Wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh, the team’s arrival in Qatar comes after concluding their 10-day training camp in Saudi Arabia, amid Israeli aggression on their home turf.
Palestine’s national team arrived in Qatar on Tuesday for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, scheduled to kick off on January 12, beIN Sports reported.
Draped in the Palestinian keffiyeh, the team’s arrival comes after concluding their 10-day training camp in the Saudi city of Abha on Monday, the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) announced.
Palestine will face Iran on January 14, the United Arab Emirates on January 18, and Hong Kong on January 23 during the group stages.
The participation of Palestine comes at a critical time, with Palestinian footballers witnessing the horrors of the Israeli genocide of Gaza and intensified raids across the West Bank.
The Israeli occupation forces have killed at least 22,185 Palestinians and injured 57,305 others in Gaza since October 7, according to the latest figures by Gaza’s health ministry.
Occupation forces and armed settlers have also killed at least 300 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 79 children, by the end of 2023, according to Palestine’s news agency (Wafa).
Israel has killed 85 Palestinian athletes, including 55 football players, since the beginning of the war on Gaza, the PFA confirmed on December 14 in a report on Israel’s sports violations.
Some of the football players included 18 children and 37 youths, the report added.
Meanwhile, some of the Palestinian players participating in the AFC have lost their loved ones and have “a constant feeling of anxiety for their families,” AFP reported, citing its interviews with the team’s members.
Players, including Mahmoud Wadi and Mohammed Saleh, still have family members stuck in Gaza.
“Everyone is glued to the news, before and after training, be it on the bus or at the hotel,” Makram Daboub, the team’s coach, told AFP via telephone.
Daboub added that the team hopes to “qualify for the latter stages of the Asian Cup and show the honourable face of Palestinian football.”
Israel has destroyed nine sports facilities, including four in the West Bank and five in Gaza, most notably the iconic Yarmouk Stadium, since the beginning of the war, according to the PFA. Yarmouk was built in 1938 and is one of the oldest in Palestine.
In December, the occupation forces turned the stadium into a detention centre where dozens of Palestinians were rounded up and humiliated.
PFA had called on the International Olympic Committee, FIFA and AFC on December 27 to take “urgent measures” against the Israeli violations at the Yarmouk Stadium.
“In the latest example of Israeli fascism, the occupation showed us horrific images during its invasion of the Yarmouk Stadium in the Gaza Strip, and turned it into a detention centre where it abused and interrogated our people,” the PFA said in a statement at the time.
“This blatant and scandalous violation of all covenants is added to a long series of violations against Palestinian sports, including the killing and arrest of players. This is a crime that the international sports institutions cannot tolerate, silence and ignore,” the PFA added.
Israel’s sports apartheid
The Israeli destruction of sports life in Palestine comes under its wider efforts to isolate Palestinians from the rest of the world by hindering their participation in sporting events.
Palestinian footballers often struggle to find locations to play matches due to the destruction of facilities across Palestinian lands by Israeli forces.
In April last year, occupation forces attacked the Faisal Al-Husseini Stadium in Jerusalem during the Palestine League Cup Final.
No casualties were confirmed though tens of Palestinians suffocated as a result of tear gas inhalation. The stadium’s total attendance was 2,000, representing around 25% of its capacity, as hundreds travelled from Nablus to Jerusalem for the game.
Palestinian players also struggle to meet for practice as they would require Israeli permits to pass through Israeli checkpoints.
In 2019, Israel cancelled the FIFA Palestine Cup by denying Gazan players travel permits.
Israel’s restrictions on the movement of Palestinians are highly repressive, with at least 700 obstacles placed around the West Bank and up to 140 checkpoints.
Palestinians and activists from all around the world have long accused FIFA of ignoring letters to suspend the Israeli Football Association’s membership, and FIFA itself is complicit in sponsoring matches on illegally occupied Palestinian lands.
The Israeli occupation’s restrictions on Palestinian players are a violation of the Olympic Charter, which states that “the practice of sport is a human right.”
“Every individual must have access to the practice of sport, without discrimination of any kind in respect of internationally recognised human rights within the remit of the Olympic Movement,” the charter says.