Parkour without borders
Thu, 2012-03-15 10:54
Most of us take the ability to practice parkour against a relatively stable political background for granted. Though space is often contested in dense urban areas, and training perceived to be damaging to the built environment can be discouraged by authorities, we can freely train with the aim of crossing boundaries. Those boundaries can be as much mental, challenges in the mind, as they are physical, the literal boundaries of walls and obstacles.
For the population of the Gaza Strip, in Palestine, life effectively exists in one large prison. Hemmed in by Israeli walls and military blockades, 1.6 million Gazans exist in an area just 40 x 10km, making it the most densely populated place on the planet. Most Gazans cannot leave, nor are they permitted by Israel’s border authorities to import much of what they need to live. The smuggling economy thrives, as tunnels between Gaza and Egypt churn out everything from cigarettes to petrol to i-pads.
The psychological impact of this restriction on freedom of movement cannot be underestimated. My own views on the situation, after three years living and working with Palestinians, are clear. However, this is not the place to discuss politics. Instead, I wish simply to draw attention to the way that a group of young men in Gaza have turned to parkour as a way to express themselves, keep fit, and find their own sense of freedom despite the political restrictions which constrain them daily.
The Gaza Parkour Team drew some attention late last year when the New York Times ran a feature on them. The group of around 25 traceurs train in the Khan Younis refugee camp. Despite the dilapidated state of their surroundings, militia activity, high unemployment and numerous other social problems, these young men have found an outlet for their minds as much as for their bodies through the discipline of parkour.
Qatari news channel Al Jazeera produced an excellent documentary on the team and their experiences, which can be seen at: http://www.gaza-parkour.com/. The footage conveys the sense of what the environment is like in Gaza (and contains some nice Arabic hip-hop beats as well). It is subtitled in English.
The story of the Gaza Parkour Team reminds us that for many people freedom of movement is not a given. A key principle or aim of parkour is the movement between two places in the fastest, most efficient and direct way. This is commonly noted, but it rests on the underlying requirement of being able to move freely. This is rarely recognised precisely because it is a given for most of us.
Practicing parkour in the Gaza Strip is not going to ease Israel’s blockade of 1.6 million people in the territory. But for a handful of them, the essence of parkour – l’art du deplacement – takes on an additional significance given the politically-imposed restrictions on their freedom. Their activity and spirit in those circumstances is an inspiration to those of us training in more politically stable locations around the world.
To anyone from the Gaza Team reading: Allah y3tekum al 3fiya ya shabaab!