Friday, October 30, 2020

The World Cup is in Palestine too

By Annelies Verbeek - July 02, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Football] [sport] [Occupation]

Green Russian football fields are making their way into Palestine these days, through TVs installed in every cafe and tea house.

As in the rest of the world, Palestinians are gathering to watch the World Cup. During this quadrennial international football tournament men’s national football teams are competing with each other for a prestigious golden trophy.
According to Muhanned Qafesha, a Palestinian sports commentator who works for Palestine Sports TV, the majority of Palestinians are following the World Cup.
“Everybody in the street is talking about the World Cup,” he added.
As the Palestinian national football team did not make the qualifications to participate in this World Cup, everybody supports a different team.
In a time during which the Palestinian people are more fragmented than ever, the Palestinian national team is a tool of national unity. The Palestine national team has players from Gaza, the West Bank, Israel, and the diaspora.
“It comes with great difficulties. Sometimes players from Gaza are not given exit permits, sometimes players from the West Bank are not allowed to travel outside of Palestine,” Qafesha explained.
“Sometimes we have difficulties with the players from the diaspora, because they are not allowed to come here [Palestine]”
“Israel makes it hard, they have to fight for it, but usually we manage,” Qafesha explained, adding that the Palestinian Authority helps diaspora players to obtain a Palestinian passport.
The Palestinian national team played in the qualification rounds for this World Cup.
“We played the United Arab Emirates, here in Palestine,” Qafesha explained.
The two teams played against each other in the West Bank town of Al-Ram. The game ended in a 0-0 standoff.
“We had to play against Saudi-Arabia in Amman,” Qafesha said. “Because of political issues.”
Saudi Arabia had refused to play in Palestine. Qafesha said he thought it was to avoid normalising the occupation of Palestine.
“It’s to try to improve their public image,” he said. “But I think their image in the world is already ruined.”
Saudi Arabia agreed to play Palestine in Amman. The game equally ended in a 0-0 standoff. A couple of days later, Palestine played Malaysia in the same place, and won by a whopping 6 - 0.
These qualification rounds were for both the World Cup and the Asian Cup. While Palestine did not make it to the World Cup, they will play in the Asia Cup in 2019.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Qafesha said. “We have to play against Jordan, Australia and and Syria.”
All football activities in Palestine are organised through the Palestinian Football Association (PFA).
“This was the first Arab football association,” Qafashe boasted. The PFA was founded during the British Mandate of Palestine in 1928.
The Mandatory Palestine National Football team was established in the same year. This would later grow to become the Israeli national football team.
Due to occupation and geographical fragmentation of Palestine, Palestinians did not have a professional football league until 2008.
In this year, the two Palestinian leagues were first established. They were a direct reflection of the physical separation of Palestinians in the occupied territories; the West Bank Premier League and the Gaza Strip League.
These leagues play their own annual competitions; the Gaza Cup and the West Bank Cup. Since 2015, the two winning teams also compete each other in the Palestine Cup.
On June 23, the Jerusalem team of Hilal Alquds beat Shabab Khan Younis from the Gaza Strip, in the Faisal Husseini stadium in the West Bank town of Al Ram.
“This is a form of resistance,” Qafashe emphasised. “To achieve something against Israel, to play each other despite the geographical restrictions they enforce upon us.”
“There are so many violations against Palestinian players,” he added.
“35 players, referees and coaches were killed in Gaza, during the 2014 assault,” Qafashe said. Israel also bombed the Yarmouk Stadium in Gaza in 2012.
“In the West Bank, many players have been arrested,” Qafashe continued.
One such example is Sameh Maraaba, who is a striker for the Palestinian National Team. He was arrested by the Israel forces crossing the border between Jordan and the West Bank when returning from a training camp in Qatar, April 2014. He was held for eight months. Israeli authorities accused him of being a courier for Hamas.
His arrest prevented him from going to the 2015 Asian Cup, causing him to miss what should have been the most important moments of his football career.
August 2014, Israeli forces executed Muhammad Al Qattri, a Palestinian from Amari refugee camp, playing for the national football team. He was first shot in the leg, then taken by the soldiers to be beaten and later shot by settlers, according to the Electronic Intifada.
Mohammad Sarsak, a member of the Palestinian national football team was arrested in 2008 and held for three years without formal charges. He was only released after 97 days of hunger striking. The hunger strike had damaged his body too much to ever professionally play football again.
“I think we could have achieved much more if there had not been an occupation,” Qafashe told Palestine Monitor.
“To think that we had the first Arab football association ever. Look at Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt today, how they are playing in the World Cup. Think about where we could have been.”
At the same time Qafesha emphasised that he thinks football is a useful tool to carry out the message of Palestine to the outside world.
“When we participated in the Asian Cup in 2015, Palestinians were all over the international news,” he explained, emphasising that these international games help draw attention to the way Palestinian football players suffer under occupation.
Football also helps Palestinians in that it assists them in forgetting daily problems faced by the occupation.
“When you have a hard day, you can have fun through watching football, supporting one of the teams. It helps you get away from the problems you face every day because of the occupation here,” Qafesha concluded.

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