August 20th – September 3rd
I heard countless perspectives about the conflict during the interviews I conducted across Israel and Palestine. I also saw the facts that were right in front of me.
Simply getting from Tel Aviv, Israel to the Asira skatepark in Palestine is a testament to the oppression and segregation taking place in this region. One route requires you to switch from a Jewish-operated bus in West Jerusalem to an Arab-operated bus in East Jerusalem. Then you must pass through the infamous Qalandiya Checkpoint, an area plagued by traffic and military conflict due to Israel’s simultaneous claim over the land and total refusal to maintain it. You pass through the separation wall that was built to cement Israel’s hold over land that most other countries regard as disputed territory.
Another route requires you to catch a bus designed for Jewish settlers, taking you within a few miles of the skatepark to a settlement in the West Bank strangely akin to a Californian Suburb. From there it’s as if you are trapped on an island — armed Israeli soldiers ensure that no Palestinian driver picks you up in front of the settlement. Only after walking a mile down the road, out of sight of the settlement, will you be picked up.
I made this lengthy trip each week to volunteer with Skate Palestine, a London-based nonprofit that builds skateparks and provides lessons to youth in the West Bank.
Upon arriving at the skatepark in Asira, you’ll find dozens of kids skateboarding and running around, shredding the bowls, eating candy and watching the latest skate videos.
Physically cut off from much of the world, Palestinian youths yearn to participate in global culture. For most of them, the idea of leaving Palestine — even on vacation — is a faraway dream; unrealistic and unencouraged. They have no passport, no recognized nationality, and few international allies. But Palestine is a very real country and the people there are eager to share that fact with you. The appreciation I saw when I came to skateboard with them and showed interest in their world was palpable.
As Palestine’s skateboarding scene continues to flourish and become self-sufficient, you’re sure to hear more about these youths and their simple desire for freedom of movement. Skateboarding is a push in the right direction. While it can bring us together across cultures, stronger things keep us apart. Israel’s occupation has deprived Palestinian youth of the sense of normalcy and freedom that every child deserves. Through organizations like SkatePal, volunteers can support Palestinians in their fight to secure the human rights withheld from them for over 70 years. This photo exhibition shows Palestine through the lens of seven SkatePal volunteers.
Craig Johnson, May 2022
Craig Johnson is a documentary filmmaker and photographer based in Arizona. He incidentally became a SkatePal volunteer in 2019 during a three-month journalism fellowship he completed in Tel-Aviv, Israel. Craig spent four days each week working for a TV news channel, reporting on the endless disputes between Israel and its neighbors. He spent the remainder of his week in Palestine, teaching skateboard classes to Palestinian youth. Through these polarizing experiences, Craig gained an in-depth view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and resolved to show the spirit of Palestine through photography.