight hundreds of Palestinians, Israelis and others come together for the Jerusalem Backgammon Championships. A beautiful symbol of people living together.”

Voice 1  

Do you like backgammon? Do you think playing games can bring people together? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 2  

The writer of this program was Adam Navis. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to see our Word of the Day and more videos. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, “Backgammon As a Bridge”.

Voice 1  

Look for our free listening app in the Google Play Store and in iTunes. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Have you ever played Backgammon? What games do you like to play?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Omidebrahimi
said on April 09, 2019

Hi
there is a believe in Iran that Backgammon is an Iranin game. it had been creative by one of Sasanian s king (Sasanian were an ancient group of iran), also it is played a lot in Turkey. in lots of cafe

Avatar Spotlight
Honneur
said on April 10, 2019

I never played backgammon because the best games for me is chess and snooker. Actually I don’t know how to play backgammon but I think the Djemal ‘s idea was a good one.