Qalqilya, Palestine – It was 2013 when Qalqilya’s skate ramp, the first in occupied Palestine, finally opened. Built and designed by the Dubai-based art organisation Tashkeel on land donated by the municipality, the ramp quickly became the natural home of the X-Games Team, a group of young people with a shared passion for rollerblading, skating and parkour.
Located in the north of the West Bank, the city of Qalqilya is better known for being nearly wholly encircled by Israel’s separation wall, with only two openings connecting it to the rest of the West Bank. In this context, hip-hop, skate and parkour subcultures are helping to draw a new map that sees Qalqilya closely linked to like-minded youths throughout Palestine and beyond.
For Sajed Abu Ulbeh the ramp is a dream come true. A founding member of the Qalqilya X-Games, he was 10 years old when he was handed his first pair of skates and has been working to establish a skate club and academy in Qalqilya ever since.
A barber by profession, Abu Ulbeh first attempted to open a skate club in 2010. The venture proved financially unsustainable and closed after only three months but not before the X-Games Team was formed and the streets of Qalqilya forever changed.
“It took a while for people to understand what we were trying to do,” Abu Ulbeh told Al Jazeera. “We just wanted a safe place for kids to meet but there is a conservative mindset here.”
X-Games had more luck in 2011 when a chance encounter with film-makers Adam Abel and Mohammed Othman, who are making a documentary on the Team, led to Tashkeel’s involvement.
X-Games gained further local acceptance last January when the Qalqilya Association for Environment and Social Protection became involved in the ramp, providing insurance and skates for the team and marking a fundamental change in attitudes towards the youth.