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Palestine: Gaza Hosts Its Own Soccer World Cup

Football (soccer) fans are preparing for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa next month, but right now another football World Cup is going on – in Gaza. While Palestine may not be able to send a team to South Africa, a Palestine team is competing against foreign residents of Gaza who have formed teams representing their countries, in a tournament being played over the first two weeks of May. Palestinian bloggers are thrilled by the tournament – and two of them managed to attend a match.

The website of the Gaza World Cup explains what it's all about:

Currently 1.6 million Palestinians are held in geopolitical limbo while Gaza struggles under a multifaceted siege. Gazan involvement in international sporting events, and indeed many arguably more important activities, remains nearly impossible for the foreseeable future. The Gaza Strip is, inexplicably, excluded from the rest of the world. […] In the spirit of banding together, the “Gaza World Cup” is a highly inclusive project that aspires to remind the Gazan community, as well as the rest of the world, that we share more in common than political adversity. Specifically, a two-week football tournament is scheduled for the first half of May, 2010, in which approximately 200 Gazan professional football players will join together with 200 foreigner amateurs to compose 16 different “national” teams in the quest to win the “Gaza World Cup” – an artistic trophy handmade from the twisted iron of Gaza. Forming the core of the Gaza World Cup will be a partnership between 16 professional football clubs in Gaza and an equal number of foreigner amateurs residing in Gaza for various humanitarian purposes.

The students writing at Life on Bir Zeit Campus (Birzeit is a university in the West Bank) think the tournament is a great idea:

We're far superior than y'all who are counting down the days until the World Cup in South Africa commences because a more important and more high-profile world cup is happening right now! ‘Tis called…the Gaza World Cup. Unfortunately for us, we can't be there in person to witness history, what with all the occupation borders limitations permits and the rest of that jazz, but we have little things like Internet and Television Sets to observe the games keenly. […] We're picturing normal people with normal bodies and normal (or less than) fitness levels, as opposed to the Adonis yummy six pack professional athletes, playing a good game of football. It's so cute! And really great…Palestine for the World Cup!

Haitham Sabbah, a Palestinian blogger based in Bahrain, says:

It seems that football fans might be able to do what Arab governments have miserably failed to achieve or even address: lifting the illegal inhuman Israeli siege of Gaza!

Two young Gaza bloggers were excited to have the chance to attend their first football match, the second match of the tournament. Lina Al Sharif, who blogs at Live From Gaza, was surprised to be able to go:

Stadiums in Gaza are for men. Girls going to a football match is not a familiar thing. So, my friend and I were worried that our parents would not let us go. Surprisingly, my father gave me the permission, assuming that I would be bored and leave at once. Excited I was though I am not a fan of football. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t want to try the feeling of being in a football ground watching people cheering over men passing a ball.

The match was at 5 p.m . We didn’t want to be all 3 girls going to a men territory alone, so the brothers of friends came with us. (though they are way younger than us!) The 3 scarf wearing girls were darted with looks of “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” by the guards of the playground. They thought we were journalists, but we innocently said that “We are here because we want to watch the game”. Still surprised, but they gave us seats where the foreign supporters were as we literally were the only girls except for a few girls who came later.

You can read about the match itself at Lina's post. She concludes:

It was a special day for us. A new experience that brought us as close as possible to a football match. The Gaza World Cup is a project that many would underestimate its value. But the idea of this event hits the core of the Gaza plight…the siege. Many do not think of the Gaza youngsters and their need to play sports. This event provides Gazans some sense of solidarity mixed with the entertainment of a football match.

Lina posted a short video she took during the match:

Amal is Lina's friend, and she writes at Hopeingaza about attending the match:

It was really amazing how the foreigners [in Gaza] were so supportive for this world cup thing, I thought they would have never take such matter seriously and to them it’s but a trifling thing, but on the contrary they came and supported us and it meant the world to me and to all the Palestinians. Going to a football match was one of the wishes I had on my wish list to go watch a football match abroad because I knew there could never be a football match in Gaza, but in Gaza I fulfilled one of my wishes in the Gaza world cup 2010.. this world cup is like a shout to the outer world who are watching us suffer under the siege not able to do anything like crippled people, that we can do it..

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