'Skateboarding, Performance and Palestine - On the Art of Practising Freedom' Talk presented at Human Rights Futures, Sheffield Hallam University, 12th December 2018

SkatePal: Skateboarding in Palestine (2015-ongoing)

In the summer of 2014, the news was filled with reports about the most recent war in Gaza, documenting thousands of civilian deaths and casualties in the tiny area of Palestinian land under intense military occupation.

Around the same time, a video was posted by British skateboarding magazine Sidewalk on Instagram, which featured Welsh skateboarder Chris Jones performing a backside boardslide outside a shop in Ramallah, Palestinian Territories.

The contrast between these news items was striking – a direct effect of the proliferation of portable media devices and the immediacy of the internet as a source for complex mixtures of information.

As someone with Palestinian roots, but who was born and grew up in the UK, my awareness about the situation for Palestinians has always been at a distance but constantly there in the background. With every outbreak of fighting it was brought starkly to the fore.

And as a skateboarder since the age of 15, aside from taking my own board with me on family visits, I had never seen anyone skateboarding in Palestine before.

Building skateparks in the West Bank

I got in touch with Charlie Davis – the director of SkatePal, the charity Chris Jones was working with when his Ramallah trick was filmed. A few months later I was helping them build their second major skatepark in a small town near Nablus in the north of the West Bank.

It was the beginning of an ongoing research project into the work of the charity, and the effects of skateboarding on the lives of young people and local communities in this complex political climate and fascinating social landscape.

What I discovered on my first visit was how much skateboarding functions as a form of resistance to the occupation of Palestinian people and their lands, but also as a challenge to the restrictions of traditionalism.

I've returned to Palestine to continue my work with the charity annually since that first build. Through a long-term engagement with the local community of Asira Al-Shamalyia, I hope to be able to contribute toward further understandings of how skateboarding as a type of creative play and sport can contribute to personal, social and community development.