I am aware of the fact that I already wrote a very similar article (same topic, same reference) a bit less than three years ago. Yet, with the forthcoming sixth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets dedicated to Palestine, it might be a good time to revisit it.
The small group of Palestinians practicing parkour in the Gaza strip has been largely spread around the net (see Joseph Grima’s article in Domus for example with beautiful photographs by Antonio Ottomanelli). However, we should not be overwhelmed by the aesthetics offered by these bodies subverting walls in a region where walls embody the paradigm of the containment from which the people of Gaza suffer. We should nonetheless not refuse the symbolical aspect of such practice as symbols have a strong impact on collective imaginaries. The latter have various degrees of political involvement and one can easily understand that, in the specific case of Gaza, the collective imaginary built by the Palestinians have indeed strong political implications.
The very essence of parkour is to invent a new practice of architecture, one where each surface constitutes an opportunity, but also as sort of ‘hot’ spot on which one could rely for only a fraction of second as to defy gravity. There are no more obstacles, only surfaces of opportunities. If I reiterate my definition of architecture as the discipline that organizes the bodies in space, parkour constitutes the intensification of the movement of these bodies to the point that the organization that they are subjugated to, becomes irrelevant. In the case of Gaza, architecture is directly built or strongly influenced (by bombs or bullets for example) by an exterior entity: Israel. There is therefore a resistive essence in the act of subversion of the organization of the bodies constituted by the Palestinian parkour. Of course, there is a danger to romanticize this gesture here as the walls that these parkourers use as “surfaces of opportunity” are not the ones that imprison them in their small piece of land. However, the fact that a ruin caused by an Israeli bombing for example, could be utilized as a practice field, if highly expressive of a civilizational resilience and could therefore be part of what I called “the right to the ruin.”
Parkour also constitutes the paroxysm of the construction of relations between the material assemblage that our body is, and the other material assemblages that compose our physical environment (a wall for example). Such a construction constitutes the goal of each architecture that engages the body in the quest of various forms of harmonious relations yet, in the context of a conflict it takes an additional dimension. If the role of the military (especially in an asymmetrical conflict) consists in the decrypting of the built environment in order to anticipate behaviors of a given target, parkour, by its subversion of codes, constitutes a form of blurring of these anticipated behaviors. The “sympathy with the obstacle” that Reza Negarestani evokes in Cyclonopedia (see multiple past articles) constitutes, in the specific case of the urban warfare, a defensive tactics that is not far from the one of camouflage. The sympathy or empathy with the material environment is a profound understanding of the composition and essence of the material assemblages that surround us as well as the one that we embody. Cyclonopedia being based on the fictitious predicate that the Middle East is an alive entity, the following passage cannot not have a certain form of resonance with the Gaza parkourers:
When it comes to urbanized war, every combatant must think like an obstacle –‘See everything from the perspective of an obstacle’. West then uses Parkour as the exemplary discipline in which the practitioner becomes as one with the obstacle during movement. Every soldier should be a traceur, a swerving projectile which has a deep sympathy with its physical obstacle. (Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia Complicity with anonymous materials, Melbourne: Re-Press 2008, 135)