Playing for Gaza

Despite family members and friends living under Israeli bombardment of Gaza, the Palestinian national team wrote history during the Asian Cup in Qatar.

By Sam Kunti

Mohammed Saleh could not hold back any longer. While playing against Hong Kong in his team’s final group game of the recent Asian Cup the central defender had fought back tears, but at the final whistle – as Palestine ensured a historic passage to the round of sixteen – he kneeled, prayed and wept. He seemed desperately alone, his body shaking, contending with his emotions, thinking of his family back home in Gaza, who were in mortal peril amid Israel’s relentless bombardment. It was day 109 of the war and 25,490 Palestinians had been killed according to Gaza’s health ministry. 

Surrounded by his teammates, the technical staff, fans and crowds supporting the Palestinian cause, Saleh cracked. The unremitting anxiety while playing football at a major finals had thrown him off balance at last. Asked if he thought news of the qualification would reach Gaza, the number five broke down again, “I hope my family knows…”

Mohammed Saleh

A Gazan, he grew up in the tiny strip of land that serves as home to 2,2  million Palestinians. The land, the people, the local culture, the colours and the scent of his chi...

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