Pulling trucks with his teeth, the skinny superman of Gaza
Mohammad Barakah is slim and lean. He does not look anything like Superman, but he can still pull the weight of a big truck, or bulldozer, by a rope around his stomach, or even by the grip of his teeth.
No one is able to understand the secret behind this man’s extraordinary strength, even if they understand the physics of momentum, leading him to acquire the title, "Daredevil of Gaza."
Children gather around Barakah at his home in the small coastal town of Deir al-Balah, as the MEE camera captures the scene in front of his house where he says he will pull the truck and then a bulldozer just using a rope held between his teeth. Everyone thinks he is crazy - but curiosity keeps them spellbound as he prepares to perform his feat.
While MEE is there he challenges the owner of a passing water truck, saying that he could pull his heavy vehicle with his teeth, and the driver laughed aloud dismissively and said: “Go away.”
But Mohammed Barakah insisted, so the driver left his truck in the middle of the road - where Barakah hooked it up to a rope and started to pull it using his teeth.
Barakah, now 20 years old, is not a professional muscleman. In fact, the power behind his skinny body puzzles observers as they watch him pulling trucks and buses, often with students on board.
But his slim body can endure other unexpected feats too, like lying on the ground as his father drops sharp-pointed knives onto his body - with no bleeding or signs of injury.
This skinny local hero has garnered a growing reputation and videos of his stunts are very popular in Gaza, even if he is not known throughout the wider region.... yet.
When not pulling heavy vehicles with his teeth or fending off stab wounds, Barakah is a second year student of tourism and hotel management at a local college in Deir al-Balah.
Samson – or Jason - of Gaza
Barakah has other nicknames, such as the “Samson of Gaza,” after the biblical hero given supernatural force by God to fight and win various wars against his enemies, including the war where he carried off the city gates of Gaza.
The local audience is stunned as this young man drags the truck – it is weighed with water tanks carrying enough water for 50 homes in this neighbourhood - into motion. A 13-year old observer, Amjad, cannot believe what he is seeing.
“It is a miracle happening in front of my eyes, and I am glad I filmed it on my mom’s phone, to prove what I’m seeing,” he says with loud laugher.
The whole audience looks astonished, and the sceptics who thought he must be crazy are silenced, while enjoying the performance.
Showing off another of his stunts, Barakah removes his yellow shirt, exposing a thin body, to prepare for his father to drop the knives on his body without any visible open wounds or piercings.
The local audience is astonished that Barakah can achieve such daredevil acts given that he looks more like the Man of Steel’s alter ego Clark Kent, than Superman.
Barakah prepares for another daredevil act by placing two heavy concrete bricks on his stomach after which a young man approaches with a sledge hammer and smashes the bricks resting on his abdomen. Quietly Barakah stands up and brushes off the dust and debris, as if nothing happened. The audience laughs and claps looking amazed, trying to figure out if there is a trick to his stunt and if this is something they could do themselves.
The young performer says he enjoys entertaining the local children in his neighbourhood when they feel sad and hopeless because of the dire economic and war-torn conditions of blockaded Gaza. “They need something to cheer them up.”
“Whatever comes to my mind, even if it is a crazy idea, I will do it for them,” he says, as his small face smiles broadly.
At only 16 years of age, Barakah knew that he had some unusual skills that marked him out from his school peers. He performed at school by jumping through fire and managed to pull a heavy motorcycle with his teeth.
After a couple of years of rest, he returned to moving heavy objects for sport, pulling small cars, a bulldozer and then a massive truck - dangerous, impossible things in the minds of audiences that have witnessed his stunts.
He recalls the first time he pulled a 13-ton bulldozer with his arms, and some months later walked on iron nails and other assorted sharp objects.
Kamal Barakah, his father, who works in a local school, has always supported him by preparing the tools for his acts, readying the ropes on the heavy bulldozers and buses, and dropping the knives on his son’s stomach.
“We thank God for giving my son strong skin - he has a talent that should be nurtured,” his father says, as he clears away the sharp knives from the ground.
World record dreams
Barakah’s daredevil acts continue to inspire those gathering in the neighbourhood to watch him. He says that the skills he has may not compare much to the feats of other strongmen around the world, but he still has ambitions for recognition.
“I have ambitions to be in the Guinness World Book of Records one day, there are records I am willing to break, for the first time, in the world.”
His father says Barakah should be invited to take part in international competitions, representing Gaza with a new talent to be proud of, one not related to wars, and to make Gazans feel proud.
Barakah says the acts seen today are only a small part of what he has trained himself to do. He has also developed some challenges with water, which he has not seen anywhere else and which he plans to reveal soon.
He cannot get regular work, so enjoys watching YouTube videos, including scenes from Jason Statham movies. He dreams of meeting his action-movie hero, despite the gates of Gaza being locked as a result of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. “If Samson can tear down the gates of Gaza, maybe I can do the same, with my teeth, and let Jason in,” he laughs.
This makes Barakah’s dream of travelling the world to take part in global competitions very difficult, pending the political will to let him, and all Gazans, have freedom of movement, as stipulated in international law as being part of their inalienable human rights.
Barakah lives in an area where unemployment affects 45 percent of the population, mostly young people, according to the United Nations.
His friend, Mohammed al-Faleet, is proud of his friend and is happy to manage his fanpage on Facebook.
“Mohammed has the ability to elevate the name and reputation of Gaza, and Palestine, high in the sky,” he smiles, before saying, “but we need freedom of movement to be proud of our generation and export our talents to the world.”