Surfing for Peace in Gaza Strip

Think of Gaza these days and images of war and suffering probably spring to mind. The last thing you would think of is surfing.

But don't tell that to the 20 members of the Gaza Surfing Union who despite the political troubles and ongoing economic hardships in this conflict ravaged strip of land, have fallen in love with surfing.

"When I surf I feel free, and you don't often feel free in Gaza" said 29 year old Mohamed Abu Jayyeb.

One of the group's founding members, he earns his living as a life guard on Gaza's teeming beaches. His salary is paid for by the Islamic organization Hamas.

Their favorite surfing spot is next to Gaza City's main fishing harbor where the rough stone of the harbor wall helps to channel the Mediterranean surf into rolling waves.

Abu Jayyeb and his friend Mohamed Abu Hassira started surfing 15 years ago. They were forced to share a single damaged board. Their plight reached the attention of the media and then a story about them appeared in an Israeli paper. That was when things started to change.

"For years we surfed using a broken board. That shows you how much we love this thing. We want to be professional, but we have nothing," said Abu Hassira.

Dorian Paskowitz, an 88-year-old Jewish American doctor and himself a surfing legend, read the article on vacation in Tel Aviv and decided to help.

"All of a sudden I see in the paper a picture of two guys with one old board. There are surfers in Gaza, but no boards," he said.

Paskowitz has had a life long passion for surfing and helped introduce the sport to Israel back in the 1950's.

Surfers For Peace

With a group of Israeli surfers he started Surfers For Peace to help Gaza's surfers and build new friendships.

"God surfs with Satan and if God surfs with Satan, Arabs can surf with Jews. If you can surf together, you can live together," he said.

Two years ago, despite Israel's blockade of the Hamas ruled territory, Paskowitz arranged the transfer of 12 second hand surf boards into Gaza. It took hours of persuasion and cajoling, but eventually the Israeli border officials at the Erez Crossing terminal let them in.

Along with the boards went T-shirts bearing the legend of U.S. surfing world champion Kelly Slater, who supports the program.

"We are so grateful to Dorian. One day we want to surf with him," Abu Hassira told ABC News recently, while wearing his aging Kelly Slater T-shirt.

That doesn't seem a likely prospect. There's no sign of Gaza's border opening anytime soon. But when the surf's up, the Gaza Surfers head out to catch the waves, and while they surf they forget all their problems.

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