vase

Interview:
Abdullah Milhem &
Majd Ramadan

We caught up with Abdullah Milhem and Majd Ramadan, two of the best skaters in Palestine - to ask them about how they got into skateboarding and the impact it has had on their lives.

Abdullah. Photo: Sam Ashley

Abdullah. Photo: Sam Ashley

Ok let's start from the beginning - how did you start skating? What was your first skateboard?

Abdullah: I started skating three years ago, I found a fake skateboard in a second-hand shop in Qalqilya, then I joined a local crew called the X-games team, which were a group of rappers, beatboxers, graffiti artists, free-runners and skateboarders. In 2013 an organisation called Tashkeel donated money for us to build the mini-ramp in Qalqilya. Kenny Reed came to help with the building and he gave me my first real board: a Real deck, Thunder trucks and Spitfire wheels. That year I also met Charlie when he came to visit our ramp in Qalqilya, just when he was starting SkatePal. He was really nice and told me about his projects.

Majd: The first time I saw someone skating in real life I think was in 2012. It was Charlie with his team skating at the plaza (in Ramallah). I was walking by, saw them skating and stopped for a bit to watch them. Charlie was doing a fakie 360 flip or something, but at the time I didn't know what the trick was - I just thought 'wow!'. So I talked to him and now we're friends. My first skateboard was from a toy shop in Ramallah, which now I know was a rubbish board, but at that time it was the best skateboard I could get!

Majd takes the unconventional route at the Plaza, Ramallah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Majd takes the unconventional route at the Plaza, Ramallah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

You're both from different towns (Qalqilya & Ramallah), what's the difference between skating in these towns? What do your parents think?

Abdullah: I live in Qalqilya, which is one of the most conservative cities in the West Bank. People here (until recently) did not accept anything new, including skate boarding. They used to kick us out of every spot - they hated our guts just for being different. But as years went by they got used to us. Ramallah, however, is considered to be more liberal because of the interaction with the outside world, unlike Qalqilya which is completely surrounded by a wall. So skateboarding in Ramallah grew much faster because people were more welcoming to the sport. My family didn’t like it at first but they got used to it eventually.

Majd: Some people like it but most people think that it's just a toy for the kids. My family don't really like it, they always tell me I should grow up and stuff like that. 

Abdullah - Frontside 180 at the SkateQilya mini ramp, Qalqilya. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Abdullah - Frontside 180 at the SkateQilya mini ramp, Qalqilya. Photo: Emil Agerskov

How did you guys meet each other? Do you think you would have met each other if you didn't skateboard?

Majd: The first time I met Abdullah it was at the SOS skatepark in Bethlehem with SkatePal volunteer Maen Hammad. I don’t think that we would know each other if we weren’t skating! 

Abdullah: I don’t think I would've met Majd if one of us didn’t skate. After meeting at SOS, we had a session in the plaza in Ramallah. Majd had only just started skating by then, but I enjoyed watching him landing new tricks. He is always excited to skate, even though his father doesn’t like it. He is one hell of a skater and I'm glad that I’ve met him!

What impact has skateboarding had on your life?

Abdullah: Skateboarding changed my life. It gave me that sense of freedom that I was dying to have, it changed the way I saw my surroundings: everything turned into a playground. Even the wall around the city is just a sick spot for wall rides! SkatePal also made a huge change as they managed to create a skate scene that we were desperate for. They united all the skaters in Palestine, gave them boards and built skateparks, spreading the freedom and joy of skateboarding.

Majd: To be honest, I wouldn't be skating without SkatePal, especially Charlie and Theo. We don’t have a skate shop here, so my shop is SkatePal haha! They always get me a board when mine breaks, so without them I wouldn't be able to skate! 

What impact do you think Asira skatepark has had on the skate-scene in Palestine? 

Abdullah: It had a huge impact. It created a chance for kids to have a place where they can have fun. It gave them something to do instead of wasting their time just hanging around in the streets doing nothing.

Majd: Yeah I agree. People in Asira love skateboarding so much now! 

Abdullah, you recently helped out teaching with the SkateQilya summer camp with Kenny Reed - how was that? 

Abdullah: It was an amazing experience, seeing Kenny back in Palestine shredding and teaching kids with him was really fun. We had 23 boys and girls skating at the camp every day, which was great. I used to be the only skater in the city, but now thanks to SkateQilya there are a lot of kids skating. It was like a dream come true as I saw girls starting to skate through the streets of a conservative city. We're hoping to create a better future for the kids who are trapped inside the walls of the Israeli occupation.

