Aram Sabbah and Adham Tamimi from Ramallah were two of the first people to start skateboarding in the whole of Palestine. In this interview, we find out how they met SkatePAL founder Charlie Davis and began skating together - the journey it has led them on and what they're up to at the moment.
Ok let's start from the beginning - how did you both start skating?
Aram: A friend of mine gave me one for my seventh birthday or something, he brought it back from the UK when he was on holiday. But at the time I didn't really care that I had one.
Adham: I started skating properly 'cause of this American dude that was skating around at the place where I had dabkeh (traditional Arabic dance) training. So this dude comes up to me while I’m watching him and he’s like 'Do you want to try?'. I had a go on his board and fell hard on my ass straight away! Aram hadn't started skating at this point yet, so after I met the American dude I asked to buy Aram's board off him, which he sold me for 150 NIS (£30) or something.
Aram: At first I thought skating was a childish thing, but after I watched Adham skate then I wanted my board back haha! So we ended up sharing that board for a while and skating together. It became the only thing to do in Palestine beside hanging out with friends and going to school. I was around 15 years old when I started skating with Adham.
Were there any other skaters in the country at the time?
Aram: We were the only people skating in Ramallah, there were two or three skaters in Qalqilya I think but that was about it.
Do you remember what your first board was?
Adham: The board we shared was a Darkstar board. My second board was a Philly board (Jordanian board company), I remember learning kick flips on that one.
Who was the American guy, did you ever meet him again?
Adham: I really don't know the dude, all I know he's from New York.
How did you meet Charlie? What did you think when you first saw he was building a mini ramp in Ramallah? What did you think about his idea for SkatePAL?
Adham: Some guy told us about some Scottish dude that wanted to build a ramp, so we head out to the spot (in Ramallah) and start to skate the uncompleted ramp.
Aram: At that time we didn't know how to drop in - we just had the concept from watching 1,000 videos on YouTube. So we're skating, then two blonde guys shouted from the window "Heyy! Nice one mate!" it was Charlie and his brother Jack. Charlie told us about his idea and what he was aiming for, we were excited as fuck to hear that someone really wants to do something with skateboarding in Palestine!
Adham: We talked about everything and we were thrilled with the idea, and from that point, stuff started happening! It was really exciting.
What were your preconceptions of working with a UK charity?
Adham: At that point, we didn’t assume anything, we were just like 'yeah let's just do this' so we could skate some stuff. Like thinking about it now, it all happened fast, yet, a lot of work was put in - one day I’m skating in the street, the next I’m in Zebabadeh skating the first concrete skatepark in Palestine.
Aram: Uhmmm I thought it was cool that I'm going to work with a UK charity that aims to help the Palestinian youth.
Aram, you had a bit of set-back in your skating a few years ago, what happened?
Yeah, I was shot during a protest at Qalandia checkpoint in 2014. At first I didn't realise that I'd been shot, but as soon as I got in the ambulance I was just thinking - 'Shit! I can't skate anymore.' I was really frustrated that I got shot in my leg, I thought that if I got shot in the arm then maybe I could still skate.
Once I'd settled down in the hospital my next thought was - 'Where's my phone? I have to text Charlie to tell him I can't skate tomorrow because I got shot'. I was meant to have a class all day teaching with the kids. I was scared of Charlie's reaction.
[text message conversation between Aram and Charlie]
Well thankfully you made a full and speedy recovery! How do you think skateboarding and SkatePAL has impacted your lives?
Adham: Skateboarding changed my perspective on the world. Like I used to see a set of stairs, just normal stairs, with two options: go up or go down. Now all I see is hammers going down at the spot, you know! Things only a skater would understand hahah. SkatePAL got me to meet a lot of cool people and Charlie hooked me up with a trip to skate in France, so it pretty much changed a whole lot in my life!
Aram: Wooo thats a good question!! It's difficult to describe the impact, but it's huge! Skateboarding has made feel like I'm free - that there's nothing in the world that can stop me from doing what I love to do! SkatePAL made that feeling grow bigger and made me feel like I'm really doing what I love.
It also showed me that teaching other people to skate is the best feeling. When you give a kid a skateboard and watch them skate non-stop for hours and see them smile because they're riding a skateboard, that makes you feel really special.
SkatePAL also taught us to make the best of your situation. You can skate whatever you have: old deck, new deck, nice ground, awful ground. Take your skateboard, go anywhere. Skate it.
How has the charity evolved since you got involved?
Adham: Ha, you gotta ask Charlie that! But honestly I can’t tell you because he does what he does good, and doesn’t look back.
