Interview: Zulajeh

by Yousef Hilmy and Ahmad Sahli

 Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

On November 18th, Yousef Hilmy of Salafi Cowboy & Abou Naddara, in collaboration with Khabar Keslan, interviewed Ahmad Sahli—a Palestinian-American skater who helped build one of the first skateparks in Palestine. In a conversation that happened between Los Angeles and Dubai, the two talked about Ahmad’s upbringing, the origins of skating in Jordan and Palestine, and his volunteer work with Skate Pal, an NGO that just built a skatepark in the West Bank. Special thanks to Ahmad Sahli for the wonderful photographs included in this article.


Yousef Hilmy: Hi Ahmad, thanks for taking the time to talk today. Hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to start with your history.

Ahmad Sahli: No problem at all. And my pleasure!

Where were you born?

In the U.S—I was born in Nebraska in ’91, and then I moved around a few times. Moved to Delaware, and then Alabama, and then Vermont. And then when I was 13 years old, I moved to Jordan. After that, I went to college at the University of Vermont.

Both your parents immigrated to America in the ‘80’s?

Yeah, my dad—I guess in the 80’s—came out here to get his Ph.D. And then basically went back to Palestine, married my mom, and brought her back with him. 

That’s the story with my dad, too, but he went back to Egypt. What’d you study in college?

I studied finance and minored in English and statistics; however, I’m currently in the process of applying to Master’s programs in Middle Eastern studies, Islamic studies, things of that nature.

Do you have a specific interest or period that you’d like to study?

I have two different interests, and I’m struggling to figure out which one to sort of present… to speak to in my statement of purpose. The one I’m leaning to is exploring the effect of liberal philosophy on Islamic jurisprudence in the Arabic speaking world today. And my other interest is looking at the effects of political philosophy on socio-economic status and class differentiation in Jordan.

Kheir! Your Arabic’s on point?

Yeah. I can speak fluently, and read and write to a lesser extent.

And now you’re in Dubai. What brought you there?

I was working in New York for the last four years. And then I quit my job in May with the intention of taking a few months off to do something else. I guess explore interests, that’s probably the most typical way to put it. And that’s entailed me being in Istanbul for a bit, and then in Jordan, and then Palestine for the skatepark construction project, and then now I’m in Dubai because my parents live here and I’m just out here working on my applications.

How long have you been skating?

Let’s just say since I was about eight years old.

Do you remember your first board?

Yeah! It was a skateboard from Walmart—an X Games branded board for $25.

Nice. I got my first board from Dick’s Sporting Goods. This used Flip Board—the Geoff Rowley one with the peace sign that’s a British flag. Probably in 2005, 2006. But I remember it was all scratched up ‘cause it was a used deck. When you first start skating, you just kind of loaf around, act like a poser.  But then you start getting good and it’s the most addicting thing in the world. I have such fond memories of it.

Definitely! It defines the entirety of my youth and adolescence, for the most part. I don’t really remember much other than skateboarding.

Was skating popular in the states you grew up in?

I started skateboarding in Alabama. It was not popular at all there. I didn’t know any other skateboarders. There were definitely a few kids in my class who acted like they skateboarded. I don’t know how gullible I must have been at the age to believe. I remember this one kid in my class—I think his name was Matt—telling me that he had a halfpipe in his backyard and would do 540s and shit in his backyard.

540s? Yeah, that’s hard to believe.

He didn’t have a halfpipe either!

Looking back, can you identify what drew you to skating?

It was definitely Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1. That was the coolest shit ever.

 "The coolest shit ever." Copyright Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.

"The coolest shit ever." Copyright Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.

On the Playstation 1. Legendary. That inspired a generation of us, forreal. So you were gaming, but how’d you learn to actually skate?

I was just by myself. This was before the internet. I would look really closely at any picture or video and then try to figure out how people ollied and stuff. I mean, it took  me a while to learn, I think like a year or something. Which is ridiculous, ‘cause I’ve taught a lot of friends how to ollie in less than an hour.

You’re a little older than me, but we really grew up in a different era when it comes to skating. When I was in middle school a decade ago, tre flips were this marking trick that separated you from other skaters if you knew how to do them. Nowadays, you’ll meet someone, and they’re like, “Oh ya, I skate,” and they just do a perfect tre flip. It makes sense when you consider YouTube, how-to tutorials, and Instagram, all of which have allowed this new generation to learn so much quicker.

Yup, these kids are insane these days.

