High times in Jerusalem: How free-running is uniting Arab and Israeli teenagers

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

If freedom is a state of mind, so is parkour. The physical discipline, also known as free running, requires participants to move at speed through their environment, jumping roofs, flipping over walls, and swinging round any obstacle in their path.

Parkour is big in Jerusalem. Perhaps it's no wonder that a sport dedicated to overcoming physical barriers should take off in a city where division is an enduring source of conflict.

Photographer Matanya Tausig has been capturing the stunning jumps and stunts pulled by groups of young men, across the roofs, walls and streets of the city. And just as they throw themselves over seemingly insurmountable structures, these teenagers are also overcoming political divisions through their shared enthusiasm for parkour.

Practising and showing off is a social activity, and there are both Arab and Israeli parkour groups in different parts of the city. But these separate segments of society have been drawn together through their love of athletic stunts.

"There is one group that is Jewish, from the south of the city, and with them is an Arab, Yazan, who lives in a village in south Jerusalem," explains Tausig. "They started practising together – and so you start getting mixed groups. The whole friendship is based on the sport. Everybody involved is friends on Facebook." The internet has been crucial in spreading both knowledge of the sport and putting Jerusalem's parkour enthusiasts in touch with each other. "It is mostly spreading through Facebook – friends organise specific days when everybody goes to the same city to do parkour together," says Tausig.

Many of the youngsters were inspired by videos on YouTube, although there are differences in the way the two groups have developed their sport. While the Jewish boys applied skills they'd gained from gymnastics classes, the Arabs developed their technique using capoeira moves.

Eighteen-year-old Yazan Aliyan was entirely self-taught, using online movies, though he now both runs with the Jewish boys and attends the capoeira lessons too. According to Tausig, he's the the "craziest" of the lot, jumping roofs the rest wouldn't dare to.

Tausig's photographic project, entitled On the Roofs of Jerusalem, came about by chance. He had previously seen parkour only online and on TV. But one day, he spied some kids (they're usually between the ages of 12 and 20) climbing a roof in the Qatamon neighbourhood, got chatting to them and took a few pictures. From November last year he began shooting them seriously during their free-running sessions.

"For the past three years I've been doing lots of news photos, about the politics and conflict – so it was really refreshing for me to see something else," he explains.

And are they free to run wherever they please? "The whole city is an open country to them, [but] on the other hand, it's Jerusalem, so some places are more sensitive." But to the young boys (so far not yet joined by any girls), the sport and their integration in its pursuit, is not a political act. Says Tausig: "Most of them are not too politically aware – this is their childhood, they're just having fun. It's mostly about having a good time."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Support Workers - Mother's Help / Buddy Support Role

£8 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A gentleman with congenital achondropla...

Recruitment Genius: Training Officer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Training Officer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Specialist - Document Management

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading provider of document ...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent