Many Palestinians flock to Israel for work, but they often face a limiting permit system and even blacklists.
Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Perched on a ledge atop a sheer rock face, Nassar Dalloul looked out over the Ein Qiniya valley and let out a roar.
“Don’t just sit there, man, a goat could come and kick you off!” shouted Will Harris, the climbing guide, only half-joking.
Dalloul, 24, had made it to the top of the Sagur (Eagle) climb, one of 17 routes to the top of the 12 metres of limestone rock. Responding with a chuckle, Dalloul rearranged his rope, lowered himself over the side and bounced back down the Sagur in seconds.
“It’s awesome,” he said, back on the ground. “You can really push yourself and push your body.”
Dalloul first tried climbing six months ago, after a friend told him about Wadi Climbing, the first company to develop rock-climbing sites for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. He has been going on outdoor trips most weeks since.
“I kept going. I couldn’t stop,” he told Al Jazeera, grinning. “It’s about improving your level every week.”
The countryside around Ein Qiniya village, with its ascending olive terraces and boulder-strewn hills, was the first site chosen by the young American duo behind Wadi Climbing. Harris and Tim Bruns, both 23, considered starting a climbing company in Palestine two years ago after visiting during a study-abroad programme in neighbouring Jordan.
“Visiting Palestine, we saw the lack of recreational activities, but the huge potential for outdoor climbing,” Harris told Al Jazeera. “We visited during our final year of university to do feasibility studies, [and to] talk to entrepreneurs and NGOs, just to see if it was possible.”
They moved to Ramallah in July 2014 and founded Wadi Climbing, which began taking groups of Palestinians on climbing tours at the start of this year.
“People love trying new things here,” Harris said. “We’ve been doing these trips for about eight months now, and we’ve had almost 1,000 people come out with us.”
Around 70 percent of the climbers have been Palestinian, he added, while nearly half are repeat climbers.
“Our mission is to build a Palestinian climbing community,” Harris said.
Wadi Climbing has received support and equipment from a number of sources. Many of the shoes and harnesses being used were gifted by climbing gyms in Colorado, United States, and they recently received a significant quantity of climbing gear from a European donor who wished to remain anonymous.
Over the past eight months, a climbing community has started to take root in the occupied West Bank.
This month, Wadi Climbing was running a programme for intermediate climbers. In addition to weekly outdoor climbing trips, the group of seven Palestinians has signed up for a range of extra group fitness sessions, including yoga and CrossFit, designed to complement their climbing and strengthen the community ties.
Suheil Zoabi, 25, from Jerusalem, was on his fourth trip this year, saying was drawn by the social aspects as well as the climbing.
“The guys are amazing and nice to hang out with. We have fun; we enjoy our time. We’re not just climbing all day – we’re chilling with friends and socialising,” he told Al Jazeera, adding he would like to see more outdoor recreational pursuits in the occupied West Bank.
Fractured geography and security concerns in the West Bank are two of the reasons for the relative lack of outdoor activities for Palestinians. The vast majority of climbing infrastructure in the area has been developed by Israeli climbers in Area C. Many of the sites are located in and around settlements, which are not easily accessible to Palestinian climbers.
“Sixty percent of the West Bank is Area C, under Israeli control, where a lot of Palestinians don’t feel fully comfortable – either subconsciously or full-consciously – walking around outside,” Harris told Al Jazeera. “Projects like ours really promote Palestinians enjoying nature here and the beautiful landscape.”
Zoabi agreed that rock climbing was a great way to use the natural landscapes in the West Bank for recreation. “People are stuck here, without access to the sea,” he said. “So with these types of activities, you make more efficient use of what the people have.”
Wadi Climbing is now focused on its next goal: establishing the first indoor climbing gym in Palestine.
“That’s the way we can grow the community so much more,” Harris said, “So that’s the big goal.”