Skateboarding In The Sketchiest Place On Earth
Ain El-Helwe is only a hop (to Lebanon), skip (down south) and a jump (over armed checkpoints) away. Once in, you’ll be amongst like-minded heads with a murderous rage that matches your very own distain toward authority.
Ain El-Helwe means “spring of sweetness” in Arabic, but don’t let the name fool you. It’s one kilometer square of pure, distilled 200-proof gangster. Started in 1948 as a tent city for displaced Palestinians (one of seven in Lebanon), the place has taken on a life of its own. The rest of the refugee camps have turned into “normal” — albeit pathetic — slums where Palestinians dream of the day (that’s never going to come) when they’ll return to their (bulldozed) houses in Palestine.
Ain El-Helwe, on the other hand, has decided to fuck antiquated notions of sitting around crying and become a terrorist epicenter. Hardcore hessians of every extreme ilk come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yourmomistan to spread the love, talk shop and build bombs. This has made it waaaaay too dangerous for the Lebanese military or police to go inside. Instead, they surround the walls of the camp and peek at it through binoculars.
Yup, there is no state-sponsored law, whatsoever, inside the camp. None. You can taste the saccharine-sweet anarchy on your tongue the moment you enter. Clouds form puffy white pictures of Sid Vicious while Zach De La Rocha cooks up sausages and shouts “freedom.” Now that’s living!
It was a sunny day when I passed through the checkpoints and into the camp. I’m part of a collective known as Blakkbox, and we were in Lebanon filming a skate DVD for Vice Magazine. We had heard of the camp before, but entrance had proven elusive. Any Lebanese you ask will guarantee your death, and the government is none too excited about having a handful of dead Americans on their hands (although they should be). But, try as you might to keep the anarchy from the boys, you can’t keep the boys from the anarchy forever and we finally had our “permission.” This “permission” absolves anyone but yourself from your impending death. Good. After crossing over the Lebanese military check, we had to cross through a PLO one. They want to know who stays and who plays. We skated through and snapped ollies under Hamas banners.
We were looking for one Munir Miqdah. Munir is a wanted man. As leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade in Lebanon, he has partaken in numerous terrorist attacks, been sentenced to death in Jordan and has never been invited to a Haliburton corporate picnic.
Our first stop en route was at an (fucking piece of shit) NGO-loving handicraft center. Swedes, Finns and other patchouli-soaked assholes tell the Palestinians that the world wants them to be safe little dolls. So, they cross-stitch pictures of mosques and try to tell you that this is all they do. Fuck that. We bailed on those ladies and skated across the street to where the beardos stood glaring.
These weren’t just any beardos. They belonged to Isbat Al-Ansar, a real favorite of Donald Rumsfeld and co. It’s said that Osama himself channels communiqués to all his friends through them. That’s top of the pops. Their kids took our skateboards and worked on breaking their teeth while we talked shop. You’ve been told that these Islamic fundies are criminals, that they hate freedom and chocolate chip cookies. Remember though, you’re a criminal too. Why? Because a banker in a suit working in his cubicle 40 hours a week sees you grinding the ledge in front of his window. Not only are you scaring customers away from depositing their sweaty dollars, you’re representing an ideal. Making money in the most efficient manner possible is not the goal of life. There are way better things to do than punch a clock: like sweating, misjudging gaps and cursing. By placing skateboarding above the creed of the west (efficiency-driven capitalism), you become a criminal. Same for the fundy, although instead of skateboarding, he’s placing his religion above the dollar, which gets him fucked with a Patriot missile. So, shake hands, because you both have a lot more in common.
We sat with Isbat Isbat and marveled at the beautiful anarchy in the camp. He was stoked on his freedom of religion, and we were, too. After a while, we pushed off to continue the search for Munir.
Our next stop was the PLO office. The Palestinian Liberation Organization has fallen a bit from its heyday in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Back then it was all Yasser Arafat all the time: sunning himself on Tunisian beaches in a speedo and with a gun, going to the UN with a suit and a gun, gunning for more guns with guns. He loved to order his men to hijack planes, kidnap politicians and make videos featuring Pamela Anderson. Today they are seen as a political force with less hardcore street cred. Ein El-Helwe, however, rolls retro and the PLO is the gun-totting authority for much of the camp. We skated up to the front door and were met by a bald Iraqi with a Kalashnikov. He demanded kick flips and we counter offered with frontside flips.
The PLO leader gave us a nice talk on the benefits of armed struggle. He would point to the plywood cut-outs of Kalashnikovs on his wall for effect. After he finished smoking his cigarillo he ordered a group of his buddies to take us to Munir at the Al-Aqsa compound in the heart of the camp.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is the militant wing of the PLO, which means don’t fuck with them. They cause all kinds of mayhem inside Israel with a suicide and a smile. Their shenanigans are not rooted in political Islam (a al Isbat Al Ansar), but rather old school radicalized nationalism, which doesn’t mean that much…it’s just nice to diversify the subversive portfolio. Regular shootings and bombings are carried out garnering a coveted U.S. State Department terrorist organization label. It is said that Munir Miqtadah trains over 700 fighters a year in the camp.
We wound through alleys under watchful eyes and finally arrived. Munir had just finished praying and greeted us warmly. He looked thoughtfully at our skateboards and ordered us coffee. For the next hour we sat around as he talked deeply in impeccable Arabic about what he believes and why he believes it. Much to George W’s chagrin, Munir is not evil or crazy.
Bush yells “enemy!!!” and the press prints it like it’s true, but you, should know better than to buy what Scott McLellan is selling. “Oh hell…I just saw on CNBC that Al-Qaeda is planning more attacks. I’m so scared of beards and the loss of my freedom…oh woe is me. I better call my mom and tell her I love her before I get on the bus…sniff, sniff.” Whether you agree with tactics or not, fundies and revolutionaries are part of the same alternative discourse as you. You wax curbs and destroy beautiful marble ledges, fundies and revos pray and stockpile guns. You’re all anti-establishment. I’d like to thank to thank Deluxe Distribution, Anti-hero skateboards and Worship skateboards.