Tracks - - The Jungle Book -

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?



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