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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!