“That was a way of annexing their land”

I sat down with Ronan Fayne to chat about going to a wedding in Palestine and teaching children how to skateboard.

“One of the most beautiful places i’ve ever seen. The Sun drenches over everything.”

Five minutes after I knock on the door, of Ronan Fayne‘s home in the coastal suburb Sandycove, he sits me down,  “I can’t wait for Christmas,” he says while he grazes his great big bushy beard. I spoke to Ronan about his trip to Palestine for month volunteering for a charity called, ‘Skatepal‘, “Charlie Davis from Scotland is the guy who set it up and he reckoned he was the first person to have a skate park in Palestine. They thought a skateboard was a crazy bike with magnets on it,” he giggles.

While we chatted on the sofa in the room off the kitchen, his dog Connie gets comfy in-between us, listening intently to our conversation. What did ‘Skatepal’ involve? “Well first of all, there was skate park already built, so everyday, we waited for the kids to finish school, teach them the basics of skateboarding and we did lessons with them after class until sunset,” he gleams.

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Ronan teaching one of the local children the basics of skateboarding.

Ronan travelled on his own to Palestine, to the little town of Asira ash-Shamaliya, with a population of 15,000, he did not encounter any trouble in Palestine or Israel even, it happened at London Heathrow airport, “they took my camera off me on the way over, the Israeli airline in heathrow, they have their own security at the gate. ‘Where are you going?’ they asked me, and I replied;  West Bank. I was told not to say Palestine because they don’t recognise it. I was brought into a room in the airport and all our stuff was searched, they went through all my electrical’s and told me I couldn’t bring my camera onto the flight, and they will put it below with my luggage, but when I arrived in Tel Aviv it wasn’t there,” he says, while adding, “I only got my stuff back two weeks ago.”

Although he rarely encountered the Israeli people or authorities, Ronan did not have a particularly fond view of them, “It felt like they wanted to put a certain amount of dominance on you.” he exhaled.

Trouble or conflict was not something that he came across, “we were told a story about a university – Palestine Technical University – Kadoorie, an agricultural university, which is right on the wall. The Israeli army decided to put a firing range on the campus, (pretty sure it’s the only university in the world that has a firing range, he says, grinning nervously). There is a factory just outside, that was illegal in Israel, as the High Court deemed it to be too dangerous. They moved it to Palestine, where smoke billows over the university and the town, and it has the highest rate of cancer in the whole of Israel or Palestine. In September or October last year, the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) who were training on campus, in a training exercise, started firing tear gas at the students, shot them with rubber bullets, live ammunition and, this went on for a couple of days. Students who will never walk again and for me that was wrong because colleges are supposed to be places of education.”

We move on to the wall and what it was like, “Palestinians view the wall that the Israeli’s don’t view them as human beings and that is how they treat them; like animals by surrounding them in a wall. There is sniper towers every couple of miles along the wall but when you go down to the wall and you see the messages that are written on it ‘I love Celtic’  was one because of the flags the fans displayed in Celtic Park a while back.”

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Ronan warming up on the ramp

Who knew that Irish people would love the chipper but also love falafel, “The food was incredible, their chipper is falafel, he laughs, and we had a lot of hummus. When Eid (also called the “Sacrifice Feast”, is the second of two Muslim holidays celebrated worldwide each year) was on we were invited everywhere as a group, eight or nine of us, and they put on a huge spread and they aren’t the most wealthy but, they are phenomenally generous.”

They were a generous bunch and Ronan recalls a time when they were invited to a Palestinian wedding, “all the men the form a big circle where you link arms and you have to do a certain step and we were invited into this circle, it moves around anti clockwise. We didn’t know, once you enter the circle, you cant leave it. We were wrapped up in this thing for hours and one of our guys, his head started dropping and one of the Palestinians had to take him out, sit him down, and give him water for a few hours he laughs … he was too polite to leave the circle,”he laughs, but adding, “they were delighted we got involved.”

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The sun splitting the stones up in the hill’s of Palestine

Ronan would not think twice about recommending someone to go and visit Palestine, “even if people aren’t going to go over and volunteer, it is one of the most beautiful places i’ve ever seen. The Sun drenches over everything. It is where religions have been formed and there is still buildings there that are thousands of years old.”

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The sun is shining on the Dead sea in Palestine

I enquired was it only after school that you skated with the children? “Sometimes we skated with the kids before school at around 6am because of the sunrise, it was amazing.” What was the school or area of Palestine like? “The school used to be a summer training camp for the IDF. The women sold all their gold and jewlery and began to build a school … That was a way of annexing their land from the Israeli army in a way and now there is a school and a skate park, and they are about to build a theatre beside it too.”

He didn’t come across any apprehension from the parents of the children, “We didn’t come across any negativity, the parents, they loved it. They would have lived through wars and bombings, so they were happy that their kids were having a childhood,” he said.

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He tells me he would go back, “Absolutely, 100 %. I would love to go back with the same charity again, and I would just love to go back and see how the kids progressed.”

The children that he spent hours upon hours with everyday for month have left a lasting impression on Ronan, “They were so competitive with each other. They were hard as nails, well, tougher than the average Irish kid,” he grins. I mean some of the falls they had, oh my god, cracking their heads off the ground, getting black eyes, like seven year olds. If that was me when I was seven, I would be straight home to mum, he laughs. “Three or four was the youngest in age but he wouldn’t be doing any Tony Hawk stuff like that,” he jokes.

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