CAN SURFING BRING PEACE TO ISRAEL
RIDING WAVES OF THE FUTURE IN THE HOLY LAND. STORY BY HARRY PATCHETT
Israel’s not what you think. Bombs and conflict aren’t a part of everyday life, the people aren’t scared every minute and it’s actually safer to travel here than through LA. It’s fair to say there is hatred and extreme conflict between Jews and Arabs. Also that peace between Israel and Palestine seems unachievable but by speaking to local surfers of both cultures I found that in the Mediterranean Sea hatred sinks and a chance for peace floats.
Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz arrived in Israel in the 50s like a surfing missionary. He brought six longboards and handed them out like holy texts. The American Jew travelled the coast looking for like-minds to turn on to surfing and he found the lifeguards on the beaches of Tel Aviv and sung them the gospel. From here the wave culture in Israel began to grow. Paskowitz famously said, “people who surf together, can live together.” He was referring broadly to the ongoing conflict between Israel, Palestine and other neighbouring Arabic countries. Paskowitz was the first proponent for the simple idea that cultural and political differences could be understood through a shared surfing experience.
Surfing has become an Olympic sport. It has been marched out of the marijuana haze of the 60s, 70s, 80s and put on a tie. Surfing is mainstream, which means it can be promoted by governments as the socially acceptable, healthy lifestyle we surfers knew it always was. Israel is at the forefront of this governmental progression and through collaboration with the Israel Surfing Association there are now 50,000 new surfers graduating from Israeli surf schools each year.
For a country with a small population of around eight million this is a fair chunk and could finally be the changing tide Dorian Paskowitz believed in.
I asked Arabic and Jewish surfers in Israel, “Could there be peace in the Middle East if everyone surfed?”
Yossi Zamir works with the Israeli government through his role as President of the Israel Surfing Association to create a strong community of surfers. Zamir lived in Bondi Beach for 15 years before exporting what he knew of Australia’s surfing infrastructure home to Israel. We spoke in the town Netanya, half an hour north of Tel Aviv, where the first World Qualifying Series in Israel was held. Zamir showed me the sea walls that sculpt the sand banks where 30,000 Israeli surfing fans lined the beach and made a statement to the WSL that they should be coming back here every year.
“I have so many Arab friends. For me it’s not an issue. Here Israelis and Arabs are living together side by side and it’s working. When I was young I remember my parents saying that they hoped I would see peace in my lifetime because they knew they wouldn’t. Now I’ve got a daughter and I’m saying the same thing. I believe that if everyone would surf there would be peace.” Zamir said.
Zamir and the Israel Surfing Association are pragmatically trying to create this environment through surf school programs. These could be the children that grow to settle ancient land and cultural disputes between the Jewish and Arabs of Israel and Palestine.
Mohammad Jorban is an Arab man I met in Jeser el Azarka, an allArab town that is in Israel’s territory an hour North of Tel Aviv. Jorban runs a volunteer surf school teaching both Arabic and Jewish kids from neighbouring areas. We sat at his family’s waterfront fishing village to talk, local kids with the beginnings of sun-bleached tips popped round to high-five and see the stranger (me).
While Jorban has an open heart for communities based around the sea he lives in a small town where only he and his four cousins surf, so he struggles to comprehend a time when surfing could create peace for Israel.
“Why would that happen? It would be good if people left the political conflict behind and just went surfing but how do you get older people to surf.” Jorban said.
Jorban is right, a dominant portion of the population is devoutly religious and as I discussed this idea for peace it was like driving on a
circular track through a tunnel; the outlook is dim and no matter how far you go you always end up back at the start. But when speaking to Jewish and Arabic surfers from 20 to 40 year olds the walls of the tunnel crumbled, light burst in and the track straightened.
“As Arabic surfers we respect the Jewish who come here because they are surfers and also because they are visitors to our village. In Israel and Arab countries there is a fundamental belief that you offer your home and care to new people. Everyone is made to feel welcome in our community.” Jorban said.
Niv Oz owns local Rishon bar, BenjaminWolf, and learnt to surf there on an old windsurfer board at the age of 14. We sat near his home on the crowded Rishon Beach and watched hundreds of local surfers getting their basics down in the crumbly waves. There are a few snapping and punting but mostly it’s a beginner community that according to Oz “only sprung up in the last few years.”
Here is the sign of a momentum shift. It may not happen in the next five years but true to form surfers will teach their children to surf and the population with an opened mind will grow.
“It’s no more than three years ago all these people started surfing here. There was a shift in the culture that opened it up to the wider community. We are close to Tel Aviv here so have the strongest connection to Israeli surfing. All of a sudden there were Hayden Shapes Hypo Krypto’s everywhere.”
When asked about the conflict with Arab people Oz made it clear he and the people he associated with weren’t for it.
“I’ve been surfing here and saw a bomb explode in the water! That’s how close the conflict is sometimes and even so most surfers here have a political view that is different to the rest of the country. It’s a state of mind. I am centre wing to left leaning, my thinking is about the individual instead of the group. In the water, even if there were a mix of 10 Jews and 10 Arabs who would even care. He’s a surfer, he either bothers you or he’s okay with you. If he’s not interrupting or taking your waves then it’s fine. I would personally be happy to go and have a meal with them after a surf or whatever.” Oz said.
What is it about surfing that can alter the perspective of a person’s cultural and political differences?
In a mountain cave near Haifa in Northern Israel, freshly purified via seven holy dips in a rock pool, Yotam Atias, owner of Shaka Surf School, told me, “Our connection with the ocean and surfing is spiritual. Freud said a love for a child to their mother is an oceanic love so I guess there is something in us that runs back to our mother and the womb. It makes us feel comfortable, like the world hasn’t influenced our conscious yet.”
From the outside these countries look unstable, like the tension between Arabs and Jews is at boiling point, ready to scream. Two weeks in Israel opened my eyes to the happiness and safety the people experience in everyday life, the potential for surf and the movement of a younger generation to find a way to peace in spite of the governments that lead them.
I met a Jewish American History Teacher on a bus winding through parched land and bomb scattered remnants of stone houses on the way to Jerusalem. He said,“Before the Zionist movement and the formation of the State of Israel these lands had been passed, conquered and withdrawn from for thousands of years. The warring here will not stop.”
I disagree. The beautiful idea of Paskowitz’s may seem ludicrously hopeful in countries where hundreds of children are killed by conflict each year, complete towns are bombed and destroyed, random stabbings happen in the street and violations of the Geneva Convention occur every day but there is hope away from the borders, near the sea, that will define the next generation.
Farfetched ideas often become great changes in social landscape. Could the simple act of sharing waves solve one of the world’s most conflicts?
'DOC' PASKOWITZ SAW SURFING AS A CATALYST FOR PEACE IN ISRAEL. PHOTO: CODY WELSH
TOP LEFT: ISRAEL IS NOW ON THE WQS CIRCUIT . INSET: FACES OF ISRAEL.