Surfing in Gaza…..? Yes.
No pictures needed for this blog post.
I’m sitting listening to Jeremy Grange’s piece on The Gaza Surf Club on Radio 4. Its radio doing what radio does best: conjuring up images more detailed than any photo. And its insightful and inspiring stuff.
Violence and conflict have never been very far from the tiny Palestinian territory of Gaza. Damaged buildings and empty spaces in Gaza City still bear witness to Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli military attack on the territory four years ago. Today, militants launch rockets from Gaza over the border and Israeli helicopter gunships return fire. The people of Gaza are hemmed in by checkpoints and walls, fences and watchtowers and few are able to leave the territory or to import and export goods.
But one thing Gaza does have in its favour is the sea. Long sandy beaches stretch right down the territory’s west coast and on summer weekends it seems that most of Gaza’s one-and-a half million residents are enjoying themselves on the beach. And that’s where you’ll find members of the Gaza Surf Club, a group of young Palestinians who defy both the Israeli blockade and a sea that’s often polluted with raw sewage to ride the waves off the coast of this troubled territory.
In Gaza Surf Club we meet Mahmoud El Reyashi, Yousef Abo Ghanem and Ibrahim Nehad, three members of the Club in their teens and early twenties who take their boards, turn their backs on the land with its hardships, politics and conflict, and immerse themselves in the surf. In Gaza the unemployment rate is 44% and the average per capita income is just $2 a day. Young men are vulnerable to being drawn into a cycle of radicalism and violence but Mahmoud, Yousef and Ibrahim have defied this, finding in surfing freedom, optimism and even hope for the future.
One source of hope is the fact that many of the boards they use were originally donated by Israelis and Jews who believe that surfing transcends national and religious barriers. We meet surfing legend Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz, a 91 year old Jewish-American who in 2007 arrived at the Erez border crossing, the main Israeli checkpoint into Gaza, with fifteen surfboards. He’d been inspired to travel the twelve thousand miles from his home in California by a newspaper picture of two Palestinians surfers sharing one beaten-up old surfboard between them. Fifty years earlier Doc Paskowitz had brought surfing to Israel and now he was doing the same for Gaza.
It’s a very moving piece and worth 28 minutes of your time to have a listen in my humble opinion. Should be here on iPlayerRadio soon.