RAFAH, November 29 (JMCC) - Approximately 50 motorcyclists gather on Friday afternoon in the suburbs of the southern Gaza Strip
city of Rafah
to carry out a weekly rally among the yellow sands and slopes.
The riders gather in this informal competition, showing off their skills and seeing who can blow more sand behind his bike.
Those with strong engines compete to ride the tip of a 50-meter high dune. Weaker-equipped competitors find it enough to fly tens of centimeters over desert brush and small heaps of sand.
Ahmed al-Tawil drives a white Honda bike. He says he realizes the informal rally is dangerous but the fun outweighs his fear.
Here, it is a moral competition - we lose or win nothing. It is just for fun and to tease each other, he says and smiles.
The group has neither governmental nor organizational support in organizing their informal championships. Israeli restrictions on imports to the Gaza Strip prevent the accumulation of spare parts needed to maintain the motorcycles.
We just train ourselves between these hills of sand, and access the internet and collect information about motorcycles, engines and about [riding] skills, he added.
Hawkers sell nuts, soft drinks and biscuits, competing in their own turns of phrase to call customers.
Hundreds of spectators take up position at the edge of the makeshift field while others scatter on top of the slope.
A line of spectators moves like a piece of rope waving in the wind when al-Tawil’s bike blasts yellow sand towards them.
Spectator Wael Askar says he comes every Friday to watch the unique show.
It is very interesting; it looks like the rallies we watch on TV, said Askar
Most of the players are without gloves, their feet clad in sandals rather than sport shoes. But while a minimum of safety requirements are observed, the riders clearly know a great deal about their motorcycles.
Shadi Abu Eid, 25, works as a second hand motorcycles trader. His Honda Quad motorcycle lost the competition against a Suzuki and a Yamaha 450cc motorcycle, as they sought to ride to the top of the dune.
Helmetless, Abu Eid shows off for the crowd by drawing a figure eight in the sand, and blasting sand in the air.
I hope to be like those we see on TV; their rallies are amazing. I hope to participate in one of them, Abu Eida said.
LACK OF SUPPORT
There is no cooperation, however, between the ad-hoc group of bikers and the Palestinian Motor Sport and Motorcycle Federation based in the West Bank.
Khaled Qaddura, head of the federation, said that his group does not support the Gaza riders due to Hamas
’ takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
Hamas prevents us from conducting any activity in Gaza, and prevents any communication between us [in the West Bank] and athletes in Gaza, Qaddura said.
He also said that the federation refuses to get involved in the championship in Gaza because “participants are not committed to the rules of safety or to the international Olympic law. In addition, members should be official members in the Fateh
“Such activities should be stopped immediately,” he says. “It is a very dangerous sport.
Nor do Gaza officials provide support for the motorcyclists.
Hussein Amriti, 21, one of the competitors, said that Hamas police chase down the riders, asking for licenses and other legal documents. They just want us to pay money to them, while they do nothing for our sport,” he complains. “If it is illegal, why do they not offer us a legal recourse?
A spokesperson for the Gaza police force, Ayman Batniji, called the motor sport “chaos” and said it was totally illegal.
“There is no decision to prevent them” he says, “but from time to time we raid the area where the motorcyclists ride. Some of them have licenses to ride and some do not, so we try to reduce [the latter].”
“As long as it is individual activity, we do not prevent it but we do not facilitate it, he added.
Hundreds of motorcycles have been smuggled to Gaza from Egypt through illegal underground tunnels running between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
Palestinians in Gaza have used tunnels to smuggle food, building materials and even vehicles and motorcycles into the Strip since Israel imposed a tight limit on imports and experts four years ago.
Ahmed Abu Sbita, 25, prepares to leave the event.
We are lucky that no one has died,” he says. “We do not have the proper suits for riding – they are very expensive.” Abu Sbita protects his face with the windshield of the helmet and rides off on his motorcycle.