And there are so many more people skating! It’s incredible how pervasive the culture is, not even in just America but globally. Together with rap, it’s one of the most powerful cultural forces. That being said, how did you get involved building this skatepark in Palestine?

A friend of mine, by the name of Mohammed Zakaria, had participated in these construction projects previously with an affiliate NGO, not SkatePal, but another one called Make Life Skate Life. And separately, we were also aware of the fact that there was a skatepark built in Palestine previously by SkatePal in a village named Asira, near Nablus. And it’s a pretty awesome skatepark. So we were both aware of the fact that the skatepark was going to be built. 

I was visiting Amman earlier in the year while I was still working in New York and Mohammed was telling me, you know, there’s this build later in the year, uh, you should come; it’s the most fun thing ever being on this construction project. You know of course for me it was like, where am I going to find a month to take off of work to come to do this? Practical. But I guess that was one of the things I figured I would be able to do if I quit my job. That’s basically how I got involved with it.

 Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Was this the first construction project you’ve been a part of?

Yes, it was my first time doing construction, period. I got involved, specifically, by reaching out to the director of the organization, Charlie Davis. And he told me that he’d love to have me on, especially considering how few Arab/Palestinian volunteers there were on the project. It is difficult for Arab country passport holders to travel to Palestine. They really needed to get that ratio up.

The ratio! Too real. I was going to tiptoe around that because I know how it feels to be the only Arab in a project, and not to be tokenized but to feel a sense of deep relief from others involved that there’s an Arabic speaker. What was the extent of your experience in Palestine beforehand? Had you visited quite a bit?

Yeah, I had visited on a near-annual basis my whole life because pretty much all my extended family lives there—in Nablus on my mom’s side and Tulkarm on my Dad’s side.

And where is the park exactly? 

The park is in a village by the name of Jayyous. Jayyous is in the municipality of Qalqilya. It’s a small town—the population is roughly 5,000, and it’s a farming village; so it’s a pretty pastoral community. The recreational amenities are also pretty sparse there. The skatepark was built at the municipality, as in behind it. Well, actually right behind it, in the boy’s elementary school. That’s a better way to explain it. Right in front of/a part of the boy’s elementary school in Jayyous.

 Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

When did you first hear about the project and what month were you on the ground, volunteering? 

I first heard about the project in March of this year and construction started in early September, I think the second week of September. It finished in the second week of October—the opening was on the 21st.

That’s a quick turnaround. Can you speak on why the space was chosen, specifically? Was it the only viable space, or were there other sites SkatePal scouted?

The reason Jayyous was chosen was because of one of SkatePal’s partners in the West Bank, Mohammed Othman. He runs his own organization by the name of Skate Qilya, which basically runs these camps, these skate summer camps at a halfpipe in Qalqilya in the neighboring town. And so, he’s from Jayyous—he basically took the initiative to find this land by talking to the municipality. The municipality provided the land. They offered what was originally a playground, like a pretty decrepit playground at the boy’s elementary school. They offered up that land for this project. I don't think land needed to be scouted—after all, the offering up of land is what made the skatepark possible in the first place.

How big is that plot of land?

650 meters squared. 

 Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Were there attempts before this one to open a skatepark in Jayyous?

In Jayyous itself it’s the first one. Like I said, in one of the villages near Nablus there’s that skatepark. And besides that, there’s a little bowl in Bethlehem and in other town called Zababdeh there’s a small skatepark situation.

Noted. I have a similar relationship to Masr (Egypt) that you do to Palestine in terms of the annual trip thing. My whole family lives in Cairo, and I recall going there throughout the 2000s and observing possibly the first wave of skating there. Street skating wasn’t totally feasible due to the poor infrastructure, so people would skate in the nawaadi (sporting clubs). There was a naadi—Naadi Heliopolis—close to where my grandpa lived—where I first started seeing people skating, cause that’s where there were open spaces with soft, flat surfaces. Is that also the case in Palestine? That there are nawaadi where people skated beforehand?

I actually never interacted with any skaters in Palestine during my annual family trips there when I was younger, but I’m now aware of people who have been skateboarding. It’s a pretty, sort of, spread out community—my understanding is that there was anywhere between 5-10 skateboarders over the course of the last decade. And they all live in different areas. I’m speaking about before these skatepark projects started up, ‘cause obviously there’re little kids who skate now because of them.

Hamdullilah.

