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Surfboards sent to Gaza to stir a wave of peace

A Jewish surfer from Dana Point, moved by a Times article, gets 12 boards for Palestinians.

August 23, 2007|Richard Boudreaux | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Dorian Paskowitz, the American surfer credited with introducing the sport to Israel in the 1950s, returned this week with a new idea: using donated surfboards to bring Israelis and Palestinians together.

After two hours of bickering, the retired physician from Dana Point persuaded Israeli authorities to open the Erez border crossing Tuesday so he could personally deliver a dozen new surfboards for a Palestinian training center in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has allowed few nonessential goods to pass into Gaza since the militant group Hamas took over the coastal territory in June. When Paskowitz, 86, reached the crossing, the officer in charge had reason to be wary: Israeli forces trying to thwart rocket fire from Gaza that day had killed three Palestinian gunmen and two children who were playing near a rocket launcher near the border. Eight other Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops this week, among the bloodiest this summer.

Paskowitz, who is known as Doc, said he told the officer:

"I came 12,500 miles from Hawaii to give away these boards. The guys who need them are standing 50 meters from here, and you're trying to stop me. How can you do that to a fellow Jew?"

He showed the Israeli officer a photograph of two Gaza surfers on the Mediterranean shore with one battered board between them. It had appeared in the Los Angeles Times on July 29 with an article about how some Palestinians try to escape the poverty and violence of the overcrowded strip by riding the waves.

He was finally led inside the fortress-like Erez terminal building to meet the two surfers, Ahmed Abu Hassan and Mohammed Jayab, who were allowed in from the Gaza side.

Paskowitz was teaching surfing in Hawaii when The Times article came to his attention. He and his son David, a world class surfer, had been planning a trip to Israel to promote Surfing for Peace, a movement they started this year to bring together Israeli and Arab surfers.

"I said to my son, 'We've got to get hooked up with these surfers in Gaza,' " Paskowitz said in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv.

The Paskowitzes mobilized contacts in Israel. Arthur Rashkovan, a surfer who represents their movement in Tel Aviv, got Israeli manufacturers to donate the 12 surfboards. An Israeli sports gear mogul paid for their trip. OneVoice, an Israeli-Palestinian peace group, helped the two Gaza surfers get to the Erez terminal and haul the boards to the Gaza City sailing club that will house the training center.

"When I touched those boards, I felt a joy I cannot describe," said Abu Hassan, a graceful 28-year-old surfer and Gaza City lifeguard. He said he and Jayab hoped to travel outside Gaza for training so they can teach other Palestinians.

Rashkovan, 28, said he was working to bring them to Israel for training in Jaffa.

"These guys are surfing a few miles down the beach in Gaza. It may be the only thing we have in common," he said. "Our people are fighting over land, basically, but when we're out in the water we can forget about all that."

The elder Paskowitz has followed the Arab-Israeli conflict for most of his life. He said he first came to Israel in 1956 and tried to join the army during a war with Egypt but was turned down. In Tel Aviv, he recalled, he drew crowds of beachgoers intrigued by the sight of a man standing on a board and riding the waves.

Paskowitz, who has written books on surfing and health, said he was inspired by the thought that surfing "can bring a small measure of happiness in a deep, deep sea of conflict."

"I'm not unaware of the realities," he said. "I tell my Arab friends that if Israel fights the Arabs, I'll want to take a gun and shoot you. And if Gaza fights Israel, you'll probably take a gun and shoot me.

"But for today, we are brothers among our enemies, friends among foes. If we can surf together, we can live together."


Special correspondent Hamada Abu Qamar in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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