PICS: Gaza boys reclaim their freedom with street workouts

2015-10-06 12:00
Bakr Magadma, Iyad Aiyad, Sliman Taleb and Mahmoud Nasman practising their street workout amongst the rubble in Gaza. (Shaun Swingler, News24 Correspondent)

Bakr Magadma, Iyad Aiyad, Sliman Taleb and Mahmoud Nasman practising their street workout amongst the rubble in Gaza. (Shaun Swingler, News24 Correspondent)

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Gaza - For Bakr Magadma, and his Bar Palestine crew, their dream is to compete in the street workout world championships, a social movement of fitness enthusiasts who compete against one another in body weight exercises in the outdoors.

However, for the crew this will not be a possibility any time soon. This is not due to a lack of skill, strength or commitment, but rather because Magadma, Iyad Aiyad, Sliman Taleb and Mahmoud Nasman live on the Gaza Strip.

Street workout is the formalised discipline of outdoor bodyweight workouts which consist of exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups as well as a number of static holds such as the human flag. The first world championships were held in Latvia in 2011, and the next will be held in Russia at the end of 2015.

“We would love to attend the world championships of street workout,” says Magadma, “but in Gaza we cannot attend because of the blockade. It’s too challenging trying to travel out of Gaza.”

In 2007, after the Palestinian Liberation Organisation-affiliated Fatah government was removed by the more extreme Hamas party, a strict economic blockade was enforced on the area by both Israel and Egypt on the basis that Fatah forces were no longer providing security in the area.

The blockade has both eased and strengthened in the years since then, but as it currently stands, Egypt maintains and almost totally closed the land border with Gaza, and Israel maintains a strict land, air and sea blockade.

This has severely limited the travel in and out of the region for its 1.8 million inhabitants, leading many to describe it as ‘the world’s largest open-air prison’ in one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

Photos by Shaun Swingler, News24 Correspondent.

‘It gives us freedom’

But street workout provides a figurative escape for the self-taught Bar Palestine crew.

“We love this sport – it gives us freedom,” says Magadma. “You don’t need a gym, you don’t need equipment. You can do the street workout in any place you want.”

After teaching themselves some street workout moves from YouTube videos, the guys would come together on the beach and practice them, coming up with new moves as they trained, making them the first and only street workout team in Gaza.

During last year’s 50-day siege on Gaza, it was too dangerous for the guys to train outside so they stayed indoors and trained individually. However, once the ceasefire with Israel was called they went back outside.

“We work out in the rubble of the buildings because we want to deliver a message to the Arab countries and to the Western world,” says Magadma. “We want to tell them that even though there is a blockade and a siege on Gaza Strip and there is a war, there is still life in Gaza. There is talent in Gaza. Even though there are a lot of difficulties there are a lot of people who you should give a chance.”

Photos by Shaun Swingler, News24 Correspondent.

Regaining control

The crew’s decision to work out in the devastation of the shelled buildings – the result of a conflict with Israel which led to the deaths of 2 220 Palestinians over the course of 50 days – also appeared to be their attempt to take that space back and to regain some form of control in a tremendously volatile area.

More than anything though, Bar Palestine wants the sport to grow.

“I wish that there will be a place for this sport to be taught to all children in Gaza, to make it popular in all of Palestine,” says Mahmoud Nasman. Iyad Aiyad continues: “All young Palestinians should try this sport – it’s very nice. They should do it in their free time to build their bodies and to be healthy.”

The current tensions between Israel and Gaza make the possibility of Bar Palestine participating in the world championships ever distant, but the passion that Magadma, Aiyad, Taleb and Nasman have for the sport is infectious.

With continued effort, they’re likely to inspire new generations of street workout athletes, growing Bar Palestine and becoming strong world championship contenders in the future.

Photos by Shaun Swingler, News24 Correspondent.

Read more on:    palestine  |  israel  |  gaza strip

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