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Fear of God – A Middle East journey with Sergej Vutuc

Date trees, olive groves, Mediterranean beaches, sunshine – the promised land could be a biblical paradise, but it is torn by hate and war for decades. The Middle East Conflict is way too complex to explain in a few words, but substantiates itself in the form of suicide bombers, merciless settlement policies, retaliation attacks and last but not least a dividing wall between Israel and Palestine. Sergej Vutuc wanted to see it for himself and, also, take advantage of the mild climate in order to go skating, so did Valeri Rosomako, Laurence Keefe, Nich Kunz, Sam Partaix and filmer Francisco Saco. But right at the arrival it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a normal trip. In a region where there is no clear difference between black and white, the grey areas bring along a lot of problems, but also thrilling insights in a disrupted country full of paranoia, in which one gets this tingly feeling that every pedestrian you cross might be a spy.

[Text & Photos: Sergej Vutuc]

„Mr. Vutuc, would you come please with me?“ My answer is yes, but thoughts are going through my head, all other guys are already inside. Would they know where I am? She allows me to let the guys know that I would have to be interviewed. Sitting on bench between Arabian guys and lone female travelers, they look little bit strange, but sometimes it’s like Jim Morrison sung: „people are strange when you're a stranger“. I escape from surrounding by opening book and diving into story. Father of Arabian family starts to yell at boarder police, I can’t understand, but intensity is not comfortable. It makes you grow strange feeling inside of you. I lose focus over my book. One younger guy calls my name, few steps away there is another person. Later, on my flight back, I realize what is the role of the other person in such situations. He’s surveilling my reactions. I am entering a hall with different small, open rooms. Watchman is still behind me, he tells me to keep walking and enter last room which is small and pretty chaotic. The watchman is entering the room. Inside me is such strange feeling.


Nich Kunz – Smithgrind

We have a place to sleep, but don’t really know where. We would like to go to Palestine as well, but not for political reasons. It’s just for skating and exploring life between the lines, making our own story. All my thinking about Mideast is interrupted by yelling. “You are Muslim!! Why you wear beard?” Watchman starts screaming fast, aggressive and loud. His beard, my fucking background of being born in country with civil war of fucking religions, my orthodox father, my catholic mother, all traumata from war and growing up at the end of Yugoslavia and all the shit afterwards… And now Bosnia is labeled as Muslim country. I am losing ground under my feet, is that Kafka or me? What’s going on? There are already more questions. „Why are you here? Who you know here? Ah friends… How long you know them? Where you met them?“ „From… They are friends of friends from Berlin.” „Show me their social media profile. So they are not your friends. Have you been in jail? Why are you lying? Have you been in jail!?“ I… Have I been in jail? Ahhh, intensity and pressure is so big that I start to ask myself, if I have been in jail or not. „No! I didn’t.“ „Don’t lie to me!“ I am apologizing for the misunderstanding of meaning of friends between us. Atmosphere is calming down, they take me out of room and back on the bench.

"“You are Muslim!! Why you wear beard?” Watchman starts screaming fast, aggressive and loud."

What was this? More than an hour pass by, I can’t see any of the guys. I am getting jelly legs but also angry. Try to distance myself – hate doesn’t work. More and more pictures of my childhood appear, whole shit of religious killing in the name of freedom… A fourth person is coming and taking me for interview on other side of building. A group of Spanish speaking, I would say workers, getting very mad. Seems like paperwork problems. It feels like I’m missing a part of film between past and present. One good hour is gone and the queue is pretty long. I am switching position from leaning on wall, to walking, to sitting on bench. Spanish workers getting furious over boarder control. After a while someone is calling my name, it’s my turn.


Starting with apologies for my interview before, he explains that it has to do with my beard. Showing interest in skateboarding – it’s good cop time! The time is right to turn discussion into another, political direction. „Do you know that tomorrow is big day in Israel?“ Oh again, now way… new attack. I was ready to throw up all my fucking childhood traumas, growing up without parents, not seeing my dad for years and almost getting killed for being his son. Ahhh... I didn’t wait anymore for stupid questions, I start telling him what I feel and how it’s crazy that tomorrow is election day and I hope it would not have effect on our trip. Good cop game, he is taking the peaceful route, telling me that tomorrow could change whole history of country and maybe Israel would lose little bit of land, but maybe get freedom forever. What the fuck? I am trying as much as possible to get away from any politics. Slowly he turns to show interest in my works, making it into a nice welcome. When he is saying that he hopes that they don’t have to clean walls of graffiti after me, I sense that he already knew something about me. Some social media belongs to Israel military… Almost 35 years of my life was packed into two hours of repetition. Seems like good start for tour.


Valeri Rosomako – Dogpiss

Two weeks ahead of us and this was only first two hours. Still don’t really know where we will sleep. Valeri Rosomako arrived already day before and crashed at skater from Baltimore, but there is not enough place for all of us. Laurence Keefe arrived in the morning, with stupid problems of cheap flight providers. Paying ticket, but his name was not shown on the flight, rebooking ticket and paying double price, then sitting down for three hours for interview. Going through all tours he went with visual travelers around Arabic and Asian countries. Could happen to Sam Partaix as well, who was surfing in Morocco. Our power level is very low and slowly it gets dark. Nich Kunz is still on the way, one day from San Francisco. We need some cheap and easy way to recharge ourselves and get everything together. We find youth hostel which offers us deal of using their rooftop to create own tent houses, if we will shoot a promotion video.


