All aboard: The skatepark boosting West Bank Olympic dreams

Scottish charity brings the freedom to skate and helps release the sadness of Palestinian youths

Girls hit the ramps as new skatepark opens in Palestinian orphanage

Girls hit the ramps as new skatepark opens in Palestinian orphanage
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With daily military raids, living in a conflict zone has made it increasingly hard for children to be children in Palestine.

Overcrowding has seriously affected the available spaces for youngsters to play, and tension and violence have made many areas unsafe.

The UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs is already warning that child deaths caused by Israeli forces this year in the West Bank will reach record numbers, with 38 so far passing the 36 young lives lost in 2022.

It has made an initiative by Scottish charity SkatePal to create safe skateparks more important than ever.

When founder Charlie Davis first visited the region two decades ago, a desperate need for safe spaces for youngsters was not lost on him.

After teaching English through the day he would take to the streets on his skateboard at night to unwind.

It was while practising that he found many youngsters had never seen skateboarding before and the idea for SkatePal was born.

It led to a lifelong mission to provide safe parks where he could share his love of the sport with them.

Since then, Mr Davis has been continually returning to Palestine to work with local communities to build skateparks and provide lessons and equipment to youngsters in the West Bank.

Now, a decade after setting up SkatePal, he has opened his fourth concrete skatepark in an orphanage in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Islam Al Jahalin lives in the orphanage and before the park was built had few places to play.

She told The National that thanks to the project she has begun learning to skate and that it is helping her to cope with the trauma she has been through.

“Honestly, this sport gives me energy, I release everything and it helps me release the sadness inside me,” she said.

“It’s a sport that makes me happy and I am very happy. My friends and I love learning it.”

At the age of 14, Aram Sabbah was one of the first skaters in the West Bank. He and his friend were helped by Mr Davis, who supplied them with equipment so they could further their passion for skating.

It led to the start of a great friendship and when Mr Sabbah, now 25, returned from studying abroad, he was offered a lucrative job with SkatePal to manage and run their sites.

Now he knows first-hand how crucial the parks are and the difference they are making.

“There is little space for children to play and release energy,” Mr Sabbah told The National.

“But SkatePal is changing that and is helping to transform life for children here.

"By creating the skateparks it has brought the community together and created safe places where children can now be protected. It has made a real difference to people’s lives.

“I starting helping Charlie and volunteering for him and running clubs when I was younger. I went to study abroad and when I finished he offered me a role to work with him.

“I love my job. I am really lucky and privileged to be working in an industry I love and being part of growing the skate scene here and being part of a great charity.

"It has great intentions and the community have really united behind it.”

Mr Sabbah now co-ordinates the classes and volunteer programmes,, and has established a mobile skate shop.

Passing on his skills to the next generation he has high hopes that through the work of SkatePal the scheme will help to form Palestine’s first Olympic skateboarding team.

“This sport is very important,” he told The National.

“I really hope that with all the work we have put in we will get to the point where we will be able to see a Palestinian girl or boy compete in the Olympics, or even just to travel around the world skating and spread the Palestinian flag and put us on the map and represent us.

“The Olympics or major international competitions are feasible one day. We just need time for the grassroots skate scene to grow – and it is growing.

“When we opened the latest park all the youngsters were so excited and were keen to try it. It teaches you perseverance and how to become a better person in the future.”

When Mr Davis, 36, began his mission to take skating to the streets of Palestine, he never imagined that it would lead to aspirations of Olympic glory.

For him it was about sharing a sport he loves and giving children a safe place to play.

"When I started SkatePal, it was never meant to be a whole organisation. I just went out with a few friends and took some skateboards for the children," Mr Davis told The National.

"We reached out to youth centres to see if there was any interest in hosting skating. We started with 20 children and it grew from there. I never expected it to be so big.

"I didn't expect to be doing this as a job and it is great to be doing something I believe in.

“More than half of all Palestinians living in the occupied territories are under 21 years old, yet for many young people across the West Bank and Gaza, cultural, educational and sporting opportunities are severely limited.

“Skateboarding has the potential to dissolve barriers between class, race, age and gender. It isn’t hierarchical – it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a professional, a child or an adult.

"I think it's great that they would like to represent their country internationally. If you aim high, you're going to do well.

"If they get into the Olympics, it would benefit us as it would make the sport more legitimate rather than a fringe hobby."

The skateparks cost up to £70,000 ($84,800) to construct but often the charity is able to save funds by being given tracts of land on which volunteers then build.

An international team helps to set up the parks and trains local people how to do it so that they can take that knowledge and build their own in future.

Next year the charity is hoping to build its flagship park in a larger location.

Its latest park has opened at a girl’s orphanage run by the Inash Al Usra Association, which supports educational programmes in Palestine, and the team hopes it will become a centre for skateboarding in the area.

"Seeing their faces at the launch of the new park took me back to the early years when we would take out the skateboards from the UK for them,” Mr Davis said.

“It's a new buzz for them and with the park being at the orphanage they can skate every day. I'm so proud of my team and what they have achieved."

Aline Ziadeh, from the Inash Al Usra Association, said the project started out as a pipe dream.

“In the beginning, the project began with an idea or dream of a group of young people,” she said.

“They came to the association and presented this idea. We have different spaces within the association and we decided to take a tour together and see what space we could use.”

Ms Ziadeh said the committee welcomed the idea and thought it would benefit the 24 orphans in the centre by providing them with a psychological release.

“We know the importance of mental and physical health for children in particular,” she said.

“When they proposed the idea to us, we welcomed it very much and we love anything that opens the horizons of these girls.

“Today we are realising a dream for us and for them, and we hope that in the future there will be spaces that will be rebuilt and open for sports and youth so they can practise their hobbies.

“We hope they will benefit and perhaps in the future one of the girls will be able to participate in international competitions.”

Updated: October 06, 2023, 6:01 PM