Photo: Emil Agerskov

Photo: Emil Agerskov

How has SkatePal evolved since you got involved?

Abdullah: It has been an amazing experience working with SkatePal. I've met so many people from around the world who came to teach kids here. It's been great introducing them to our culture, and telling them stories about the people of this country. I’ve made a lot of great friends, and I was able to see how skateboarding brings people together and brings joy to oppressed people.

You both came skating with the Isle team when they were in Palestine. What was it like skating with them? Would you like to see more pro teams visiting the West Bank?

Abdullah: It was mind blowing! I couldn’t believe it at first - watching them land one banger after the other. It was good for the skate scene because people were able to see that skating is not just a game but rather a way of life, something that adults do as well as kids. We hope to see more pro teams in the West Bank, because it would inspire and motivate us Palestinian skaters, knowing that we are not alone. Also when pro teams come it brings more attention to the skate scene in Palestine and the Palestinian issue in general.

Majd: It was awesome to have a pro team like the Isle crew in Palestine. It meant a lot to me, but to be honest I didn’t skate much during the sessions, I just sat down and watched them do crazy stuff that I’ve never seen before except in videos haha! I would like to see more teams like that in Palestine for sure!

Chiling with the Isle team in Ramallah. 

Chiling with the Isle team in Ramallah. 

Majd & Chris Jones

Majd & Chris Jones

Why do you think skateboarding is important for boys and girls in the West Bank?

Abdullah: It is important because it’s self-liberating and is a peaceful way of resistance. It sends a message to the world that no matter what happens, we will live our lives like normal people. We are human beings who deserve to live.

Majd: I think the most important thing is the feeling of freedom. Even if I was feeling sad, I just pick up my board and go skating and have fun. I don't know what else to say!

What are your hopes for the future of skateboarding in Palestine? 

Abdullah: I hope to see more people skating, more skate parks and maybe a skate shop. It might be hard but hard isn’t impossible.

Majd: I hope that skateboarding get much bigger and better in the future here in Palestine! 

What are you doing now / planning next? 

Abdullah: Next year I'm hoping to study Film in the US. I dream of travelling the world, sharing the stories of Palestine through film.

Majd: Right now I’m studying in Birzeit university.

What trick are you learning right now? 

Abdullah: Lazer flips and they are a pain in the ass!

Majd: I'm working on inward heel flips and nollie bigspins.

Almost done, how would you describe Charlie?

Abdullah: A great friend who dedicated himself to spreading the freedom of skateboarding.

Majd: I will describe Charlie later hahah. I love him.

Anything else you'd like to say?

Majd: I would say thanks for everyone that makes this happen. So much love from Palestine! 

A few quick ones with @majdramadan3 at the Plaza #ramallah #skatepal

A post shared by SkatePal (@skate_pal) on

It counts! More stunts from @majdramadan3 at the Plaza #ramallah #skatepal

A post shared by SkatePal (@skate_pal) on

Thanks guys! 

Keep up to date with Abdullah and Majd on instagram:

www.instagram.com/majdramadan3

www.instagram.com/a_milhem40

Volunteer Interview:
Chris Jones

Feeble to fakie. Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Feeble to fakie. Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Chris Jones is a great skateboarder and all round good guy. Originally from South Wales but now residing in South London, Chris first got involved in SkatePAL as a volunteer in 2014 when he applied to help build the Zebabdeh skatepark and teach classes in Ramallah.

Since then, he's been helping with fundraising events for SkatePAL in London, travelling the world filming with Isle skateboards for their new video 'Vase', working in the Natural History Museum and building skateparks in both Palestine and Myanmar, all whilst finding time to run the Pickup Or Die Instagram account. 

We caught up with Chris on his way back from Bangkok to chat about skatepark construction, the Isle video, and why he'll keep coming back to volunteer with SkatePAL.

Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

So this was your second time in the West Bank with SkatePAL, what made you want to get involved originally? How did you find out about the charity?

I originally found out about SkatePAL through one of my friends at the pub who knew Charlie's brother. I ended up looking it up and it sounded like a really interesting charity with a good focus. I found out there was a project coming up. It was all last minute but I contacted Charlie asking if it was possible to come out. Luckily he said yes.

How long did you spend in Zebabdeh and Asira Al-Shamaliya? What was the difference between working on both skateparks?

During my first visit in 2014 I was mainly back and fourth between Ramallah and Zebabdeh. In total I spent about one month there. This time, I stayed a bit longer and was in Asira the whole time. There were quite a few differences between the Zebabdeh and Asira projects.