Yeah, exactly. But as far as older kids who picked up skateboarding on their own… I think they would just skate in public spaces. There’s this one—I don’t know how to describe it—this plaza in Ramallah that I know has been the epicenter of street skating in Palestine. But I actually went to high school in Jordan, so that’s where I really experienced skateboarding in the Middle East in my life. And there… I mean, I have a lot to say about that scene.

Please go into it!

Okay, well the naadi thing. If you’re talking about, like, these country club type things. I don’t know, in like Amman… Basically, I move to Amman, right? I go to school. I meet this kid named Hashem. He’s like, “Oh you skateboard; me too.” He’s from England. He’s like, “Come with us to the naadi on Thursday — that’s where we skate.” So I go, and it turns out to be just where all the middle school kids go to hit on each other, eat overpriced meals, walk around, etc.

Exactly. One or two pools, overpriced restaurants…

Yeah, that’s what this naadi was. It was called ‘Naadi al-Sayaraat,’ the Royal Automobile Club. That’s where I got my very first start of skateboarding in Jordan. And… that wasn’t too much fun. It wasn’t like the most… It had a very exhibitionist vibe to it: you’re skateboarding, and there’s all these other private middle school kids around you.  The spots weren’t that great and it was like a very secluded, private club, I guess. It certainly wasn’t your typical skate spot.

That goes for roughly a year. Skateboarding just wasn’t that fun. I was on the verge of quitting. Of course, I couldn’t find any skateboards. There were no skate shops, no skateparks, and I really only knew one or two skateboarders. Then, one day, I was at a supermarket with my dad and I see this poster of a skateboarder and, underneath it, it said ‘Red Bull Local Hero Tour.’ It was like a touring contest throughout the Middle East for skateboarding and that there was a meet-up for the local skaters to chat about the upcoming contest. My mind was absolutely blown! It just seemed insane; I really couldn’t believe what I was looking at. So, I wrote down that date. This is before smartphones and stuff like that…

Wait, what year was this?

This was 2004, I believe. So, I show up to this meeting. I walk into the Red Bull Office, I go up the stairs, I open this door, and, inside, there’s like 10 to 15 skateboarders—and all of them are just kids like me. Various ages, ranging from 8 or 9 years old, up to 20. Everyone had these skater outfits pieced together from, you know… They either had their relatives living abroad bring back for them; or that they bought from the Friday market that basically sells clothing donations from the U.S. You could find, like, flip shirts and so forth. Also, everyone had their skateboards with them. There were all these skateboards pieced together in similar fashion: mismatched wheels, different trucks. I mean, there were no skate shops or whatever, everyone was hanging on to whatever product they had with all they could.

So yeah, basically that was the beginning of a pretty amazing four-years of participating in the creation and cultivation of a skate scene in Jordan. Before then, there really wasn’t much of a skate scene. Many of these guys had met each other for the first time that night as well, although a few of them did already know each other. They would skateboard in this area called Sharaa3 al Thaqafa (Culture Street) in Amman. And so, they told me: “You should come meet up with us at this spot.” I go there later that week, and turns out to be really the most amazing skate spot I’d seen up until then, period.

The spot is comprised of a very, very long marble corridor with so many different things to skate, it’s just insane. I’m talking staircases: you’ve got a 4 set, an 8 set, a 12 set—two sets of three sets—countless marble ledges, wooden benches. Whatever you want; it’s all there. Manual pads. It was a skater’s dream come to true. 

Over the next several years, that became my home away from home. Pretty much every day after school, I’d go home, eat lunch or whatever, grab my skateboard, take a cab, and spend the whole day there until the evening. There was a certain thrill to tapping into this urban community as a teenager, exercising a freedom of movement through it that I hadn’t had in suburban America. I wouldn't have experienced that freedom if I was anywhere else. And that’s what all of us did for the next few years. And from there, the skate scene grew a great deal. I mean, we went from having 5 to 10 skateboarders, when I showed up, to having—on a peak Thursday after school—no joke, over thirty skaters at this one spot. Which is pretty crazy. Granted, it was like every skateboarder in the country, but it was still pretty wild.

 Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

The cultivation of that scene was on you guys, but shout out Red Bull too, honestly. When Red Bull came to the Arab world, it was kind of like this huge thing. I remember when it was introduced at supermarkets and it was about 23 Egyptian pounds at the time, which was super expensive. But it’s good to know that they didn’t stop at just the drink and were trying to throw events and connect people together.

Yeah! I’m so grateful for Red Bull, frankly. I mean, I wouldn’t have met these guys otherwise. Maybe I would have somehow, but we were so excited about this contest and the contest was so fun. I can’t remember who won.

