Gaza stadiums that were once home to football fans, now become home for the displaced

Gaza destruction
4 min read
18 January, 2024

“I used to be in a stadium with a packet of popcorn and a soda to enjoy two hours of football. Now, I am here, displaced and a refugee, with only my clothes," begins Ahmed Hamada, who fled from his town in Gaza to seek refuge at the Al-Dorra Stadium.

"I never imagined in my life that the stadium would be a home to me one day.”

"After Israel unleashed its brutal war, these small spaces of leisure turned into piles of rubble, while football stadiums became unprotected sanctuaries for evacuees from the north of Gaza"

Life in Gaza before October 7 was already not that fun-laden for people. Their entertainment options were very limited as they only had the beach to enjoy the sea view and swim in, a few parks and restaurants to visit, and just some stadiums to watch local football. 

Live Story

But after Israel unleashed its brutal war, these small spaces of leisure turned into piles of rubble, while football stadiums became unprotected sanctuaries for evacuees from the north of Gaza.

While many clubs have been destroyed in Gaza, such as the Gaza Sport and the Ittihad Al-Shujayya Club, stadiums have also been attacked. Palestine Stadium was flattened, and the Al-Yarmouk Stadium was also targeted several times. 

Football in Gaza seems to be purposefully targeted, with the Palestinian Football Association building in Gaza being hit by Israeli warplanes — such continuous killing of Palestinian players, fans, and managers cannot be justified. 

"I support the Ahli Nusairat Club from the Al-Nusairat Refugee Camp. I loved watching them," Ahmed tells The New Arab. 

"Now, I have lost my friends who were coming with me to the stadium so I have lost love and passion towards the game. All I want is to get back home. I used to spend hours watching my favourite team, but now I spend hours queueing up just to get water."

The Al-Yarmouk Stadium was the subject of horrifying scenes of humiliation after hundreds of Palestinian civilians seeking refuge in the stadium were abused after Israeli soldiers invaded it. 

Live Story

Since the first Friday of the war, the Al-Dorra Stadium in Deir al-Balah has accommodated more than 10,000 people, fleeing from the north of Gaza to the stadium.

Al Dorra stadium
The Al -Dorra stadium being used a refuge for Gaza's displaced 
The Al-Dorra stadium is now being used as a refuge for Gaza's displaced 

Vital aid does not reach regularly the area and when it does, it is not enough, says Ahmed Hijazi, the director of refugees’ affairs inside the stadium.

Ahmed Hijazi was the director of the only local sports broadcasting channel in Gaza, Amwaj, before the war. He fled from the Al-Shati Refugee Camp to the stadium. 

"Israel is killing the only outlet for most Gazans. The stadium cannot host games for at least a year. All characteristics in the stadium have changed, and I can't recognise the stadium at all," Ahmed tells The New Arab. 

"There is only suffering here, particularly on rainy days. You cannot imagine what they are going through — people are shivering from cold, sneezing, and coughing, that's what you see. It's truly horror." 

Live Story

He describes the situation inside the stadium to The New Arab, " How can a stadium be a sanctuary for people during war times? The stadium is roofless and is close to the sea. It's freezing here. It is a miserable life for the people here. They are not provided with anything. Only a little water and aid are coming in for them."

Mahmood Selmi writes on his Instagram account, "I used to visit the Al-Dorra Stadium as a player. I am now displaced and homeless with nothing in my hands to do. It is utterly heartbreaking."

Ahmed Hijazi had hopes of broadcasting Palestine's games during the AFC Asian Cup on Amwaj, but the war had other plans, with Israeli strikes destroying his channel's broadcast building. 

Live Story

"We wish our team the best of luck in the tournament, but I must say we have sadly lost the passion towards the game," Ahmed said with pain in his voice. 

Basel AbdulJawwad, who was forced to leave his home following the recent firing in Deir al-Balah's Salah Al-Deen Street and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, told The New Arab, "I am an avid football fan. I used to gather with my friends every Friday to watch football in the stadium and enjoy ourselves. Now I don't have a home to go and almost all the stadiums have been targeted.

"When I think of the view of the stadium before the war, my heart aches. They were truly lovely times. I miss them so much."

Abubaker Abed is a Palestinian journalist, writer, and translator from the Deir al-Balah Refugee Camp in Gaza, who is interested in sports and languages

Follow him on X: @AbubakerAbedW