Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Gaza’s beach fire-breathers struggle on with waning cash-flow

The Gaza Breakdance Group takes extraordinary risks to make a living

On a warm August evening, Ahmed Abu Hassira spins and twirls as he performs a gymnastics show. Bare-chested, the 36-year-old adds to his act with fire-breathing in the hopes of eliciting more cash from his audience.

Mr Abu Hassira and the Gaza Breakdance Group, made up of men between 20 and 36 years old, honed their craft watching YouTube videos and practising on the beach. Sand is a well-known dampener of fire as it starves flames of oxygen.

Nevertheless it’s a dangerous pastime, with performers risking serious burns and other injuries to entertain their fellow Gazans and earn enough cash to get by in the blockaded Palestinian enclave.

"I know it is dangerous, especially because we don't have any association or syndicate in Gaza to care about our hobby and sport, but we keep practising and performing because we like what we do," Mr Abu Hassira told The National.

One of Mr Abu Hassira’s fellow performers knows the risks only too well. Ahmed Bustan, 30, has no other source of income to support his two children.

He continues to perform despite serious leg and neck injuries picked up while practising, spewing a fine mist of fuel from his mouth over an open flame to add excitement for the audience.

“We used to hold performances daily, but now with the bad economic situation we can hardly make one or two shows a month," Mr Bustan said.

The team takes around 200 Israeli New Shekels (Dh208) for each performance, meaning each member takes home about 40 shekels.

"The situation of Gaza forces us to perform such a dangerous work because we don't have other options. Sometimes I swallow some gas and drinking milk doesn't help me to avoid the effects of it,” Mr Bustan said.

Gaza’s ministry of youth and sport suffers from a severe lack of funds, and the little funding it has goes to football. As such, those with a taste for more unusual sports are driven to learn at expensive clubs or teach themselves, said Mr Abu Hassira.

"I started doing gymnastics when I was 13 years old,” he said.

“I couldn’t afford any club fees so my brother who used to go to a running club taught me after he saw the training of other children in the club.”

Mr Abu Hassira's experiences learning gymnastics and fire-breathing and his struggles as a child have inspired him to teach others.

He opened a centre in 2014 to train children in gymnastics but he was forced to close it after only four months as Gazans focused on rebuilding after the devastation caused by Israel's third war on the territory. Now he works as a trainer for children in Gaza’s Al Nasser club.

"I want to create a new generation of children who understand well the importance of being sporty. Unfortunately, Gaza sometimes kills the spirit of being special, so I am trying to teach my students to ignore any negative reactions that could affect them," Mr Abu Hassira said

"I received a lot of negative comments and reactions for our work and performance but that doesn't stop me from doing what I love to do."

Updated: August 18, 2019 12:37 PM

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