Jerusalem – Walking down the narrow streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, silhouettes of young men fly over market stalls in the souk. These daredevils are Palestinians practicing parkour, the death-defying sport combining gymnastics, acrobatics, running and jumping.
Developed in northern France in the 1990s, parkour participants perform in all types of urban environments, using only their bodies to leap, flip, and overcome obstacles. The sport also borrows elements from martial arts, rock climbing and other athletic fields.
On a rooftop overlooking Jerusalem one recent day, Sami methodically planned his movements before making a jump. He gave one final look towards his friend, who stood back and watched the young man as he made the leap – an impressive flight of several seconds over the heads of onlookers seven metres below.
Sami founded the first Palestinian group practicing parkour in Jerusalem three years ago. He was quickly joined by a dozen young people 15 to 21 years old eager to learn the sport.
Sami, 21, works in a hotel and was a gymnastics enthusiast since he was a child growing up in Jerusalem. He decided to try out parkour after watching the French movie Banlieue 13 released in 2004, featuring the sport’s creator, David Belle.
For Sami, the film was a life-changing revelation. “I immediately wanted to imitate what I saw: sports, action, danger,” he told Al Jazeera.