Tumbling Through Calamity: The Definition of the Freedom Spirit


Breaking their bonds. Photo by Anadolu Agency

With the Imbecile-In-Chief playing 4th-grade bully to Russia with the preposterous, chilling threat that missiles will be coming "nice and new and “smart!” - WTF? - a reminder that behind all the bellicose bluster are, as usual, people trying to survive unimaginable horrors. Relatively newly in Syria and for years in Gaza, many young people use what they can to escape hardscrabble lives by taking to the skies - or as close as they can get - with parkour, flipping and vaulting over the rubble of their homeland. To guys trapped in ravaged camps with no power, water, jobs or hope, parkour represents a soaring escape, as much art, philosophy and political statement as sport. Parkour groups like PK Gaza often post videos of their dazzling skills online, another way of breaking their bonds; they're greeted with acclaim by other young parkour enthusiasts caught in war-torn areas, who laud them as "the definition of the freedom spirit."

Many of the parkour enthusiasts' posts are a timely and defiant highlighting of harsh reality. They did one - "Despite the pain there is hope" - the day in 2012 that Israel began bombing Gaza; another, After Banksy, responds to the street artist's own sardonic "tour" of Gaza. "We have over 50% unemployment, so we're available to show you around," says one smiling tour guide, who offers food and drink - though most of the water is undrinkable - and, when the electricity flickers, notes, "In Gaza, we must be patient in everything."

Tuesday night, they again pointedly referenced the grim state of their lives by performing in Rafah on the Israeli-Gaza border where thousands have set up tents for Great March of Return protests that have turned deadly. Four members of the troupe spun and flipped through the air as dozens of Gazans, and armed Israeli soldiers in towers, watched. "This is our message to the world," said 27-year-old Naji Muammar, "that we will return to our country and practise our sport there.” Mohammad Bbu Jihad: “We don’t have anything to resist with except parkour.”

And, sometimes, music. This week also saw the release of a searing video, again set at the border protests, by Palestinian rapper Ibrahim Ghunaim, known as MC Gaza. Ghunaim, who had earlier drawn parallels between Gaza and Syria - "the same wound" - dedicates the new video to his journalist friend Yasser Murtaja, killed last week by Israeli fire. "Our land called, and we answered the call," he raps to images of black smoke and furious chaos. Echoing Palestinians' ceaseless, stirring, heartbreaking resilience, he ends with the plaintive refrain, "We will return, we will return, we will return. "

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