On Gaza beach, ‘street work­out’ makes waves


Face taut, mus­cles bulging, his rigid body sus­pended hor­i­zon­tally in the air on a pole, Bakr al-Makad­meh’s “street work­out” show­cases the ur­ban body­build­ing mak­ing rip­ples in Gaza.

With passersby look­ing on as they en­joy the rel­a­tive cool of late af­ter­noon on the Gaza beach, the 23-year-old Pales­tinian car­ries out a se­ries of ex­er­cises with ease as he calls the names in English, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween the “hu­man flag,” “back and front lever” and “mus­cle up.”

“These moves, you can’t learn them in just one day, it took me six months to get them right,” he says be­fore dis­mount­ing from the bar he im­pro­vised with his group.

The rusty me­tal pole is held up by two other wob­bly poles sup­ported by sand­bags branded “UNRWA” — the United Na­tions agency re­spon­si­ble for Pales­tinian refugees.

Makad­meh works 12 hours a day at a mo­tor­cy­cle spare parts shop, “but ev­ery other day we get to­gether in the evening for two hours of street work­out,” he tells AFP.

For nearly a year he has been train­ing with other young Gazans in the sport inspired by a Swedish fit­ness trend, which he dis­cov­ered through YouTube videos.

Sum­mer or win­ter, their team “Bar Palestine” can be found on the en­clave’s Mediter­ranean wa­ter­front.

“Most peo­ple who pass by are happy to see us, they ap­pre­ci­ate it and young peo­ple want to know how to join us,” says Eyad Ayad, a 21-year-old stu­dent.

But not just any­one can master the rig­ors of street work­out, its Pales­tinian prac­ti­tion­ers warn.

“It started off with 20, now we are just four,” Makad­meh says of his group.

Suleiman Taleb, a 21-year-old teach­ing stu­dent, is one of the group who has per­se­vered.

He soars over the bar, swing­ing around it and per­form­ing pull-ups be­fore dis­mount­ing with a back flip.

He says his ath­letic back­ground, which in­cludes park­our — the ur­ban sport com­bin­ing run­ning, ac­ro­bat­ics and gym- nas­tics — helped make his body “ready for the ef­fort.”

Liv­ing ‘like any­one else’

“We are the first street work­out team in Palestine,” he says. “In Gaza, de­spite the block­ade, de­spite the wars and ev­ery­thing we’ve been through, you can live like any­one else and in­no­vate,” he says.

Taleb then joins Ayad and Mah­mud Nas­mane, al­ready sus­pended on the bar, and with short straps sus­pended from their necks the three form a hu­man pyra­mid in the air.

Back on the ground, all open their hands to dis­play blis­ters, some raw, their palms cal­loused.

They prac­tice their sport with the means avail­able — their bar is wob­bly and in­stead of mag­ne­sium car­bon­ate gym chalk to dry the sweat from their hands and strengthen their grip, they use sand stuck to their feet.

Street work­out was born out­doors, away from gyms and sta­di­ums. But in Gaza, even the streets are ill-equipped to ac­com­mo­date the sport.

“We con­tacted the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, the author­i­ties in charge of youth and sports, but no­body an­swered us,” Taleb says.

“And when we set up our own equip­ment — paid out of our own pocket — in a park, we found it dis­man­tled and dis­carded a few days later,” adds Nas­mane, a 21-year-old stu­dent.

The four friends, three of whom live in the Shati refugee camp, strug­gle to un­der­stand this lack of sup­port in a ter­ri­tory where 70 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is un­der 30 and two of ev­ery three youths is un­em­ployed.

“There is so much tal­ent here — artists, ath­letes, singers — but so few have been able to fol­low through and make it on the out­side,” Taleb says, his eyes down­cast.

Their dream is to take part in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions where they could fi­nally meet the ath­letes they see per­form­ing street work­outs on the In­ter­net.

But in Gaza, such dreams all hit the same wall — its sealed borders closed off by Egypt and Is­rael, which has kept the Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory block­aded for nine years.


Mem­bers of Pales­tinian sports group Bar Palestine per­form on the beach in Gaza City, Pales­tinian Ter­ri­to­ries, Aug. 7.

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