Over the next few months, you will read a lot about Palestinian football, because after those few months ahead marks the first time that the Palestinians will be a part of the continent’s biggest football tournament.
Mainstream media will pick up on the Cinderella-like story of the Palestinians as they qualified for the tournament.
Firstly, talking about how they managed to win the Asian Football Confederation’s Challenge Cup in May, against all odds, in Maldives. And they did so without conceding any goals. That victory meant that Palestine would earn the final place in the competition to be held in early 2015 in Australia. It also provided a sense of belief among the Palestinians that, things were changing, and this achievement will only eventually help elevate the status of the country among the global community.
But Palestine’s legacy, in general, is that of a nation whose noteworthy accomplishment is overtaken by that of occupation, death and destruction. This was observed from the sidelines by us three months down the line from that historic achievement in Maldives, in the form of a 50-day war between Israel and Gaza which only ended a few weeks ago.
2,000 plus individuals died in the conflict and a little more than 11,000 were injured. Among the casualties, lives of a few footballers were lost. According to statements from the Palestine Football Association, the war between two had caused “immeasurable damage” to 32 sports facilities.
Since then, Palestine had traveled to the Philippines to participate in the third edition of the Philippine Peace Cup – a three day tournament. The tournament was eventually won by another upcoming minion in Asian football – Myanmar; however Palestine managed to come in third out of the four teams that participated.
Palestinians were considered as favorites to win, having defeated both Myanmar and The Philippines in Maldives. For obvious reasons, that was not the case.
But interestingly the all too common cause of their recent immediate downfall could be attributed to the issues they have traveling in and out of Palestine.
When a normal international team travels with a usual squad of 23 players, Palestine could only do so with 14. Six of them could not leave Gaza, including assistant coach Saeb Jundiyah, whose apartment was bombed in the onslaught. Surely, there are matters of greater importance than football to attend to. Majority of the players were from the West Bank, with two coming Arab-Israeli towns of Sakhnin and Umm Al-Fahm, respectively.
The head coach himself, Jamal Mahmoud, who resides in Amman was denied a visa to enter the West Bank for preparatory training camp prior to the tournament. The players were held at separate occasions as they made their trip from the West Bank to The Philippines, via quick stopovers in Amman and Dubai.
Such is the plight of the Palestinian national team. The ease of traveling had been a focus of discussion by the PFA and FIFA, with the latter requesting the Israeli authorities to ease the restrictions. However, the situation had not yet changed. This brings up the question of what the situation would be like, as the team prepares to endure harsh conditions just to gather its players in one location and train for the Asian Cup – the biggest football tournament in Asia.
As a consolation, there is one consolation to the entire anecdote. Javier Meireles, a name not common associated with Palestinians or Arabs in general, who hails from Bethlehem scored his first goal for Palestine in a 7-3 win over Chinese Taipei in the Peace Cup.