The British skater building a skatepark for the Palestinian kids growing up in the West Bank
This Sunday it's International Peace Day, a project set up in the hope that September 21 will become an institutionally recognised day around the world. Founded back in 1999 thanks to Peace One Day and the United Nations, the aim is simple, to create "an annual day of global unity, a day of intercultural cooperation on a scale that humanity has never known". All this week we'll be raising awareness in the hope that this Sunday will be the biggest Peace Day yet. Today, we're looking at creative solutions for conflict resolution, from the Godfather of Israeli graphic design's endless battle for peace to the Syrian artist-journalists looking to document the real-life of their war-ravaged country.
Skateboarding is synonymous with urban spaces and tight-knit sub cultures on the fringe of society. Palestine is synonymous with crumbling infrastructures and a complex war zone documented on social media. Charlie Davis is the founder of SkatePAL, a non-for-profit charitable organization. He first travelled to Palestine in 2006 as a volunteer to teach English and Music. Recalling one afternoon riding on his skateboard on a main street in Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the central West Bank, he was spotted by a group of local kids. It was the first time they had seen a board and requested him to do some skate tricks. When he jumped in the air they protested there must be magnets in his shoes.The children's fascination by this act of defying gravity was a flashback for Davis to what he had seen for the first time skateboarding.
From that one moment he was inspired to teach skateboarding in Palestine. SkatePAL empower the youth of Palestine through skateboarding. Run by a diverse interdisciplinary collective of volunteers on a project by project basis, to date they have built three timber skateparks, a mini ramp and grind box. Based in Ramallah, the local community have been socially integrated into the projects with the aim of maintaining a self sustaining skate scene. "We focus on areas where the children are most disadvantaged due to life under military occupation," the founder tells us. "We strive to offer young people a creative outlet to express themselves creatively and positively through skateboarding."
The art form of skateboarding is non-hierarchical, based on individual styles of skating, that becomes a lifestyle, that becomes a kind of family for the devoted. You see the world differently, abandoned space becomes a treasure trove of potential skate spots. Essentially it allows you to be free. The collective "have had a very positive reaction from everyone that has heard about us. Many people have been in touch about coming to volunteer with us for future projects. We have had emails of encouragement and support from the skaters and skate shops around the world. We now have to think of the best way to get as many international skaters involved as we can."
The skateparks teach an eclectic crowd of children between 8-12, including a large number of girls, and on occasion toddlers and their extended family. SkatePAL invest in new boards and donated gear transported via volunteers luggage. The volunteers gain real pride from seeing a young Palestinians hooked on the sport and nailing a trick for the first time. Street skating does not exist out with the designated skate parks, the challenge being providing skateboards to sell and buy in the city to supply the demand for the growing scene.
Prior to SkatePAL, Davis had not discovered any skateboarding in Palestinian culture, other then on the television. The culture in Palestine is Islamic middle eastern, with a predominantly young population, 40% are under 15, as opposed to around 18% in the UK. The pace of life is slower and the culture hinges more on the expression of Inshallah, "if God wills it" which means anything from yes to definitely not. This can be hard to adjust to coming from a busier and more proactive background. Football is the main sport, hang spots are local pool halls. Bars and clubs exist albeit far from ubiquitous. Other creative initiatives to conflict in the area are a group called the X- games team based in Qalqilya which does mainly blading and parkour, who have joined in skating on SkatePAL territories.
Davis says 'It is hard to integrate anywhere with a homogenous population as you will always stand out as a foreigner, this becomes annoying in that you are always a potential target for over charging. On the plus side life is cheap and people will speak to you a lot more in the street that at home.' Addressing the dangers, he is frank. "In terms of shooting, things have calmed since 2006 and there are fewer checkpoints in the West Bank, making traveling easier. This is not to overlook the continued difficulties of the continued occupation. There are still regular arrests and the IDF shooting someone in the West Bank is nothing unusual."
The youth of Palestine are living under a constant threat of violent conflict. Children over the age of six years old are living through their third war. Their plight is alleviated by the skateboarding. A peaceful displacement for aggression, a momentary normalisation of life. It is challenging to control the classes. Children grow up very fast in Palestine due to exposure to the occupation. Almost everyone knows someone in the family who has been in prison or been shot by the IDF. Throwing stones becomes a way of life for many kids as the only form of resistance they can use. When channelled into skateboarding they demonstrate a fearless quality, dropping in big ramp moves more quickly than kids would in the UK.
The ultimate goal of SkatePAL is to not exist in Palestine anymore, for a skateboard scene to grow organically through a grass roots movement. The crux of its success hinges on the importation of skateboards. Control and management is being passed onto to local people who will work there, in this way they will have a sense of ownership. It is evident skateboarding can be used as a is a tool for peace with an uncanny ability to bring people together, in this case, within remarkable circumstances. What are the hopes of the youth of Palestine that SkatePAL work with? "The future is obviously not as bright as it is for kids in Western Europe. As long as they are still under occupation they will never have meaningful freedom. They simply want to be free."
SkatePAL is the primary contact for skateboarding in Palestine, and aim to communicate with international groups to promote the sport in the country. They document photography and video on their social media pages. Donations can be made to SkatePAL through their website www.skatepal.co.uk.