Gaza's Spider-boy caught in Israel's web

Gaza's Spider-boy caught in Israel's web
In-depth: Meeting Mohammad Alsheikh, the teenage contortionist who found TV fame, yet who cannot leave the Gaza Strip to become a record-breaker.
4 min read
27 October, 2016
Muhammad will enter the Guinness Book of Records, if he can leave Gaza [Mohammed Lubbad]
Mohammad Alsheikh and Um Said made their way last month to the Israeli-controlled Eretz checkpoint in northern Gaza, in a bid to travel across Israel into the occupied West Bank, and on into Jordan.

As the 13-year-old and his mother reached the checkpoint, Israeli border officers turned them away, saying that they were not allowed to cross.

"My son and I have been invited to meet with a panel from the Guinness Records institution, in the Jordanian capital," Um Said Alshiekh told The New Arab.

"After the online reception of Mohammad's movements... the Guinness record team wanted to meet with Mohammad, in person."

In 2014, Mohammad found international fame on the TV talent show, Arabs Got Talent. Back then, despite the recent bombardment of Gaza, he and his mother were able to travel to Beirut, leaving the Strip through the Egypt-controlled Rafah crossing terminal.

"During that TV competition, my son reached the semi-final and was about to win, given his unique talent that appeared when he turned 10 years old, " said his mother, who works in a nearby school.

A YouTube clip of just one of his performances on the show, beloved across the Middle East, has racked up more than four million views.

He became known as "the Spider-boy".

"Mohammad spends most of the time moving his body completely flexibly, to the extent that when he is studying, eating or even watching TV, he happens to move his legs, arms and other parts of his body in a strange way."

The people behind the Guinness Book of Records want to register him for "most full body revolutions while maintaining a chest stand in one minute". Muhammad has recorded himself performing 33 such manoeuvres, breaking the current 29-revolution record.

But he will only be oficially recognised if the officials observe the feat in person - which means leaving Gaza.

Mohammad's performances are much loved by all his relatives, despite not being a traditionally sport-loving family.

"He always moves throughout our apartment and smiles for everybody, while practicing his sports. He is very obedient and polite and looks organised - as if he were born an athlete.

"However, none of my sons - or my daughter - has ever been in love with sports. When Mohammad was born, doctors advised me that his spine was abnormally flexible and that such a case happens only once per one million people," Um Said told The New Arab.

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Muhammed rarely keeps still; his body twisting into contorted shapes [Mohammed Lubbad]

Mohammad's trainer, 26-year-old Mohammad Lubbad, spends 15 hours a week training "the Spider-boy" in a sports club in the Tal-Elhawa neighbourhood of Gaza city.

The coach said Mohammad was a promising athlete and could be a real future star of sports that require great flexibility and core strength.

"Sometimes, myself as a Parkour practitioner, ask Mohammad to practice certain movements of my own, and he happens to do them quite perfectly. One of the most difficult movements that Mohammad has managed to perform was turning his arms around his neck, while sticking his legs between his arms," Lubbad said.

"This is really incredible, and the more Mohammad shows off more talent, the more I am getting certain that he will be able to win even international contests."

As a ten-year-old, Mohammad found a video online featuring a Russian contortionist named Zlata - known as "the world's bendiest woman".


"Before I saw videos of sports people, I did not know that I had such a talent in flexible movements," Mohammed told The New Arab. "Only three years ago, I began training on various movements, similar to those shown by the famous Russian, Zlata."

Spider-boy Muhammed dreams of becoming an internationally known athlete, competing against the best in the world.

"You know, I spend most of the time moving, as you might notice. Unfortunately, in Gaza, there is no such a real attention to sports that include my unique talent. To the best of my knowledge, I am the first-ever athlete of flexible movements in Gaza," said Muhammed, sitting on the floor, while twisting his limbs in impossible dimensions.

"I do greatly hope that the current conditions of Gaza improve and that I am able to expand my sports and be able to go abroad. A year ago, I was able to go to Norway, for a sports festival organised by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency."

With the situation in Gaza always changing, and facing an unknown future, Muhammed has shown its best to remain flexible.

Rami alMeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari