New sport experience for Palestinians

Over the past five years, a group of amateurs in rock climbing developed into a sports community that trains on almost daily basis to reach levels that would allow them to run for the Olympics.

The first rock climbing community in Palestine was developed when two American climbing enthusiasts named Tim Bruns and Will Harris brought rock climbing to the landscape of Palestine back in 2014.

The West Bank landscape is a natural home to many limestone cliffs that offer climbers competitive opportunities to shape up their skills for the sport.

By the end of their third year in Palestine, Bruns and Harris opened an indoor climbing gym to help promote the sport.

The gym is now managed by another enthusiastic American climber, Tyler Myers, who said that there are now “about 30 consistent climbers with their own equipment, who climb on their own.”

He explained that Bruns and Harris’s goal of establishing the climbing community “was to bring rock climbing to this area … making into something that Palestinians can pursue as a sport.”

Every weekend, Myers and a few climbers lead a group of climbers, skilled and new, to the beautiful cliffs of Ein Qinya village, to experience the sport and push them out of comfort zone, in a refreshing natural setting.

An introduction is given to newcomers as safety instructions are highlighted. Then, basic technicalities are taught, while the equipment is being set up on the cliffs and on body harnesses of the climbers.

Describing the community of rock climbers in Palestine, Myers said it’s a warm and encouraging atmosphere, that is both inclusive and caring to Palestinian climbers and visiting foreigners from all over the world.

Moreover, the Palestinian climbers hope to reach new records and adventures.

Yasmeen Najjar, 22, was the first child with a prosthetic limb to climb on top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, five years ago. She joined the climbers to train for a new adventure at Mount Everest’s base camp.

In her childhood, Najjar was active who enjoyed playing and hiking in the mountains near her hometown of Burin near Nablus. However, the hilltops around her village slowly became full of Jewish settlements that restricted the movement of Palestinians.

At an early age, she lost her leg due to a car accident, but she continued to pursue her dream.

“I’m very happy that I can pursue a hobby I love and feel passionate about in Palestine, without having to travel or apply for visas,” she said.

Najjar added “the first time here, I was deeply moved, with a deep feeling of climbing the rocks in my home country, despite the occupation and everything. I felt alive.”

Climbers cheered and applauded each other as they took higher steps on the cliffs. Some brought their children along to enjoy the scenery and the warmth of the community.

Orwa Askar, 25 years old, from Jerusalem, was one of the early enthusiasts for climbing, who has become one of the highly skilled, reaching a “7b” level.

The world record in climbing is currently held at “9c”. The grading system for climbing levels is based on the route length, the foot and finger holds, the angle, the endurance needed and the moves involved, among other elements.

Orwa said he began rock climbing some four years ago, after he was introduced to it by his brother, and now, he is practicing on a daily basis.

“I used to see foreigners and Israelis climbing in natural reserves near my hometown, but I never knew that I can do it, until I tried,” he explained.

“For me, I have a goal to participate in the Olympics in 2024. Now, the qualifications for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are already over, as I followed them closely,” he said. “Hopefully, I will train and increase my strength to participate in Paris Olympics.”

For that end, Orwa and a group of climbers established a Palestinian club for the sport to help them reach that goal as a national Olympic team.