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Parkour in Gaza started a decade ago in Khan Yunis refugee camp when Mohammed and Abdallah watched this for the first time and started deciphering tricks to practice on the walls of their city, where there is no shortage of damaged buildings to explore. They quickly invited Ahmad and a few others from local martial arts classes to join them, and the team grew.
As much a philosophy of life and an art form as an athletic discipline, parkour is the passing of obstacles and barriers by running, jumping, and climbing, athletes must travel from one point to another in the most creative way imaginable. For a generation of young Palestinians who have grown up in a flood of under-employment, it has become a method of self-expression, an escape, and a way of life. The idea of parkour is to “find your own way”, failure became a victory in itself; proof that you’ve tried and learned. The lines blurred until all obstacles in their lives became walls, waiting to be overcome. With renewed fervour they attempted to better their lives, elsewhere and outside of Gaza.
“It makes me feel like I can overcome all obstacles in life. There is nothing stopping you, you try until you get your goals.” – Mohammed.
In the early days public opinion was against them, the citizens of Khan Yunis couldn’t understand why the kids had started jumping walls and climbing buildings. The fledgling team was pushed into exile to the cemetery, where they could practice in peace. The idea of spending their days hanging out with the deceased was frightening, but they quickly changed their perspective and understood they were giving hope to these people, long since passed, who had nobody to visit them.
Ahmad, the digital guru of the team, began uploading videos of their exploits on the internet to spread their message to the world. As their popularity escalated the team saw new members joining until even the citizens of their own city began to admire them, eventually welcoming them back into the city.
Little is this known to the outside world, Palestinians must obtain two visas to travel away from home. The first, from the destination country, as a proposal to come and participate in a parkour competition. The second – much more complicated – is the Egyptian visa, to fly from Cairo as there are no airports to travel from home. The Rafah border is open twice a year.
When the news arrives, tens of thousands of Palestinians are given a few days notice to apply for a visa. After which they wait at the border for days, in the hope that a border officer will perchance look at their documents and give them the approval stamp. If the dates at which the border is open do not coincide with the departure and arrival dates from their destination country, they are unable to travel. If they fail to obtain the Egyptian visa, they are unable to travel. Most never leave Gaza.
Today both our heroes teach their craft to dozens of kids in Sweden, where they are adapting to a new life and previously alien nuances of freedom. And although it pains them to leave their friends, their family, and their community in Gaza, they are grateful for the opportunity at a different life; one where they have time to think about their future and happiness.
They both dream of someday returning to Gaza to build a gym for the kids.
Parkour Athlete: Mohammed Aljakhabir
Parkour Athlete: Ahmad Matar
Executive Producer: James Davidson
Production Manager: Nicola McQuiston
Editor: Joshua D. Lim
Sound Designer: Pavi Lustig
Colour: Daniel Hollerweger
Graphics Coordinator: Thereza Honzak
Graphics Artist: Alexandra Leitner
Art Director: Sergio Martinez de la Varga