IMEU, Feb 10, 2012
Abdullah Enshasi and Mohammed Al Jkhbeer are Gaza's first Parkour and Free Running team. Watching YouTube videos of parkour and acrobatic moves, the two young men decided to take up the dangerous sport and train themselves. Practicing in cemeteries, UNRWA schools, and on sand hills near the beach, Abdallah and Mohammed suffered back injuries and teeth damage but remained undeterred and got better and better. "This sport frees our spirits as we cannot leave Gaza, and the lack of equipment and training halls will not stop us", they explained. "We aspire to become the best team in this sport and make it to Red Bull competitions." Similarly, Gaza's first and only Break Dance team, Camp Breakers, share Mohammed and Abdullah's inspiration and dream of establishing a Break Dance academy in the Gaza Strip. They have started to use their art as psychological support for Gaza's children, and they are already conducting workshops across the strip. And like Abdullah and Mohammad, Camp Breakers will participate in Gaza's first talent show, to be held late February 2012, which is meant to highlight the talents, intellect, and struggles of some of Gaza's over 1.5 million residents.
While Israel withdrew civilian settlers and military personnel from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it continues to control the movement of goods and people across Gaza's borders, stifling Gaza's already depleted economy. In addition to Gaza's economic woes Israel continues to carry out devastating military attacks against Gazans, most notably during Operation Cast Lead', which took place in the winter of 2008-2009. And though they live under occupation and an Israeli-imposed (and U.S.-backed) siege that has isolated them from the world for over 5 years, the Gazans participating in the talent show are committed to pursuing their passions in life regardless of the obstacles. "For us here in Gaza, for youth and anyone who has a talent or an ambition-I don't want to discourage them and say they're buried-but it is extremely difficult," states Abdullah Al Ashi, who will be demonstrating his human beat-boxing, a skill rarely found in Gaza. Hip Hop culture as a whole, however, has been slowly taking hold in Gaza over the years, much like in the West Bank. Mohammed Antar has been rapping since 2004 and currently raps to Abdullah's beats. He was a member of a rap team called Darg Team for a while before he left the group to be a rapper on his own. Mohammed and Ayman Mghames, who is a member of the very first rap team from Gaza called Palestinian Rappers (and who also lost his father during Cast Lead), both agree that Gaza's troubles limit Gaza's rappers in the sense that no real attention is given to such art under the conditions Gaza is put through. Yet at the same time, they add, Gaza - Much like the Bronx, where rap was born -- is an ideal place for Hip Hop as it provides countless topics and experiences that can be voiced in rhymes as part of what they see as non-violent resistance against the siege and occupation.
While to a foreign observer, it may seem that only life necessities matter in conflict zones like Gaza, the Palestinian struggle here is more than a fight for liberation or survival; It is also a struggle to reclaim those moments in life that give reason for relative contentment, make life worth living, and somehow convey to the world the humanity of a frequently dehumanized and misunderstood part of the world. Shadi Abu Shahla, who is a member of a Gaza band called Watar says, "I hope that the outside world that says we are terrorists, weapons, destruction, death would see that we're not like that... If only they'd look at the positive side, they'd find Gaza beautiful." Watar, which was launched one month before Israel's war on Gaza in 2008/2009, is comprised of five university students who trained themselves to play musical instruments in the absence of music schools and consider themselves to be part of the Palestinian non-violent resistance as they sing for peace and the Palestinian cause.
As incongruous as it may seem to outsiders, some of the pioneering talents in Gaza are in music and sports, while art and information and communication technology are also thriving in the coastal strip.
From Surfing to installation art and computer programming, Gaza, which is subject to constant siege-imposed shortages, has no shortage of talent across the board. "We aspire to make a surfing club here in the Gaza Strip" surfer Mahmoud Al Reyashi stated as he described the difficulties of bringing even the donated surfboards -- which are on the list of prohibited goods under the Israeli siege -- into the strip. Ayat Al Tos, a Fine Arts graduate, recycles and produces artistic work from waste. Mohammed Al Madhoun, who is only 15 years old, has been working with software, programming, and web development and has managed to gain the title of Google ambassador in Gaza. Mayar Al Taei is a girl of 14 who managed to leave the strip and participate in an international competition in intelligent mental arithmetic in Malaysia. Mayar managed to beat 1500 participants and ranked 4th in the competition. Her mother proudly said, "with this, we prove to the whole world that we are a people who have competence, all we need is an opportunity."
Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits." These individuals and their stories are only a few examples of the ongoing struggle for the social and cultural human rights so often denied Gazans. To the talent show participants and to many more with undiscovered or underappreciated skills in Gaza, the severe restrictions on travel, as well as any kind of remotely normal participation in the international community, do not prevent them from reminding each other of their respective talents and potential. If only the world could fully appreciate them before it is too late.
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