One of the main differences was the amount of people we had on site. Unfortunately, Israel launched operation Protective Edge just before the Zebabdeh project was due to start which meant there were a lot of things in the news about bombings in Gaza. This put some people off coming out which meant we were severely understaffed. As a result, we had no choice but to work a lot of long hours with little time off. Although there were still many long hours involved during the Asira build, having more volunteers meant there were days people could take time off and go do some other things elsewhere around the West Bank. 

Volcano ollie at Zebabdeh skatepark, 2014. Photo: Martin O Grady

Volcano ollie at Zebabdeh skatepark, 2014. Photo: Martin O Grady

Although a lot of the kids got on fine In Zebabdeh, there was definitely more altercations between some of the kids compared to in Asira, which was non existent as far as I am aware of. At the beginning these altercations were very testing and sometimes made running some of the classes quite difficult. The language barrier made these situations even more difficult and left the responsibility of finding out what exactly was wrong in the hands of Charlie and Finn (who both speak Arabic), as they were the only two who could ever understand and mediate between the kids.  

Despite some initial interpretations of these altercations possibly being a result of the mixed religious composition of the Zebabdeh community (which is both Christian and Muslim), it was more likely it was a simple case of older kids giving the smaller ones a harder time. Either way, as the project progressed all of the kids in Zebabdeh, no matter their religious background, eventually started to play together and get on.

One thing I can say for certain is that there was a difference between Zebabdeh and Asira in terms of the religious demographic, and this affected certain things such as the availability of alcohol. Zebaddeh is mixed, Christian and Muslim, so they sold and drank alcohol, whereas Asira was a dry community, not including a nearby Samaritan village near Nablus where you could drink.

Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

How has the charity evolved since you first got involved?

It's evolved a lot. The Zebabdeh park was the first concrete skatepark SkatePAL ever built so it was obvious the second one was going to be to a higher standard. Beyond the quality of the build improving, since the first project there has been various articles and videos about SkatePAL’s work which has helped spread awareness of the charity, meaning more people are now aware of it. The increased presence on social media has helped as well. It would be nice to see it carry on growing.

What were your preconceptions of Palestine before arriving? How much did you know about Israel / Palestine before your first trip? 

I really didn't know what to expect the first time I went. I had never been to an Arab country before so couldn’t really imagine what it would be like. I had obviously read and watched stuff about Israel and Palestine so was aware of the occupation and knew a bit about the situation, but was definitely slightly unsure as to what exactly was going on. Just before I went in 2014 there was a lot of media attention in Palestine due to the conflict, and I'd be lying if I wasn't slightly put off going during this time and thought maybe I was being a bit naive by going during this period but I'm so glad I did.

Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo:  Lily Hartmann

Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Lily Hartmann

How did your ideas change across the two trips?

To be honest, I was not expecting how severe the level of occupation was going to be in the West Bank, which only seems to be getting worse. I had an idea what it would be like from reading and watching documentaries about it but after travelling around seeing the settlements, checkpoints and overall presence of the IDF it was definitely a lot worse than I expected. Once you start talking to people and hearing their stories about the occupation it's shocking to learn about how much it affects everyday life and how violated Palestinians' human rights really are.

One thing I did not expect when arriving in Asira this time was that it would be difficult for men to teach the girls. In previous trips the restrictions were not as noticeable as in Asira which is a more traditional town than Zebabdeh. We also only had two female volunteers this year, Lily and Dani, and it was left to them to run skate workshops for large groups of girls who showed a strong interest in skateboarding. It would be great if more women volunteered for SkatePAL in future projects to help if this situations arises again.

My ideas of the general way of life have definitely changed during my visits. At the beginning of my first visit I remember it being a nightmare trying to get the correct materials and equipment on time so the project could begin. The “inshallah” (translated as 'God Willing') way of life was definitely something I was not so used to and could be very frustrating on days when you would just be sat around waiting for materials to arrive.

However, I’d say I grew to appreciate the relaxed approach of getting things done which I would once just have recognised as laziness, even if it means a task which would usually take a couple of hours can be stretched over a number of days. 

Switch wallie at Qalandia checkpoint, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Switch wallie at Qalandia checkpoint, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Before visiting I had a stupid preconception in the back of mind that there would be a degree of hostility from members of the public towards British citizens as a result of the history of the area and the neglect they may feel on an international level. 

