Oc­cu­pied West Bank boasts great op­por­tu­ni­ties for climbers

The China Post - - LIFE - BY SHATHA YAISH

Grip­ping tightly with her hands, her feet search­ing for a foothold, Salwa Khashan edges along a sheer rock face in the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied West Bank, urged on by friends be­low.

She and her fel­low climbers are the first group of Pales­tini­ans to win climb­ing cer­tifi­cates af­ter grad­u­at­ing from a three-day “Wadi Climb­ing” course just north of Ra­mal­lah.

“It taught me a lot,” said Khashan, who lives in Arab-dom­i­nated east Jerusalem, which Is­rael oc­cu­pied with the rest of the West Bank in 1967.

“I learned to push my­self and to use my men­tal strength to find the way up, to deal with the phys­i­cal pain and push my­self to the top,” she said.

For the 23-year-old and her small group of fel­low climbers it has been a voy­age of dis­cov­ery thanks to two young Amer­i­cans with a love of climb­ing and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to share their pas­sion with oth­ers.

Will Har­ris of Chicago and Tim Bruns from Con­necti­cut, both 23, trav­eled to the West Bank with one ob­jec­tive in mind.

“Tim and I came to Pales­tine to de­velop a climb­ing com­mu­nity here,” Har­ris said.

“We were ex­plor­ing a lot of Pales­tine and saw a huge po­ten­tial for out­door climb­ing,” he said.

They started off by do­ing a few test climbs with friends in the Ra­mal­lah area.

Af­ter that, they or­ga­nized sev­eral short ex­cur­sions for Pales­tini­ans and for­eign­ers living in the area, and then de­cided to launch their “Wadi Climb­ing” project.

They now work in two out­door climb­ing ar­eas near Ra­mal­lah and are de­vel­op­ing the first Pales­tinian in­door climb­ing and fit­ness fa­cil­ity.

A Climber’s High

For Na­dine Abu-Rmeileh, an­other 23-year-old from east Jerusalem, it was her first time climb­ing and it af­fected her deeply.

“I can’t de­scribe the feel­ing you have when you reach the top,” she said.

“You feel a great sense of achieve­ment. At first when I saw the cliff, I thought it would be im­pos­si­ble to climb it. But then when I raised my foot and I started to climb, I found my­self at the top.”

Un­der scud­ding clouds on an un­sea­son­ably cold and damp Fri­day morn­ing, the group of 12 gath­ered at the foot of the rock face and sep­a­rated into three teams ac­cord­ing to abil­ity: begin­ners, in­ter­me­di­ate and those tak­ing a test.

Begin­ners are given spe­cial­ist shoes af­ter which they learn the ba­sics of knot ty­ing, re­pelling and be­lay­ing, a key safety tech­nique by which a per­son on the ground is linked to the climber by rope and can sup­port his or her weight in the event of a fall.

But the bolt­ing — in­stalling the metal pins into rock faces so that ropes can be at­tached to them — is only done by the train­ers.

“It’s re­ally scary,” ad­mit­ted 22-year-old Omar Abu-Arra who comes from Jenin, a town in the north­ern West Bank.

“But you force your­self to do some­thing you have never done be­fore, es­pe­cially in this coun­try.”

A Sport for All

Find­ing lo­ca­tions to climb in the West Bank brings its own chal­lenges.

“Bolt­ing in Pales­tine is kind of tough be­cause you are con­fined to cer­tain ar­eas,” Bruns said.

“So we wanted to de­velop new ar­eas that are ac­ces­si­ble for Pales­tini­ans be­cause you have to take into ac­count kind of ac­cess and where (the Jewish) set­tle­ments are and where Is­rael parks are,” he said, re­fer­ring to na­ture re­serves where bolt­ing is for­bid­den.

Even­tu­ally, the Wadi Climb­ing project es­tab­lished two places for it­self, one in Ain Qiniya and one in Yabrud, which are in an area of the West Bank un­der Pales­tinian civil con­trol and Is­raeli se­cu­rity con­trol.

What mo­ti­vated them to travel to the West Bank and set up the project was a glar­ing short­age of ac­ces­si­ble leisure ac­tiv­i­ties in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries.

“We were shocked and sad­dened by the lack of recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Brown said.

The two teach the course largely in English but with a smat­ter­ing of Ara­bic which they learned in Jor­dan where they also spent some time climb­ing.

It was there they found that high costs had made rock-climb­ing a sport for a small clique of the rich.

In the West Bank, they are hop­ing to broaden the sport’s ap­peal.

With the back­ing of U.S., Pales­tinian and other pri­vate donors they are seek­ing to make it ac­ces­si­ble to all, charg­ing 60 shekels (US$15; NT$465) for a day’s in­struc­tion — in­clud­ing shoe hire.

Rami Zughayer, 27, from east Jerusalem, said he heard about the project from his sis­ter, who had done the course.

“The first time she went, I thought it was just an­other stupid ac­tiv­ity,” he said.

“Then I saw pho­tos of her climb­ing a cliff 15 or 20 me­ters high and I told her: next time I’m com­ing too!”

(Left) A group of Pales­tini­ans climb dur­ing a three-day “Wadi Climb­ing” course in Yabrud on Wed­nes­day.

AFP

(Above) A group of Pales­tini­ans climb dur­ing a three-day “Wadi Climb­ing” course in the West Bank vil­lage of Yabrud, just north of Ra­mal­lah on Wed­nes­day, April 15.

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