Palestinian boys train at the Wall runners Parkour Academy in Gaza City.
Using crutches, Palestinian Mohamed Aliwa leaps from one wooden slab to another, determined that his lacking leg won’t stop him doing Parkour. This sport brings respite from grim reality in Gaza. The Palestinian teen’s right leg became amputated close to the knee in 2018 after being hit by Israeli military fire during protests along the fortified border separating the Gaza Strip from Israel. Along with his lower leg, he lost his dream of being an expert parkour athlete, he stated. But looking his friends jumping from obstacle to obstacle, the 18-year-old, who now sometimes uses a prosthetic limb, determined that his disability shouldn’t bring his moves to an end. “I requested my buddies to help me walk, and step by step I came to move and jump almost like them,” he stated, talking in a rehabilitation centre which he visits at least once a week. Parkour, an extreme sport, also called free-running, originated in France in the 1990s. It includes navigating urban boundaries using a fast-paced mix of jumping, vaulting, running and rolling.
“Sometimes I feel frustrated,” says Aliwal. “But I told myself that if I could do that (again), then everything else in my life would be easy.” He says the sport offers him “incredible energy.” In Gaza, younger people were training Parkour for years, bounding from ruin to ruin in an enclave pockmarked by three wars between Israel and Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007. But even the perfect jump includes risks, which is why Jihad Abu Sultan, 32, opened what he says is the “first parkour academy in the Palestinian territories,” with the support of French sporting goods giant Decathlon. “I commenced doing parkour in 2005,” he stated at his Al-Shati refugee camp club, close to Gaza City. “At the time, we didn’t have a dedicated space; we skilled in cemeteries and at the ruins of buildings destroyed by Israel.” Abu Sultan says that people practised the sport on an ad hoc basis till months ago when he got here together with fellow enthusiasts to set up the club, which they call “Wallrunners.” It safely teaches the sport “, far from the dangers of the street,” he stated. It has a modest budget but already has a few 70 members, including seven girls, who can jump from one wooden block to another, carry out somersaults and swing on parallel bars. On the ground are rubber mats, to soften falls. According to the World Bank, the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade for more than a decade, and unemployment is about 50 percentage, rising to 65 per cent among young people. For a few, Parkour shines a ray of light into what is a dreary existence. “For an era of younger 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,” says the Wallrunners website in English.