Building up among the ruins in Gaza

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Photographer Mohammed Abed follows some Gaza fitness enthusiasts on their extreme routine.

A year ago when Bakr Al Magadna decided to start exercising outdoors, he did so out of necessity, not choice. Last summer’s relentless, 50-day onslaught by Israel on Gaza destroyed all of the city’s gyms.

And so, inspired by online footage of “street workout” – combining gymnastics with callisthenics in simple exercises that use a person’s body weight to improve their fitness and strength – Mr Al Magadna headed for the beach.

Before long he was joined by three friends – Eyad Aayad, Mahmoud Nasman and Suleiman Taleb.

Together they formed the street workout team Bar Palestine, a group dedicated to leading a healthy lifestyle and inspiring others, despite the wreckage of war and the absence of equipment that most people might take for granted.

Before long the members of Bar Palestine had transformed themselves into street athletes with sufficient suppleness, strength and stamina to turn the wreckage of Gaza City into their gym.

In inner-city neighbourhoods across North America and Europe, street workout teams have proved that the sport is more than just the latest fitness fad by offering the young and disadvantaged the opportunity to channel their energies while avoiding a life of crime.

But in Gaza, street workout comes with an added dimension as it also became a way for the team to reclaim their city, even if it is in ruins.

After discovering the team on Facebook, photographer Mohammed Abed followed Bar Palestine through the ruins of Al Shujaieh, an eastern suburb of Gaza City that used to be one of its most overcrowded and poorest before it was razed to the ground during the Israeli Defence Force’s intensive bombardment.

Sixty people were killed in Al Shujaieh on a single day last year – July 20 – and by the time conflict ended on August 26, 2,256 Gazans had been killed and 17,125 wounded.

“As a civilian, I have covered three wars in Gaza and as a photographer that has been very difficult because there has been so much suffering,” Abed explains.

“So taking these pictures was very important for me for two reasons.

“Firstly, there is no suffering in them and I also hope they can show the rest of the world that, despite all of the conflict, there are still people in Gaza who want to lead a normal life, to exercise, to enjoy themselves, to play sport.”