Despite me being slightly unsure whether I should say my nationality when I first arrived I soon realised this stupid thought didn't matter, as the majority of Palestinian people I’ve met are some of the most welcoming, kindest and inspiring people, and me being British was never even an issue in the slightest. When you walk around in smaller towns you are constantly invited in to peoples homes for tea, coffee or lunch with their families which is a lovely part of Palestinian culture.

Pivot fakie. Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. 

Pivot fakie. Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. 

What made you want to come back? 

The cheap Easy Jet flights to a hot country man, how else am I going to work on this sweet tan! Nah just joking. After I left Palestine the first time and went home to my comfortable lifestyle after meeting people, making new friends and witnessing the level of human rights violations I was constantly thinking about the place and reading about Palestine in the news, so naturally felt an urge to go back. These projects are always really fun and I was still really into the charity after the first project and wanted to see how we would get on in a second one, so couldn’t refuse to go after I heard there was going to be another build. It also helps that the food is banging and I love falafel and kanafeh (hot sweets made with cheese).

Why do you think skateboarding is important for people in places like the West Bank? 

As a form of play I think it's really good for kids and young adults in the West Bank because of a number of reasons. This will naturally sound a bit cheesy but I think its a great outlet for stress. It can be the most enjoyable thing when you're out with friends having fun and messing about on a piece of wood. I definitely find it can take my mind off things and the various little stresses I may have going on in my life at the time, and this would definitely be a useful thing for a child in a stressful place like the West Bank. Also, I definitely know it works as a great way to meet new friends from different parts of the world and within the country in which you're based. 

The benefits of meeting friends from outside your town serves a host of benefits, especially for a child in the West Bank who may never leave their little town. Skateboarding is also a new activity in the West Bank so is not gender specific, which means that girls who are perhaps not included in a lot of sports could ride a skateboard. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll see boys and girls skating together and Palestinian kids skating with Israeli kids.

Skateboarding definitely helps a child’s development both physically and mentally by providing exercise and a healthy way of life, which is especially important in a place like the West Bank where there aren't many fun things for young people to do.

Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. 

Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. 

Photos: Emil Agerskov

Photos: Emil Agerskov

So the long-awaited Isle video, Vase has just come out - congrats on the last part! Were you surprised? Where are you know? What are your plans for the next year?

Thanks! Yeah it was definitely a nice surprise to find out I had last part. I've never closed a video so was stoked. We went straight on a little Isle trip afterwards premiering the video around England which was so much fun. Currently, I’m sat in Bangkok airport with 10 hours to kill before I fly back to London from the Pushing Myanmar skatepark build with Make Life Skate Life. I’ve got loads of ideas for next year but don’t want to jinx them. I guess in general I’ll be skating, trying to get involved in some more skatepark builds and hopefully doing stuff for SkatePAL at some point. Beyond that it's all up in the air.

How was it going from building a skatepark in Palestine to building one in Myanmar straight after?

Yeah it was really fun. Again I had the pleasure of meeting a load of really nice people and got the chance to do a solid bit of graft and learn some new things about skatepark construction. This was the first park I've worked on when I was actually around for the opening day so that was really fun. The kids seem to love it and the local skaters also seemed stoked. I know they are still in the process of figuring out a system for someone to man the loaner boards for the kids and to run classes, but the project was definitely a success.

You're obviously travelling a lot on different skate trips and stuff, how do you balance your life between skating, living and working on these sorts of skatepark projects?

For the projects I've been involved in the timing has just worked out quite well really. For last year's project with SkatePAL I actually had to quit my job in order to get the time to come. I'd had enough of it at that point anyway so timed in quite well. For the last few months I actually haven't really had a proper job either which means I have a lot of flexibility. I've been doing work here and there, volunteering and doing unpaid work for periods of time but I've been able to time things quite well which has meant I haven't had to sacrifice too much to be involved in these projects. I did have to miss the first few days of building in Myanmar as I was on that Isle tour, but managed to be there for the majority of the time so all is good.

Video: Chris takes a break from building to test out the new obstacles in Asira Al-Shamaliya.

Do you have any plans to come back with SkatePAL in the future?

Definitely, I would like to be as involved and help as much as I can in any future projects. I've got a lot of support for the charity and would like to see it grow.

What would you say to people who are considering volunteering with SkatePAL?

Do it! 

How many Abecs do your bearings have?

Not too sure, I have a mix of bearings I've accumulated over time. Probably a combination of 5 and 7.

Thanks Chris!

Chris is sponsored by Isle, SML Wheels, Lost Art and Nike.

The Isle video Vase is out now and available for digital download at: https://vase.vhx.tv/

Follow Chris on Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/chris_jones

https://www.instagram.com/pickupordie