With 70% of Palestine’s population still under the age of 30, the almost 70-year conflict has cost many young people their freedom. In order to give something back, skateboarders from around the world have decided to take their boards to the West Bank in the hope of allowing these communities to forge new directions from the harrowing realities of daily life.
ASBO spoke to Charlie Davis, the founder of Skatepal, a charity which runs skateboarding lessons for the local children. Davis, who founded the charity in 2006 after volunteering in the area as an English teacher, explained the birth of the organisation. “As a skater, I of course took my skateboard with me. I used to skate in the streets outside where I was teaching and see the excitement of the kids who had never seen one before. From that first trip I knew that skateboarding would be received well in Palestine. After I had finished a degree in Arabic, and knew the country well enough, I began to start planning SkatePal, and the first build was in the summer of 2013.”
The first skatepark was built by a handful of volunteers in Zababdeh, and has since become a safe space for the whole community. “I didn’t expect the response to be as positive as it is,” he tells me, humbled. “I had thought that skateboarding might be seen as too Western, as the places we have worked are very conservative, but it was received well by children and their parents alike. The skatepark in Asira has become a hangout for the whole family, not just for those skating.”
Skateboarding may seem trivial against the backdrop of the Israeli occupation, however, it’s beginning to make an impact on gender equality in the area. Although Charlie makes it clear that Skatepal “are apolitical and focus on fun”, he also explains that “I have been realising over the past four years that skateboarding offers a lot more than what I had thought previously. As well as breaking down barriers of race, religion, gender and age, it actively encourages social inclusion. There are very few sporting opportunities in general in Palestine, and hardly any where boys and girls participate together. Skateboarding is one of very few sports where there is no hierarchy - no winning and losing.”
He explains that making sure the charity doesn’t over step its mark and try to change the local’s culture or way of life is detrimental to working so closely with the community. “We are very aware that we do not want to be seen as forcing any changes in anywhere that we work, but at the same time we strongly encourage girls - as well as boys - to get involved with skateboarding.”
As well as from the UK, Skatepal has many volunteers from the surrounding areas. The charity is providing these young people with something positive amongst the difficulties caused by the constant conflict. “Those who have volunteered with Skatepal in Palestine have definitely had a different experience to many others who volunteer. You cannot escape the effects of the occupation living in Palestine, but the Skatepal volunteers have been meeting communities through skateboarding, not through aid organisations, which makes it easier to really get to the know the local people of the areas in which we work.”
As well as Skatepal, other charities are running similar organisations in order to establish a thriving, self-sufficient skate scene. “We partnered with the Palestinian House of Friendship and the Asira council at our last project in Asira al-Shamalyia, and we are partnering with SkateQilya, who are based in the Qalqilya region, for our upcoming Jayyous Park 2017 project this September.”
“We continue to have skate classes running throughout the year, and we are preparing for our next build in the village of Jayyous with SkateQilya,” Davis explains with verve,“construction begins in September.”