What was once an unattainable dream: Gaza gains its first-ever foothold in the World Cup in Qatar
In a historical precedent, the besieged coastal enclave has gained its first-ever foothold in the World Cup 2022 which will be held in Qatar, as a local voluntary delegation will participate in organising activities for the international event.
On Sunday, about 28 Gazans, aged between 20 to 40, travelled through the Rafah border crossing to Doha in a bid to join about 5,000 other volunteers who will work in 45 functional areas.
These areas include stadiums, training grounds, the airport, fan zones, hotels, and public transportation hubs.
The Gazan volunteers, including two young women, were chosen a few months ago by the Qatari authority supervising the organisation of the huge global event after they filled out online applications to take a place in the event.
“For Gazans, just being in the World Cup was just an unattainable dream... For more than 15 years, we have been forced to live in a big aired prison under the illegal Israeli blockade”
Once they arrived in Qatar, the Gazan delegation as well as international volunteers have been busy receiving face-to-face training to be ready for the international event.
“For Gazans, just being in the World Cup was just an unattainable dream,” Ahmed Hijazi, one of the Gazan volunteers, spoke to The New Arab, adding that “For more than 15 years, we have been forced to live in a big aired prison under the illegal Israeli blockade.”
In the past, Gazans, football fans, used to watch World Cup matches in public places such as cafes, in exchange for paying money since not everyone could pay a subscription to encrypted sports channels, as most of them suffer from hard-living conditions, as Hijazi said.
“I cannot imagine how I will deal with thousands of people from different nationalities, religions, as well as genders,” the 28-year-old man said with a smile on his face, explaining that he will invest in every moment of his time in Qatar to learn more about the largest possible number of cultures of other peoples.
"It is our rare golden opportunity to be free from not only the Israeli prison but also from our internal fears to break the barriers between us and other people,” he added, noting that most young Gazans suffer from self-closing as they could not travel and react with other peoples.
In 2007, Israel tightened its siege on the Gaza Strip after the Hamas movement took control of the enclave, something that caused the deterioration of the living conditions of more than two million citizens.
Since then, Israel, with the help of Egypt, has turned the Gaza Strip into an open-air prison Israeli and destroyed the economy in Gaza, and contributed to the dispersal of the people.
The Israeli blockade is "part of two crimes against humanity, namely apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians,” according to a report issued earlier this year by the international organisation of Human Rights Watch.
The illegal Israeli blockade deprives more than two million residents of opportunities to improve their lives, whether by travelling for the purposes of foreign trade, study, medical treatment, or other opportunities, the report said.
As a result, it explained, Palestinians have lost important opportunities for progress, which are not available in Gaza.
"We know very well that if the country hosting the World Cup was not Qatar, our participation in this season would be impossible"
“Israel’s ban was not limited only to our movement and travelling, but also to our participation in any international events as it (Israel) has strong relations with European countries that consider us as terrorists,” Abdul Rahman Tafish, another Gaza-based volunteer, told The New Arab.
The 33-year-old basketball player said that “Thanks to Qatar and its policy of support for the Palestinian people, we will participate for the first time in history in such a major event on a global level.”
As a Gaza-based Palestinian, he adds, “We know very well that if the country hosting the World Cup was not Qatar, our participation in this season would be impossible but Qatar dealt with the matter wisely and responsibly towards the Arab identity in general and the Palestinian identity in particular.”
He stressed that those going to Qatar will do their best to be ambassadors for Palestine and Gaza.
"We are people who love life and are capable of participating in all sports activities at the international level,” he added.
Both Hijazi and Tafish, who are active people in the sports sector, said that the Gazan delegation will transfer the experiences that they will gain during the World Cup to the Gaza Strip.
Qatar has been gearing up to host over 1.2 million people from around the world for the 29-day FIFA World Cup 2022, which will start on November 20 until December 18.
Officially, Qatar has finished its logistical preparations ahead of the fast-approaching World Cup. It has equipped all eight World Cup stadiums and completed the necessary infrastructure, including streets, bridges, tunnels, cycle paths, and parks.
Sally Ibrahim is The New Arab's correspondent from Gaza