Surrounded by a 708 KM wall, Palestine has been cut off from most of the luxuries that a country not under occupation would experience as normal everyday things. Getting to school could mean taking multiple buses and walking on foot through Israeli checkpoints. The daily commute to work is often disrupted by ID checks and interrogations, making it difficult to find or retain a steady income. A peaceful nights sleep could be shattered at any moment by an IDF raid. People here have grown up under the occupation, depriving many young Palestinians the chance of a real childhood. Palestinians living as close as a 30 minute drive to the Mediterranean Sea have dreams of one day getting the chance to see it, some risking everything to do so.
Text by Dana Alwazani
Photos by Dana Alwazani and Craig Johnson
Despite all of the turmoil and uncertainty, most Palestinians are still full of hope. Hope for a better future for their children. This hope provides the motivation to keep building their communities and enriching the lives of their children.
In August 2019, I made a second trip to Palestine to work with SkatePal, a non-profit organization that aims to support young people in Palestine through skateboarding by building skateparks running classes and providing equipment. I got to be a part of the most welcoming community of skateboarders that I’ve ever come across, consisting of skaters from all over the globe. The Palestinian people showed us an abundance of love, compassion and an interest in not only us as visitors, but as skateboarders.
If you ever make it to Rosa Park in Asira Al-Shamaliya, expect to be ambushed with cries of “Hello, how are you? What is your name? Where are you from?!”. Young rippers zoom about the park with boards flying in all directions, trying their hardest to learn good old Canadian fly outs. The kids not only love skateboarding, they love the people they get to meet and the friendships they forge with them. The consistent flow of skateboarders visiting from all around the world can make the wall seem to disappear, for a little while at least. Toddlers, boys, girls, teenagers, parents, it seems like all of Asira is shredding here all at once, not a commonplace thing in a town with strong cultural pressures and schools that are separated by gender. Often, entire families come to skate, parents hold their children’s hands and vice versa, which gives them the confidence and the opportunity to teach their own parents something new. Skateboarding is giving these kids a safe space to interact with all kinds of people and feel free. It is dissolving the gender differences normally experienced in Palestinian society and this might be one of the most important things happening here for the young women of Palestine.
In the city of Ramallah it is the first year of classes run by SkatePal at the Sarayyet Youth Club, similar things are happening here with boys and girls attending every day to either skate or hang out. Although there are obstacles to practice on at the youth club, Ramallah is a city without a skatepark so the kids are having to take to the streets with the volunteers. This is changing the way they view their city and they are realising the potential of heading out exploring with friends and finding new spots to learn tricks. All of the things us skateboarders love to do in our urban playgrounds. Ramallah is a bustling metropolis full of spots, and Palestine as a whole has an abundance of untapped marble ledges and hills just begging to be skated.
In a place where boys historically would get all the opportunity, the spirit of Palestine is swimming with encouragement for girls to push themselves further through education, work and hobbies. There is still a lot of progress to be made, but it’s heartwarming to see the joy in everyone’s eyes when they get their first rush of adrenaline from learning something new on a skateboard. I was thrilled to see that some of the girls I met on my last trip in 2016 were still skating 3 years later, accompanied by a whole new bag of tricks. Looking at the park, you can see the focus and determination they have for learning new things and the passion and energy that they’re able to express through the newly found love of skateboarding. It’s also exciting to see the older generations realizing that these girls have the potential to change their lives for the better, and even the country.
Whether you’re going to experience the country, meet new people or focus on teaching, the people of Palestine will welcome you with smiles, open arms and most definitely with food.