Aram: It's really grown a lot recently. It's getting stuff done faster than before now because it has become a well known charity, and it all happened in two or three years, so for me that's a big success.
So you're both in different countries studying right now. Can you tell us what and where you're studying and why you chose to go there?
Adham: I’m in Cyprus, I’m trying to get my Bachelors degree in Economics. I chose it because I got a 50% scholarship, so why not right haha!
Aram: I got a scholarship to study Acting and Theatre in Tunisia. I've been in love with acting since I was a little kid, I used to act in TV commercials and stuff when I was little. I didn't choose Tunisia because I like it, it's just because I got a scholarship to study there - and as you know free stuff is good stuff!
How's the skate scene where you are?
Adham: In Cyprus it's pretty much worse than the Palestine skate scene - they have a couple of metal ramps which someone could get killed using because of how rusty they are. I reckon there's like ten or twenty skaters where I am.
Aram: The skate scene in Tunisia is not that strong. When I skate down the streets people will be looking at me like 'what the fuck is that guy doing?' It's the same as in Palestine two years ago, but there's a couple of skate parks around and some pretty good spots to be honest.
How do people respond when you tell them you're from Palestine?
Adham: In Cyprus it's cool, because there are a lot of Arabs here. But where I used to live six months ago (Washington D.C) - man! Let me tell you living in D.C I met a lot of people. Some of them, instantly start giving us love, many are shocked that we could even speak English, and others hate us and instantly think we’re killers.
Aram: In Tunisia, people's faces turn from normal to excited or happy - they love Palestine, I mean who doesn't!? I always get the phrase 'God be with you, you soldier of freedom' and that makes me feel powerful and fearless!
What are you planning to do after university? Will you move back to Palestine or keep travelling?
Adham: Im going to try and open up some type of way to earn money without having anyone boss me about, or get a Masters - and Wall Street here I come! Maybe after I've finished Uni I'll go to Palestine but not for more than a year or so. But eventually it’ll be my home that I'll always come back to.
Aram: I'm aiming to get all the knowledge and degrees that I can get! Knowledge is the best thing that a man can have and when I reach that I'll go back to Palestine and help my homeland in every way possible. But yeah I wouldn't mind traveling around the world too. I love to travel and keep moving here and there - get to know the world that I'm living in and see things I've never seen before. But in the end there's no place like home.
Why do you think skateboarding is important for boys and girls in the West Bank?
Adham: I think it helps you to understand other aspects of life and see stuff in a different way, it's very eye-opening. For Palestinians especially it helps to release all that tension that builds up inside us from what happens around us everyday. It also helps people to be more focused and independent. Skateboarding is all about dedication and having fun while doing it.
Aram: Skateboarding is good for the mind, body and soul. Palestinian kids are always getting stressed out from the life they are living and skateboarding helps to takes that stress away and not think about the Israeli occupation itself. When you're skating, there's nothing to think about apart from focusing how to balance yourself on the board.
What are your hopes for the future of skateboarding in Palestine?
Adham: Hopefully it grows so big, that when a skater outside of Palestine hears the name, they think of the skateboarding scene first, instead of war and stuff like that.
Aram: I hope it keeps growing, until it reaches a point where it's normal to see a skateboarder skating down the streets or grinding the blue rail (in Ramallah). I want to feel that I'm not one of the few skateboarders in the country. I want the skateboarding community in Palestine to be like in the US or Europe: to see more than the same ten skaters everyday and I think SkatePAL is going to help us reach that.
What do your family and friends think of you skating?
Aram: They think that I'm doing something good. They're proud and happy for me because they know how much I love it!
Adham: They think it's pretty cool. Like at first everyone thought of us as outsiders, which we technically are - but then the whole thing went mainstream with rappers and celebrities skating and stuff, so now they think it's cool.
Are you coming back to Palestine this year?
Adham: Yeah in the summer holidays, June to October.
Aram: Yeah!! We're gonna shred the skatepark in Asira!
Almost done, how would you describe Charlie?
Adham: Without him there wouldn't be anything to skate in Palestine!
Aram: He's the boss. I mean he's a great guy, with a great looking butt (haha!). I mean he's the one who did all this, if it wasn't for him there wouldn't be this new skatepark in Asira.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Adham: Yeah. Thanks for the interview and thanks to everyone who ever helped the skate scene in Palestine and those who are still helping it. So shout out to them and thank you skateboarding!
Find out more about Aram and Adham's story by watching Epicly Palestine'd: The Birth of Skateboarding in the West Bank.