Was there a cash prize?

There was. I can’t remember what it was, but it wasn’t that much. There’s so many details I can go into about the next four years basically. But in a nutshell, over the next few years, we hosted a few skate teams and pro skaters individually. Red Bull did one more contest, and I organized a few Go Skateboarding Day events. I started a blog called skate.JORDAN about and for the scene—this was before Facebook. Mohammed Zakaria, who I was speaking about earlier, he happened to found a skateboard company I’d say maybe in 2008 called Philadelphia Skateboards.  We filmed a lot, churning out a lot of footage during those years. There’s definitely like a golden era for skating in Jordan that has come and gone.

 Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Lovely. Thanks for that description of the scene! So back to the park in Jayyous: how was it funded?

There was a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.com. There were definitely a few donors who donated a significant amount, but for the most part it was made possible by several individual contributions.

Do you know what the goal was?

I think it was anywhere between $15,0000-$25,000.

Can you tell me about some of the challenges facing the project?

Good question. Institutional challenges: I think that’s something that Charlie, the director, and his partners would probably be able to speak to better. But off the top of my head, I think things went relatively easily. Then again, that’s a testament to how cool-headed the organizers are. They’re really good at doing this stuff, and even if they had trouble with anything, you’d never know it. There was like the day-to-day issues such as getting the wrong amount of cement, or the wrong mix of concrete, coordinating what days we were going to take off, and what implications that had on our build schedule and stuff like that. But those are minor things. The big picture stuff like getting the land, gaining permissions, arranging housing, stuff like that—the guys who run the organization SkatePal just really know what they’re doing because, I mean, it’s not their first time doing it anyways, especially in Charlie’s case. He’s been in out and of Palestine over the last 10 years, so he’s no stranger.

Does Charlie speak Arabic?

Yes, he does. I’d say somewhat fluently.

Cool. So, how about personal challenges?

I mean, Mohammed Zakaria, he was there with me only for the first week and then had to go back to Amman, after which I was the only volunteer who could speak Arabic properly. Not to discount Charlie’s skills, but I guess I was the only native Arabic speaker. The burden was completely on me to translate conversations, translate cultural stuff, talk to local inhabitants about their grievances. They’d be unhappy about certain things that certain people would do like wearing shorts, for example. You know, like not respecting the conservative nature of the town. I mean, the volunteers were pretty diligent about respecting the norms and values of Jayyous, but it’s a bit of a challenge. It’s a lot different than what they—or even myself—are used to.

So, you know, there were things like: a cab driver once berating me about the fact that he’d seen one of the volunteers on the rooftop of their housing hanging up his laundry to dry on the clothesline while he was in his boxers or shirtless. I found myself in charge of stuff like that, basically. Translating with the guys getting us concrete, or contractors that were coming to do certain work for us. It wasn’t an issue at all, and frankly I enjoyed doing it. But I’d say that was one of the main challenges. It was one of those things that became a responsibility. It came with the project. 

Can you speak on any influence or interactions the Israeli government/Palestinian authorities had on this project?

The Jayyous municipality, that being a part of the Palestinian government, was very receptive to the project. They were certainly excited about it and were very generous. They provided houses for the volunteers to stay at; they gave us this massive lot to build on. I’m sure there are so many other small things they had to facilitate for us. Realistically, there isn’t nearly as much bureaucratic red tape in the West Bank as there would be elsewhere, so I can’t imagine there were too many massive hurdles they had to jump. At the end of the day, it was a charitable project, like, “Hey we’re going to build you a skatepark, can you give us somewhere to do it?”—so I can’t imagine there was much lobbying effort that went into it.

Especially when compared to the original lobbying effort, I’m sure, before SkatePal had built any skateparks in Palestine period and had to make a case for it.

Exactly. As far as the Israeli government goes, pretty much no complications, really. They definitely interrogated a few of the volunteers as they were entering the country through the Israeli airport. I didn’t happen to go through there, though; I went through the land border that it shares with Jordan so I didn’t have to deal with that. Some of the volunteers I know were definitely questioned; others I know had a pretty easy time getting through. And then beyond that… I mean, a few times when we were in town the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) would enter Jayyous, do their usual thing: show up, throw a few smoke grenades, take a kid or two in the middle of the night, apprehend them, you know, jail them basically. I mean that happened a lot, at least 5 times during that month. It probably happened more often.

 Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Did you guys do anything to combat that?

