The past month has witnessed unspeakable levels of violence and cruelty committed against Palestinians, with no facet of normal life unaffected. That includes football.
Palestine’s national football team is entering a critical month with focus shifting towards qualifying for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup as well as the FIFA Arab Cup in December.
Palestinian football was already in crisis thanks to the a combination of financial problems affecting WBPL clubs and complete disorganization in the PFA. To make matters worse, Palestine is without a manager having dismissed Noureddine Ould Ali following a disastrous 5-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia in March.
Palestine will most likely need four points from the final two World Cup qualifiers to avoid playing a playoff in order to just participate in Asian Cup qualification. Later in June, they’ll need to emerge victorious against Comoros should they wish to take part in the FIFA Arab Cup Finals.
Hindering the task at hand for interim manager and former GK coach Makram Dabboub is the violence on the ground. Players in Gaza threatened with death as a result of an endless and indiscriminate barrage of Israeli airstrikes. On Sunday, an Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia killed 23 year old Beit Hanoun midfielder Muath AlZaaneen. This week, the houses of national team footballers Mohammed Balah and Mohammed Saleh were reduced to rubble in an aerial bombardment that has flattened buildings housing the media, NGOs, startups, mosques, and churches.
Footballers living out of the strip have also not been spared.
In particular, four players living inside the Green Line cannot join their teammates in the West Bank for training camp due to Zionist mobs targeting Palestinian bystanders and motorists. The current status quo means the following players have not left their homes in over a week: Goalkeepers Rami Hamadi (Shefa ‘Amr) and Khaled Azzam (Kafr Manda) in addition to defender Mohammed Sammar (Haifa) and midfielder Mohammed Darweesh (Haifa).
In addition to the threat of physical violence there has been a deluge of hate on social media directed at Palestinian players playing in the Israeli leagues merely for showing their support for an end to ethnic cleansing and mindless violence.
The harassment endured from the likes of La Familia (Beitar Jerusalem’s racist ultra group) was just one of the reasons that led Rami Hamadi to cancel his two year contract with Bnei Sakhnin.
“Because of the situation here [with the mobs] we haven’t been able to reach the West Bank to join the internal training camp. It’s been a week that I haven’t left my house. We’ll try again tomorrow [Wednesday] but I don’t know if we’ll be able to join up” said Hamadi.
The situation in the West Bank is only slightly better, earlier this week Merkaz Balata and Al-Am’ary managed to travel safely to neighboring Jordan to take part in the AFC Cup. That being said, Sani Sakakini, captain of Palestine’s basketball team has lamented the fact that preparations have yet to begin ahead of the June qualifying window for the FIBA Asia Cup.