Skateboarding for change in Palestine

picture taken by Ben Bravenec

The United Kingdom is home to many people who share a common Middle Eastern heritage. Among them are people from Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Many of these people also share a dual heritage, growing up in Britain but live with an equal connection to their country of origin. In this conversation, Hussein Al-alak speaks with Dani Abulhawa, whose work with SkatePal is bridging a unique gap between Britain and Palestine. 

What is your name and what do you do? 

My name is Dani Abulhawa and I’m an artist-academic. I work at Sheffield Hallam University teaching on the Acting & Performance course. I’ve been skateboarding since I was an adolescent and I’m passionate about encouraging other people to take it up - skateboarding can be a wonderful hobby. 

It’s a great way to stay physically active and keep yourself occupied, you don’t need to be part of a team to do it, there’s a strong culture of friendliness and support between skateboarders, and it’s an activity that is somewhere between being a sport and an art form, so it offers participants a lot of scope to express themselves stylistically. 

In 2019 I co-founded Skate Manchester as a way to build more support and facilities for skateboarders and to encourage wider participation. Skate Manchester is a community interest company, so we are not-for-profit. 

As a young British-Palestinian woman, what motivated you to get involved with SkatePal? 

I grew up in the UK but me and my family would always visit Palestine regularly to see relatives in East Jerusalem. When I was younger I used to take my skateboard with me on family trips. I’d never seen anyone else skateboarding there. Then in 2014, I found out about SkatePal. 

They are a charity that build skateparks and teach children to skateboard in the West Bank. I was amazed to see the work they were doing. At that time I discovered SkatePal, Israel were implementing Operation Protective Edge in response to the Palestinian resistance - a military intervention aimed at Gaza during which more than 1300 Palestinian and 5 Israeli citizens were killed. 

I felt that I wanted to be present within Palestine and to use what skills I had to do something that might help. I got in touch with Charlie Davis, who is the director of SkatePal and the following summer I went out to the West Bank to help them build their second skatepark in a town called Asira Al-Shamalyia, which is close to Nablus. 

Although skateboarding might not seem to be a particularly important way to help the situation for Palestinians, it’s important to remember that there’s a huge population of children and young people in the West Bank who have very little to do recreationally. Play is important for wellbeing as much as for personal and social development. 

Play develops a person’s creative faculty, their ability to problem-solve. Play can also bring people into a state of flow, where the mind becomes less occupied by thoughts. In this way, it can provide a bit of relief from the everyday worries that people experience to the much more profound and prolonged traumatic effects of the occupation. 

picture taken by Emil Agerskov

Can you tell us more about SkatePal's work with families in Palestine? 

SkatePal work closely with municipal councils when they organise to build skateparks. The skatepark in Asira Al-Shamalyia, for example, is built next to a boy’s school outside of the town centre. It’s an area that historically has seen the presence of the Israeli Military and many Palestinian families were scared to bring their families to this area. 

Part of the intention behind using this area of land was to reclaim it for the local community again. Now it’s like a community hub. Children and their parents come to the skatepark and stay for hours. The children play and the adults sit and have picnics and coffee. SkatePal facilitate for volunteers to come over to the West Bank from other countries - they come mainly from Europe, North America and Australia. 

The volunteers live within the community, in rented apartments and they spend a lot of time getting to know people in the town. Families I have spoken to like the opportunity to interact with international people. Many of the volunteers learn some Arabic while they are in the West Bank, and local children and adults learn English (and other languages) from the volunteers. 

How does Skateboarding help young people in Palestine and what benefits does this bring to the community? 

On one level, as I’ve mentioned, there are personal and social benefits when providing play spaces for children and young people. Beyond this, encouraging people to visit the West Bank means that international people can see what the situation is like everyday for Palestinians living in the West Bank. 

And their presence - living and working - helps to contribute to the Palestinian economy. Most Palestinians are not easily able to leave the West Bank for either political or economic reasons. Bringing people into the West Bank creates a space for intercultural exchange. 

picture taken by Keisha Finai

As Skateboarding and Palestine are words not often associated with each other, what has the public response been to your work? 

People are often surprised because I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what Palestinian life is like. Western media doesn’t do a great job of presenting a multi-faceted view. Skateboarders also historically have not been well represented, so there’s a lot of misconceptions about what skateboarders are like too. But most people are delighted by the idea and most people really recognise the importance of play activity like skateboarding and why this would be beneficial. 

Can you explain how people can support your work with SkatePal? 

If you’d like to find out more about our work you can check out the website We’re not currently accepting volunteers to travel over to the West Bank for Covid-19 reasons, but in the future this opportunity will open up again. 

So if you’re a skateboarder interested in getting involved, keep your eye on the website and updated info on our Instagram page. You can also donate to our work using the button on the website. 100% of donations go directly toward running our programmes.

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