It would happen at odd hours during the night. I know some of the volunteers witnessed it upfront on the street. But personally, I didn’t. You know, a lot of our friends in the town were directly affected by it. Some of their brothers were arrested while we were there.

And last thing: the IDF showed up at the opening, which there’s footage of. They were just like, “What’s going on here?” etc. This is a few days after I left. I don’t think they closed the opening event, but they certainly caused a ruckus just by being there.

You mentioned this briefly earlier, but can you elaborate on how local Palestinians responded to the skatepark, and skating in general? 

I can’t really typify the average Palestinian’s perception of skating, but I can say that people who were already interested in skateboarding were super excited about it! They were on the site, helping us, digging up dirt, doing all that kind of stuff.

 Suspicious teitas. Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Suspicious teitas. Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Tight, but what if I asked like a random teita how they felt about skating?

That mirrored the same reaction you’d probably get anywhere else: you’re going to hurt yourself, etc. When we’d go street skating in Ramallah… I can recall off the top of my head a few people, grandparents, would be like, “What are you doing? You’re going to break the marble,” or, “You’re going to break your back.” And as far as people in the community who weren’t skaters nor were senior citizens, they definitely received it pretty warmly. They were really grateful for the project. They certainly commended the volunteers’ philanthropy. Whenever I’d go into the little grocery store near the skatepark, you know the guys that worked there… First of all, they all thought I was foreign, which was pretty annoying. But they’d be like, “Honestly what the foreigners are doing is pretty tight,” they were psyched on it! You know, “They’re better than people from here.” That kind of attitude.

Can you share any details about the origins of skating in Palestine—who the pioneers are, etc?

Someone I know filmed a documentary about this called “Epicly Palestine'd.” Well, there’s two documentaries actually: there’s “Epicly Palestine’d” by Theo Krish and Phil Joa, and “Kickflips Over Occupation,” by Maen Hammad. They both detail the origins and history of skateboarding in Palestine. If I’m not mistaken, four dudes by the names of Majd Ramadan, Aram Sabbah, Abdullah Milhem, and Adham Tamimi were the first skateboarders. These documentaries are definitely worth checking out. There have also been a few skate teams who’ve been there, like Isle Skateboards from England. They recently filmed a skate video entirely in the West Bank called “Pieces of Palestine.”

Are there any pro skaters in the MENA region?

Let’s put it this way: back in the day, when I was in high school in the Middle East, there was definitely an upper-echelon of skateboarders who were going on tours, going on filming trips, going to contests internationally. That was an actual thing. There was a skate scene like that in the Middle East. Maysam Faraj, Evan Collisson, Tanner Lostan, Colm Noonan—these guys were insane rippers, they were so good. And they were all sponsored by this skate shop in Dubai called Rage. Evan created a regional zine at the time, and put it out through Rage. Nowadays, I’m sure Rage has another team, I’m just not that tuned into what that’s like. Whatever exists today is probably more or less an extension of that type of scene. There are certainly kids in the U.A.E who get free gear from some companies. From what I’ve seen on IG, there’s a Karim and a Lawrence here who rip.

I wouldn’t say there are like any pro skateboarders [as such], but people have certainly come out of the Middle East who are sponsored. They just don’t still live here anymore necessarily.

Is skating followed heavily online?

To a very high extent. Probably not in the same way that they do elsewhere. And I’m not speaking for Palestine only—I’m more thinking about Jordan and the Middle East in general. The internet is pervasive in a borderless way obviously, and there’s no lag time as far as the adoption of media these days. Seeing as how pretty much everyone in the Middle East has access to a decent internet connection, Instagram videos and skateboarding content are consumed and produced here. There’s this account that I found on Instagram called @middleeast_skateboarding and they just post clips of different skaters from the Middle East having all kinds of fun. And it’s a very similar to the type of clip aggregating account you’d find in the U.S.

What does instruction at the skate camp look like on the ground?

The Jayyous camp hasn’t started yet to the best of my knowledge. The Asira one has been active for around two years. Volunteers will come to Palestine, take up residence nearby the skatepark for one to two months, and on several times throughout the week will give lessons at the skatepark. 

As for instruction, there’s no real technology involved: holding their hand as they go down a ramp, teaching them how to place their feet on the skateboard or how to push, assisting them with learning how to drop in, maybe teaching them how to do ollies or flip tricks. But it’s mostly skatepark oriented—it’s not street skating. There’s less of an emphasis on technical tricks. It’s more about being able to navigate the skatepark comfortably.

