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You Can’t Embargo Hope

by Steve Desroches

The Gaza Strip: the name of this tiny Palestinian territory on the Mediterranean Sea elicits images of perennial war, strife, and conflict. Slightly smaller than the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Gaza is home to about 1.8 million residents, many of whom are essentially trapped within as the borders between Egypt and Israel are closed. An ongoing Israeli sea and air blockade implemented when Hamas came to power after the elections of 2006 increased the political claustrophobia. A civil war, exacerbated by foreign powers, followed, adding to a deep sense of hopelessness, especially for the young residents of what is one of the most complicated parcels of land in the world.

Philip Gnadt (L) and Mickey Yamine (R)

Much of the world may have a singular impression of the Gaza Strip, and in turn its residents, as little beyond its deep problems are spoken of in the media. But life goes on, as it always does, as the human spirit is indomitably adaptable. Even in the most desperate times and places, people still fall in love, they create art, they laugh and find joy where they can. The documentary film Gaza Surf Club provides an exploration into just that phenomenon as it introduces the world to a small, yet passionate group of young surfers riding the waves that crash into their troubled home, paddling out into the ocean for a feeling of freedom that is often non-existent on land. It’s a rare look into a unique community that Outer Cape audiences will be able to catch a glimpse of at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, as they are one of the host venues for the 5th annual Cape Cod Festival of Arab & Middle Eastern Cinema.

A German production directed by Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine, Gaza Surf Club on its surface resembles any film about surfing and its passionate practitioners. There are hints of surf classics like The Endless Summer or even the beach party movies with Frankie and Annette. But the complications of surfing with friends when the waves you ride are in a part of the world considered a “closed military zone,” colloquially called “the world’s largest open-air prison,” it removes any pretense that this is only for fun. There is a part of their surfing that is about survival, too. They aren’t just riding the swells, but also the politics that shapes their lives. Israel bans the import of surfboards into Gaza and the Hamas government within has banned wetsuits, though somehow both find their way in.

“We’ve been clear that this is not a political film,” says Yamine, who also served as executive producer. “You can’t avoid certain political issues, but we often tried to steer clear of that.”

The idea to make the film came after Yamine and Gnadt read about the surfers of Gaza in a European sports magazine and then later saw a short piece about them on the BBC news. Initially, they thought getting funding would be problematic, but that wasn’t the case as private investors and the German government provided financial backing. The actual filming proved to be a bit of challenge. Navigating multiple bureaucracies and initial suspicions eventually gave way to a flurry of permits and few obstacles thereafter, at least of the political kind. Filming on the water is notoriously difficult, and required quick thinking and creative equipment adaptations, which were ultimately successful in creating what at its heart is a sports documentary.

The film made its premier at the Toronto Film Festival in 2016 and has since been screened all over the world, including Israel and Gaza. Overwhelmingly the feedback has been positive, says Yamine, who grew up in Egypt, but now lives in Berlin. It came as a bit of a surprise as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a breathless, third rail issue. Angry responses were few and far between, and were all accusations of viewers who felt the film had a pro-Israel perspective. Yamine adds that all of those complaints came from Europeans.

Another complaint some had of Gaza Surf Club was that they weren’t in it enough. Several of the subjects groused about lack of screen time and that others got too much, says Yamine. It’s easy to understand. Prior to any outside attention the surfers of Gaza were already local celebrities with many flocking to the seaside to watch a sport they had only heard about or seen on television or the Internet. And this wasn’t just a boys club. While most are male, several, including one of the main protagonists in Gaza Surf Club, are girls, defying conservative conventions by taking off their headscarves and diving into the water. Everywhere the film has screened a new conversation about Gaza and its inhabitants has followed.

“The film came out three years ago and still people are talking about it, watching it,” says Yamine. “I couldn’t be happier. The only way I could be happier is if it won an Oscar!”

The 5th Cape Cod Festival of Arab & Middle Eastern Cinema presents Gaza Surf Club on Friday, May 3 at 7 p.m. at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St. Tickets are $15 and are available at the door or online at For more information call 508.349.1800. To learn more about the Gaza Surf Club visit The Festival runs May 2-4. For the complete schedule, visit

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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