The meaning behind building a skatepark in Gaza and a new way of creating a community that surrounds it.
By André Lucat, Photographer & Gaza Freestyle volunteer
An introduction to Gaza Freestyle: how and when it was born and where it is today
Gaza Freestyle is an organisation that was born in 2014, when a group of people from the Lambretta social centre in Milan travelled to Gaza for the first time and decided to create this moment of aggregation involving people through street disciplines starting a little from hip-hop culture in general, including graffiti, dance and skate.
In 2014, the first wooden ramp was built in the forecourt of Gaza’s port. The ramp, located practically on the seashore, quickly deteriorated due to atmospheric agents and saltiness; so, in the following years, it was decided to start building it with concrete instead. Everything then gradually expanded and a whole skatepark was born, one that soon became a meeting place. Today, it is a very popular area for girls and boys, from eight to twenty-five years old. Last year, Cristina and Marta joined the Gaza Freestyle Caravan, two Italian skaters whose experience, together with that of the Donne group, made it possible to organise a series of skate lessons for the Gazawe girls, who immediately felt involved and have now taken an active role in the Gaza skate scene. A very important aspect, especially in the strongly Islamic society wanted by Hamas, in which the role of women is reduced to looking after the house, managing the family and not having relations with men outside the family circle. Our activities have had a strong impact mainly on the female population and it is something that has caused us some annoyance with the local authorities, that had to be resolved through long and exhausting negotiations.
Where is Gaza Freestyle today
This is now a constantly evolving project. In recent years, the group has changed and expanded. I, in particular, started in 2018 when I made my first trip there, trying to give a little more attention to the whole communication part. Our goal is to make it grow more and more and the basic idea would be not to limit this project to Gaza alone but to identify other types of realities where we can be socially useful through our activities. Daniele, the ramp engineer who will come with us to Gaza, was in Jamaica during the lockdown period: he left at the end of February and stayed there to build a skatepark for the local community. In short, we are firmly convinced of the social value of skateboarding and its power in the recovery of disadvantaged areas.
The welcome from the local community
We build structures for skateboarding, we give skateboards and shoes, clothes and various material donated to us by companies and people, we organise (pre-Covid) a festival with music, skate, art, circus, dance that involves hundreds of people. We are very different foreigners compared to those who usually enter Gaza, such as NGO officials or diplomats. Everyone wants to share their experience with us, the enthusiasm is massive and this helps us make everyone understand, even the most distrustful ones and the authorities that, at the end of the day, we are doing something positive for everyone. One of the most beautiful things is that, having actively involved many local people in the project’s activities, now many of them dream of becoming skate masters, video makers, but also masons specialised in building skateparks, thanks to the experience they gained by our side.
Skateboarding as a bearer of values
Skateboarding is an activity that was born and lives on the street and, in Gaza, the streets are very busy. Receiving a skate means having a key to access moments of aggregation, people with whom to share experiences and moments of freedom. It is a discipline but, above all, a universal language, gestures, routines, recognizability. All elements that break down the barriers of language, gender and age.
Receiving a skate means having a key to access moments of aggregation, people with whom to share experiences and moments of freedom. It is a discipline but, above all, a universal language, gestures, routines, recognizability.
All elements that break down the barriers of language, gender and age.
Contradictions and the search for freedom
In Gaza, it is difficult to understand when to limit your actions out of respect for local rules and when, instead, you must insist on achieving a goal that you consider fundamental. We pondered the decision to skate in public with girls a lot, knowing that it would create a public order problem.
The Islamic law enforced in Gaza prohibits a woman from looking other men in the eyes unless they belong to her own family circle. We took a risk, but we did it to forcefully affirm that women and men are all equal. We claim this belief in our skatepark, organising courses held by women and for women, often confronting the authorities and explaining our reasons to them… which is not always easy.
Inside the strip, in addition to Hamas’ fundamentalism, which holds power, there is a population that detests many of the restrictions imposed, such as skaters or young people in general, who find themselves in the paradoxical situation of being squeezed between a regime that oppresses them from the inside and Israel which attacks and bombards them from the outside. It is a terribly complicated situation, full of contradictions and violence. A war zone.
We took a risk, but we did it to forcefully affirm that women and men are all equal. We claim this belief in our skatepark.
2021, the new trip to Gaza
This trip was born with a health purpose: the società di Mutuo Soccorso (Mutual Aid Society) was born from the efforts made during the lockdown in Milan by the Brigate Sanitarie per l’Emergenza (Emergency Health Brigades), which provided health and social assistance to people. We want to share our experiences with Gaza by bringing with us a series of useful materials to fight the pandemic: masks, gels, respirators for hospitals.
We also aim to finish the work on the skatepark in the port, thanks to the financial support of ANTI-DO-TO, and to complete a second skatepark which is currently half-built within the Green Hopes Gaza project, funded by the NGO ACS, which remained incomplete due to our premature exit from Gaza as a result of Covid.
Gaza, Milan and the collaboration with ANTI-DO-TO
The collaboration with ANTI-DO-TO stems from the idea of creating a bridge between Milan and Gaza using a skateboard and its main spots in the two places, Milan Central Station and the Port, as glue. It is an idea that is very consistent with Gaza Freestyle’s beginnings, having always made initiatives in Milan to raise funds and materials for our mission. The ambition is to create a parallelism between these two situations that can serve to further cement this sense of community that binds skaters from all over the world to some extent. Even the type of intervention in the two spots is in some way linked: if in Milan a restoration of the walls and cracks in the ground has been carried out, in Gaza we will try to finish the whole area of the square and finish the skatepark, involving the boys of Gaza in the construction and thus creating this link between Italy and Palestine.