Gazan girl has eyes set on gold and glory

Gazan girl has eyes set on gold and glory
Enas Nofal's prodigious talent will not be thwarted by the Israeli siege on Gaza, vows the 15-year-old athlete.
6 min read
05 June, 2016
Stretching for success: Enas and Coach Sami work through their training programme [Shadi Alqarra]
At a private playground in the middle of Gaza Strip, Enas Nofal, performs her daily exercises with the help of her local couch, and her father.

In the crisp early Sunday morning air, the 15-year-old jogs steadily on the grass.

"I look forward to taking part in an upcoming championship for an international competition in the Russian Federation, this month," she told The New Arab. "Yet, I feel really upset for the fact that my coach Sami [Alnatil] will not be able to join me."

Her tears begin to fall.

In the past year, Enas has won two local races, showing rapid development as she demonstrates her deep faith that future successes will come her way.

"Last year, I felt I had an extraordinary energy and zeal to move, By then, my coach Sami and my father decided to let me practice the running sports on a daily and professional basis. Actually, I have been inspired by some local and Arab girl runners, including Mayada Alse'aidy and other runners from Algeria and Morocco."

The girl's talent has seen victories in the 800m in northern Gaza in November 2015, and an April 2016 race over 3km organised by Al-Aqsa University.

"I dream of representing my country Palestine and particularly my hometown, Gaza, in the upcoming international championship in Russia. I greatly hope I will win.

"I have a strong faith inside me that would enable me to have the honour of representing Palestine and winning that championship. I also look forward to participating in the Tokyo Olympics, to be held in 2022," Enas said, next to her nodding father, Mohammad Nofal.

We were expecting that Enas would participate in a 10km 'marathon' in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, but unfortunately, neither Enas nor other potential runners, were allowed in by Israel

Family support

Mohammad believes strongly in his daughter's talent and spares no effort to encourage her. "In the early days of her talent... her mother and I used to drive her to the beachfront and the south of the Gaza Strip, with the help of her coach, for running training," said Mohammad, a civil engineer.

"Actually, we are fully supporting our daughter and we do this only on our own and with the help of friends, like Salim Almosadar, owner of this playground."

Reality in Gaza

Aside from dreams of glory, the reality of daily life in Gaza is rarely helpful for the development of sport. Amenities are sparse.

[L-R] Coach Sami Alnatil, father Mohammad and athlete Enas
at their training facility [Shadi Alqarra]

With no official support or corporate sponsorship, Mohammad plans to take his daughter to a private nutritionist's laboratory, but such facilities are few and far between.

"Unfortunately, as you might see here, Enas is training at this Sports Land Academy, owned by local veteran sportsman, Salim Almosadar [a footballer]. Sadly, there is no genuine attention to athletics, especially for girls, like my daughter Enas. Can you imagine? There are no specialised tracks for athletics running." 

Continued training 

Sami Alnatil, Enas' coach, told The New Arab that the schoolgirl could be a promising runner in the future, with an extraordinary talent compared with others of her age.

"In April of this year, we were expecting that Enas would participate in a 10km 'marathon' in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, but unfortunately, neither Enas nor other potential runners, were allowed in by Israel.

"Even before, Enas could have run for the 10km during training. For a runner her age, 15, only five kilometres could be expected. Based on my own experience, over 16 years now, I can definitely foresee that Enas will be a very distinguished runner, not only at the level of Gaza or Palestine, but also at the level of international championships."

'Enas is my daughter'

Saleem Almosadar, owner of the Sports Land Academy, in the central Gaza Strip village Al Musaddar - from which his name derives - told The New Arab that, since the first minute he saw her run, he had been impressed by Enas' talent.

"As a veteran Gaza soccer player, I believe strongly in Enas' talent, and therefore I am dedicating whatever is at my disposal to help Enas develop," he said.

"In February of this year, I managed to register, within my Sports Land Academy, for a championship in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and at the expense of the Sports Land Academy - but unfortunately, we could not travel, because of the closure of border crossings. I wished that the Palestinian Union for Athletics could have helped coordinate our travel [with Israeli officials]. But this has not happened."

Girls like Enas... are allowed to train at the sole track in Gaza City for one day a week - and only in the evening times

One track

According to the Palestinian Union for Athletics in Gaza, there is only one specialised track for running in the beseiged coastal enclave, and it can be found in Gaza City's al-Yarmouk district, at a facility now run by the local municipality, not by the union itself.

"Actually, girls like Enas, who is a promising runner, are allowed to train at the sole track in Gaza City for one day a week - and only in the evening times," Dr Nader Abu Halawa, director of the Palestinian Union for Athletics in Gaza, told The New Arab.

"Of course, this could not work, as girls in this society cannot move freely at night times. Unfortunately, the Union cannot deal with all forms of sports in Gaza, due to financial and technical obstacles. We have only managed to ensure that Enas is being accepted within the upcoming Russian championship."

Enas will be joined on the road to Russia by a runner from the West Bank and some administrative staff, also from the West Bank.

"I am pleased to say that we managed to nominate Enas for that upcoming championship, to be held in Russia, in June of this year," said Dr Abu Halawa.

"Regarding the previous marathon, which was held in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, in April 2016, we were informed by the Palestinian Civil Affairs department... that the Israel side argued they received names of candidates only a few days before the date of the marathon. I can confirm that we in the union managed to send names of 120 candidates more than 20 days before the marathon's date."

In the Gaza Strip, sports in general have been badly affected by the daily conditions of life here. The Israel-imposed siege has taken its toll in strangulated economic deprivation for almost ten years.

"I remember that, prior to 2007, when Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza, I myself managed to travel abroad for Arab and international competitions, a few times, Coach Sami said.

"I do believe that, for Enas and her like, free movement on border crossings is an imperative. Travelling for local athletics would enrich and improve a number of sports. An improvement that could only be attained in a period of three years here could be attained only in one year, once an athlete has the chance to catch up with their fellows 'abroad'."

Rami Almeghari is a freelance journalist in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari