HomeMiddle EastWith one leg, this Gazan parkour star crosses besieged enclave

With one leg, this Gazan parkour star crosses besieged enclave

Feb 13, 2021

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Mohammed Aliwa, 18, did not lose hope despite losing his right lower leg after being shot by Israeli snipers in 2018, while taking part in the return marches in eastern Gaza City.

Palestinian factions had organized a series of protests, dubbed the Great Marches of Return, each Friday along the Gaza-Israel border starting on March 30, 2018, to demand lifting the Israeli siege on Gaza.

When he received his prosthesis, Aliwa began practicing parkour with great professionalism. Parkour is a gymnastics-like activity aimed to overcome obstacles by moving, running, jumping and climbing from one point to another. From a young age, he would play different types of sports, gaining physical flexibility.

Aliwa lives in the Shajaiya neighborhood, in eastern Gaza City, which was almost completely destroyed by Israel during its last war on the Gaza Strip in 2014. 

Aliwa gracefully jumps over concrete slabs in public squares and always tries to add new moves, using his crutches. He dreams of becoming a parkour athlete despite the lack of support and resources. “The crutches have become like wings. When I jump, I sometimes let go of them. I also remove the prosthesis, because it does not withstand shocks,” he told Al-Monitor. “Sport prostheses that will help me practice sports professionally are not available in Gaza.”

Aliwa received his prosthesis about two months ago from the Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani Rehabilitation and Prosthetics Hospital in Gaza City, which was built with a Qatari donation in 2019. The prosthesis replaced his locally manufactured limb that hindered his sports moves because of its weight and poor quality. 

Parkour is not new for Gaza youth, who practice it to alleviate the psychological pressure caused by the Israeli wars and the difficult economic conditions. Around 46% of youth in the Gaza Strip are unemployed, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The unemployment rate in Gaza is three times higher than that in the West Bank, due to the ongoing Israeli blockade since Hamas came to power in 2007.

About the day he was injured in November 2018, he said, “I went out peacefully with several young men. About 200 meters [650 feet] from the separation wire — while I was carrying the Palestinian flag — I was hit by a bullet in each foot, and my right foot was immediately amputated.”

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, during the return marches — from March 30, 2018, until Nov. 30, 2019 — more than 7,900 people were injured by live ammunition. Some 150 of the injured suffered amputations of one or both limbs as they failed to receive necessary treatment due to the poor health services in the Gaza Strip.

“After my injury, parkour became a challenge for me. I felt that if I succeeded in this dangerous and difficult game, anything else would be possible,” Aliwa noted. “I was excited seeing my friends performing parkour tricks, so I started practicing it.”

In December 2020, a group of parkour enthusiasts opened the first Parkour Academy for youth in Gaza. Aliwa immediately enrolled.

Jihad Abu Sultan, founder of the parkour academy, told Al-Monitor, “We would be sent to prison by local authorities for practicing parkour as we jumped over concrete slabs in public squares and between abandoned houses destroyed by the wars. This well-known sport is not recognized as such here.”

The academy was established with the support of the French Wallrunners Foundation.

Abu Sultan said, “We succeeded in establishing the Parkour Academy as the first training center for young Gaza men and women who want to practice parkour professionally.”

However, he pointed out that the Israeli blockade imposed on Gaza prevents the import of the necessary equipment, which Israel classifies as dual-use items, i.e., for civilian and military purposes.

Ghassan Muheisen, director of Public Relations and International Cooperation at the Higher Council for Youth and Sports in Palestine, told Al-Monitor, “Parkour is seen as a hobby and not an official sport recognized in the Gaza Strip, given its hazards. This is not an Olympic sport and it has no official federation. It is a sport practiced by people without a recognized official framework.”

Muheisen pointed out that there are 15 special clubs for people with disabilities in the Gaza Strip, who play various sports and participate in tournaments on the local and regional levels.

He noted that the lack of financial means prevents the establishment of new sports clubs in Gaza. There are 83 sports clubs in the Gaza Strip. “The life of disabled athletes in the Gaza Strip is difficult due to the Israeli blockade and the occasional ban on participating in tournaments outside the enclave, in addition to the lack of financial means necessary to purchase modern equipment,” Muheisen noted.

He added, “All that [we] can offer is capacity building through training and guidance within the limited capabilities available.”

Al-Monitor spoke to Kamel Abu Hassan, vice chairman of the Palestinian Paralympic Committee. “In the Gaza Strip, there are 15 [sports] clubs for people with disabilities, which include 12 for people with disabilities only and three mixed clubs. There are between 300 and 400 disabled players who play different sports, most notably basketball, soccer and table tennis.”

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