Sam Partaix – 5-0 Grab

Israel is a relatively small country and everyone in scene knows each other. Locals use every free minute to join us on trips to other cities, creating special mission. They are ready to share everything with us. We are experiencing together, walking through Jerusalem old town eating Arabic sweets together, taking in all fruits of life from years of different cultures. This magical vibe is not only there when we skate, but also at night. Landing from sessions to parties to late night drunk downhill to strange situation where breath stops. In a room of 6x10 meters, something like garage, where an around two meter tall Russian ex-special forces guy is living. Sometimes you land in situations where you ask yourself : „was this worth the photo?“ I am looking with my right eye at Laurence, he looks like he took acid and his trip is about to start. Michael (it sounds more like Mike-L) is cleaning my open hands from bad slam from long downhill in Haifa 30 minutes ago. It hurts. Mikel don’t want to hear it and starts telling his story from special forces in Russian-Afghanistan war. Showing me the huge, self-sewed scar on his stomach. That burning hand starts to disappear. „Do you guys want coffee, Mikel gonna make you coffee! Here, cake!“ English with strong Russian accent and now with birds in background has something of surreal film. Mikel doesn’t have much, he is living off cleaning car windows on street, his food is mostly from dumpster, but he is happy to have someone at his small home to share last piece of meat with. Morning is coming, it’s time for Mikel to put on his white shirt and black elegant jacket and start to work. Laurence and me are completely lost in the streets.

"We sit down in the back of the bus somewhere by window. Ooops, this window has hole, looks like bullet hole."

It is time to get tickets to go to fenced in Palestine. Something that is hard to understand and get. Early in the morning, leaving from luxury parking lot in Jerusalem, passing by fashion boutiques on way to Arabian bus station at Damascus Gate. You have a feeling that in that area everything is under surveillance and that talking with someone could be… Some guy with chainsaw shows us bus and disappears somewhere. While entering the bus, someone takes photos of us with his phone. We sit down in the back of the bus somewhere by window. Ooops, this window has hole, looks like bullet hole. Nich makes joke that there will be no second bullet going through same hole. Bus fills with people. Time to hit road. For ages global news were filled by Mideast conflict.


I am again „something in between“, like a perpetual running gag. Bus on way of leaving Jerusalem, every few kilometers people get on bus. An Arab is sitting next to me. Valle is sitting next to a sweet Chinese girl. Bus is full and everyone is interested in where you come from, why you traveling here and what you think about Palestine. We are slowly at the wall, riding slowly into checkpoint and entrance to Ramallah. Seems like Berlin Wall was the small brother. Signs changing and political graffiti of screaming for freedom surround us, we are in Palestine. Valerie getting his friendship closer, they exchange e-mail addresses. We meet Harry [Gerrard] around noon at main local skatespot. Tea on every corner slowly calming you down. Absorbing atmosphere. Downtown of Ramallah is like huge bazaar. Fresh juices, sweets and organized chaos, which allows you to skate street between cars. Only rule: respecting flow. Everyone is trying to show you pleasure that you visit them since they are not so easily allowed to leave life behind wall and checkpoints and experience other cultures. We try to give few boards to kids. I feel bad that I didn’t think about it before the trip. Harry takes us to mini ramp behind youth centre in Ramallah. After few minutes of mini session, kids take over mini ramp. Forgetting the surrounding of religious and political mess. It’s hard to leave, but because of the night, we want to take the last bus back to Jerusalem.


Valeri Rosomako – Frontside Rock 'n' Roll

We are on way back, this time we need to stop at checkpoint. This control went so easily and I put my passport under my leg waiting for a second control, which apparently isn’t coming and I start conversation with my neighbor. We get off at Damascus Gate and get falafel. Eating under night full of stars and palm tree. Talking with French woman about being born in Jerusalem with Palestinian and French background actively fighting for end of occupation of Palestine, going on to art till I disagree on some political issues and I get the feeling that I lost little bit weight since I left bus. I’m checking all my pockets for the third time, but can’t find my passport. My face is getting pale and I am starting to see myself inside one of those political thrillers, where innocent land in prison for years and someone takes off with their passport… Running and sweating to bus station. Seems like everything is closed. This morning it was full of people, now just echo of wind. I need police station. Next building seems like right place, running inside knocking on door going up and down. No one is opening. I go in open room, two desks, a chair, nobody there. Huge screen with GPS of all busses between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Wow. Where are people? I am starting to sweat more. Voices from outside, don’t understand anything, but could imagine that someone asks what I’m doing here. He repeats in English. Turns out it’s not the police station, but the bus terminal office. I’m filled with hope. He’s trying to reach driver, first information that bus is already back to Ramallah. Ouuhhh… Then no voice from driver. „What you forget?“ I am trying to avoid what it is, have no good feeling telling him that it is German passport. After few minutes I am turning from very important personal things into German passport, he is rolling his eyes. His colleague arrives and trying to reach bus driver on private phone. Only understandable is something about Germany and laughing. Imagination rolling… „Ok, situation is, he has your passport, can you wait here one hour? He can bring it back.“

If you wanna see more of the tour, check out Sergej’s zine "Secret Earth", incl. a DVD from Francisco Saco.