Saturday, October 31, 2020

Rock climbing brings Palestinians catharsis and connection to the outdoors

By Ruth Regan - May 09, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [environment] [sport] [Health Care] [refugee camps]

The first of its kind in Palestine, Wadi Climbing offers indoor and outdoor climbing opportunities in the West Bank. Tyler Myers, manager of Wadi, sees climbing as a cathartic outlet and has been working to make it more affordable and accessible to Palestinians.  

“Climbing is such a physical and mental and community sport. I think it’s a really good output for people to channel energy and frustration maybe, or anger, that is ... beneficial for them,” Myers told Palestine Monitor.
It is also something fun to do. “There’s just not so many activities [in Palestine] for people to get involved in in their free time. Even with sports, like soccer/football here is probably the biggest sport but it’s not even that [popular],” he said.
It also facilitates a connection with Palestine’s nature, arguably serving as political action despite appearing as an apolitical pastime.
“The outdoors here is gorgeous and a lot of people who live here don’t really go outside the city that much and explore the natural surroundings,” Myers said. While in some ways there is a strong connection to the land through farming, Myers feels that many Palestinians do not feel all that connected to the natural world. He encourages being environmentally conscious on outdoor climbing trips and discovered that the idea of so much as picking up rubbish after yourself was novel to many. “It’s nice to see that change in people,” he said. “Exposing people to the outdoors kind of builds in them a love and care for their land.”
Climbing in Yabrud.
Beyond just taking people out on trips, Myers hopes to build a social climbing community here. “A place where people come to train a little bit, have fun, mess around and be dedicated to the sport,” he envisioned.
Development advisor for the Civil Peace Service of the Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Philipp Zwehl, recognised the potential merits of climbing in Palestine. He approached Wadi about delivering a pilot scheme to take teenagers from local refugee camps out climbing. Zwehl had the idea because, he said, the children and young people “hardly ever get to leave” the camps, which are dense and concrete, “especially to get out into nature”.
He hopes climbing will instil self-confidence in the young people as well as enabling them to make their own decisions, an important principle in climbing and something Zwehl said they are rarely afforded.
Myers has felt compelled to turn down other initiatives with which he has been approached. “I’ve had to reject a few Israeli climbers who suggest Israeli-Palestinian 'climbing for peace’ ideas,” he told Palestine Monitor. He said he explains to them that while he sees the idea is coming from a good place, “it just screams normalisation, a huge buzz word here.”
“It’s really important for business owners [to be aware of normalisation]. Even if I wanted to, it could be detrimental for Wadi Climbing as a business if people in the community start to think we are trying to normalise the occupation,” he said.
This doesn’t mean that the Israeli and Palestinian climbing worlds remain totally separate. Myers said their climbers regularly run into Israeli climbers in areas such as Ein Fara, accessible by both Israelis and Palestinians. He described close friendships having been forged, with climbers specifically making plans to meet up and climb together.
Samar Nakleh bouldering in the Wadi centre.
Wadi’s indoor bouldering centre is based on a basement floor of the Tri Fitness gym in Al Bireh. With loud music, colourful bouldering walls and an open door policy, the place is a hang-out for adults and children alike to come after work or school, or on weekends, to socialise, climb, walk the slack line and make use of weights and other workout equipment.
Samar Nakleh is here regularly. With chalked hands after a quick weeknight boulder and workout, she outlined for Palestine Monitor her relationship to the sport. She began as a keen and regular hiker and a long distance runner, but after a while found that “in Palestine, you can only run to so many places … So I was getting extremely bored.”
“I’ve always been very athletic and very outdoorsy and I always wanted to try it [climbing],” Nakleh said. When she first started, she came every single weekend for two or three months. An unrelated ankle sprain forced her to take a break, but once the doctor cleared her, the first thing she did was return to climbing.
For Nakleh, it is more the cathartic than the social aspect of climbing which attracts her to the sport. “I feel like it’s freeing,” she said. “It gives me my time to be alone and reflect … It’s my time and I take advantage of it.”
She commented that climbing is still seen as an unusual and not very well understood activity in Palestine and joked that when she shows people her sore hands, they can’t contemplate why she would choose to do it.
But “it was a way for me to go into nature and at the same time do something athletic and sporty and at the same time do something challenging,” she said.
Climbing is debuting as an Olympic Sport at Tokyo 2020. “Could you imagine a Palestinian climber out there?” Myers asked smiling. Perhaps they’ll have discovered the sport through Wadi.

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