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Gaza Surf Club at Movies that Matter Festival

Movies that Matter is an international filmfestival about human rights and a sustainable society. It takes place in The Hague, screening feature films and documentaries, staging debates and more. The festival takes place from 22-30 March this year. I was particularly moved by the documentary Gaza Surf Club. It will be screened in Filmhuis Den Haag on March 28 at 21:00

Open-air prison

Gaza Surf Club is a 2016 German documentary which follows a group of surfers from Gaza. Not exactly the place that would come to mind when thinking of surfers. Gaza is often referred to as an open air prison and really, it is exactly that. The people of Gaza can’t go anywhere, literally. They have no hope on things getting better.There are 1,9 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Fifty years of occupation and ten years of blockade (by ground, air and sea) logically made an impact on the people of Gaza. Gaza is one of the world’s most densely populated areas. The population lacks medical care, work, electricity, drinkable water, freedom of movement, etc etc. There are many ways to cope with the situation; for this group, the only escape is surfing.

There are around 30 surfers in Gaza. The only place on earth where they feel free and safe is on the Mediterranean’s waves. So that is what they do, amidst blockades and damaged buildings pitted with shell-holes – they surf. The contrast is beautifully illustrated in the documentary. It’s painful to watch.

The surfers don’t have any professional material, except for a few boards they received. Importing a surfboard in Gaza is virtually impossible. Israel prohibits the importation of surfboards. Most of the surfers use uneven and rugged homemade boards.

Ibrahim goes Hawaii

The directors Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine focus most on two people: Ibrahim and Sabah. The 23-year-old Ibrahim learned, like many of his friends, how to surf from Abu Jayab – on minimal resources. Abu Jayab (42) lost all hope (but not his sense of humour) in a better life but Ibrahim still has dreams.

He wants to travel to Hawaii to learn all about building surfboards and the surfboard business from his friend and mentor Matthew Olsen, in order to start a surf club in his own community in Gaza. (Matthew is the founder of the Gaza Surf Club – 2008). However, just leaving the country is an enormous challenge. Ibrahim applies for a visa over and over again, spending every penny he has but the visa keeps getting denied.

Determination does pay off in this case though as the 5th or 6th visa application is accepted. Ibrahim gets to fly to Hawaii!

Trapped between politics and religion

Sabah is 15 years old and she faces a different problem. Her father taught her how to surf when she was a kid and she loves swimming and surfing. Being in the sea makes her happy.

But now that she is older, swimming is considered immodest in her conservative environment under the laws of Hamas. Sabah has to give up on her biggest passion.

Supported by her dad who takes her to high sea on a boat so she can take her hijab off and swim far from shore, she still gets to feel the freedom sometimes. Not enough though….Sabah is one of just 4 or 5 girls surfing in Gaza.

No winners

It’s a moving documentary about a tragic situation. There are no winners in this ongoing conflict, only pain, grief and loss. The film shows a side of Gaza we never get to see, something else than ‘war’, ‘death’ and ‘terrorism’. A note, as small as it is, of hope.

I would have loved a happy ending but unfortunately, it’s real life. I would not mind a sequel though, just to know what happened to Sabah and the Gaza Surf Club?! Ibrahim is studying in Texas now, Andy Martin has been in contact with him last year so you can read the article for an update on Ibrahim. If you want to learn more on the situation, I recommend this article by Iain Akerman.

More Movies That Matter

If you are interested by the situation in the Middle East, I also recommend the movie Screwdriver (screening on 28/3 and 30/3). It’s a psychological thriller (fiction) about a Palestinian man called Ziad, who returns to Palestine after more than fifteen years spent in an Israeli prison. He was arrested as a teenager, and finds it difficult to find his place in society now that he is an adult.

Did you ever go to Movies that Matter Festival? And did you know there was a group of surfers in Gaza?

Movies that Matter Festival’s main partner is Amnesty International.

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