Are there any Arabic terms you guys use? Do you call Ollies “Ali’s?”

I think the most noteworthy word is tazulluj/zulajeh, which literally translates to “slide/slider”. We used to use that word jokingly in Amman, but in Palestine it’s actually what a lot of people call skateboarding/skateboards. I’ve certainly gotten more used to using that term and I’d like to see it be adopted for what we call it in Arabic in the future. It’s not unreasonable.

Where does everyone get their gear from? You mentioned some skate shops in Dubai? Is there a skate shop in Palestine?

No skate shop in Palestine but SkatePal has been doing an awesome job of providing skateboards. Through SkatePal, skateboards are made available to anyone who has an interest in skateboarding. There’s a skateboard distribution program, whereby anyone that wants a skateboard can buy one at-cost or borrow one for the course of the session they’re attending.

How does something as liberating as skateboarding add to the daily resistance of a Palestinian youth? Is it experienced as part of a type of resistance, as it has been in many other parts of the world? Or would you say that skateboarding is seen as more of a sport, an activity?

I think it’s mostly perceived as a novel, “Western”, pastime. But it’s also an exciting break from the mundanities of the day-to-day. Within the context of the occupation and whatnot, the very concept of living is a decision to live and not wallow in incapacitation. In that sense, skateboarding is an expression of the will to be.

 Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

Courtesy of Ahmad Sahli.

What is a day in the life of a skater in Palestine? In the U.S., we may head out in the morning and return home at night, simply skating, and kicking it with friends.

It’s hard for me to say. First off, the Asira skatepark is at the very top of a hill in a remote, bucolic area. There’s no real adjacent spaces that would allow for this type of community to manifest. Jayyous is a little different, but, at the same time, it’s a very small village. The case of Jayyous is that because it’s at the school, because it’s in a small community, because it’s been such a high visibility project, I would imagine that so many kids are going to be involved with it. Skateboarding’s going to take on a different identity in Jayyous than it has in other parts of the world. Though, it hasn’t adopted skateboarding’s classic identity as a deviant counter culture—after all, it’s organized through an NGO: it’s structured, accessibility is relatively limited, etc. I’d imagine the culture will take on a “keep-kids-off-the-street-and-do- positive-things” character and less of a bad boy punk identity, especially considering that all these kids who are getting involved are in elementary school.

Yeah, they’re still young. Can you speak a little on the gender divide?

There are definitely girls involved, I’d say a higher proportion of girls involved than you’d find at a skatepark in, say, New York, or wherever else I have been. There’s an active inclusion of girls in the camp and all that stuff. The interest is definitely more male-oriented, but looking at the Asira and Qalqilya skate camps, there’s definitely a sizable proportion of girls involved.

What’s the vibe like with skating across the border in Haifa/ Jerusalem/Israel? 

I’ve actually never gone because I’m unable to enter Israel. Even though I’m an American citizen, the simple fact that I’m Palestinian means there are complications. Basically, if I want to enter Israel I would risk losing my Palestinian citizenship at the hands of Israel. But many of the volunteers went to Israel at least a couple of times. Most of them would come back like, “Ugh, I regret going. The people are so inhospitable there. You just feel on edge the whole time—it isn’t nearly as comfortable as being in Jayyous.” But then they also made a couple of Israeli skateboarding friends—of course everyone serves in the military there, so they’re talking to people who’ve done their military service and yet are curious about what it’s like on the other side of the wall, that type of thing. But all within reason—of course they’re mostly all still Zionists…

Sounds about right. Alright, well that was an amazing summary of this project and skating in general in the Middle East. I hope the park/camp continues to have a positive impact on the ground and help cultivate a bigger scene! Any last things you want to share? 

Yeah! There’s a skatepark project in the works in Ramallah. That’s pretty exciting and I’m definitely going to take part in that and it’s going to be so much fun. It’s going to happen in two years’ time, I’m pretty sure. And SkatePal leadership has already met with the mayor’s office in Ramallah and they’re super excited about it and really want this project to happen. There’s a lot of people interested in providing the land. It’s all looking good from here! You can donate here: http://www.skatepal.co.uk/donate/

This was super interesting. So glad we could talk!

Same here!


Salafi Cowboy is a label by Yousef Hilmy (Lord Levant) & Ibrahim Mimou (OPENISM).

Special thanks to Omar Alhashani, Audri Augenbraum, Ibrahim Mimou, and Bergen Hendrickson for making this happen.