Meet The Palestinian Youth Bringing Skateboarding to the West Bank
Through blood, sweat, tears, and broken decks, a new counterculture movement has ignited Palestinian youth. Amid news of the ongoing protests and bloodshed that have become synonymous with West Bank and Gaza, a documentary has emerged highlighting skate rebels. They’re fighting back against the status quo and giving a newfound sense of hope and freedom to a generation of kids who have only known captivity. The emerging skate scene has been likened to the early days of Dogtown – with two major differences. Palestine is under constant threat of attack from Israel, and skateboards aren’t publicly available for purchase. Despite the odds, a growing band of skaters have teamed up to bring their new favorite pastime to youth across the country. They are now the subject of a 26-minute documentary called Epicly Palestine’d — a riff on the VICE skate series Epicly Later’d.
The documentary is the product of the directorial duo Theo Krish and Philip Joa’s journey around Palestine, hanging with and filming the kids taking to the streets to kickflip their way towards a skating renaissance. During the nearly half hour-long film, a number of prominent skaters share their stories about starting the scene, fighting back against Palestine’s conservative culture and the ominous threat of violence by the Israeli troops that roam the streets.
“People here are conservative. They stick to religion. Traditions. Once you try something new, they just don’t accept you,” Eihab and Abdullah, while standing next to the giant wall fit for a prison that separates Palestine from the rest of the world. “Everything. You cannot do it because it’s wrong. You cannot talk to girls; you cannot play in the street. You cannot live your life.”
It’s through Aram Sabbah, one of the skaters featured in the documentary, that we see the political climate within the country. Last July, Aram joined thousands across the West Bank at the Qalandia checkpoint to protest the mounting aggression toward Palestinians by the Israeli Defense Force (or IDF). As the protest turned violent, Aram began throwing stones and was subsequently shot in the leg by the IDF troops, which interrupted his skateboarding career for a few months while he healed. Undeterred by a protest that injured more than 200 and killed two, including one 17 year-old, Aram started to skateboard again while still on crutches.
The movement would not be where it is without the cultivation and passion of University of Edinburgh Arabic graduate Charlie Davis. In 2012, he started SkatePal, a volunteer-run nonprofit that connects Palestinian skaters and builds skateparks, so that kids can skate safely and form communities. The 1,000 square-foot skatepark in Zababdeh is the West Bank’s first official skatepark, and it’s featured prominently in Epicly Palestine’d. Kids smile and laugh as they’re taught by the older teens at the forefront of the movement. With another skatepark set for construction on a hilltop in the West Bank’s countryside, SkatePal has shown that they are committed to fostering a skateboard movement not seen since Dogtown in the 70s.
“You just see that skateboarding is not just some toy or something,” Aram explains as the documentary ends. “It’s a lifestyle, you know? This is our community. This is who we are.”