Remembering Yousef Al-Heela, the Khadamat Al Maghazi football club manager killed in Gaza

Yousef El Heela
4 min read
07 May, 2024

Last month, Yousef Al-Heela, the Khadamat Al Maghazi football club manager from Gaza, was killed in an airstrike on the Al-Maghazi Open Market in Al-Maghazi Refugee Camp.

The attack killed more than 12 people and left dozens wounded. 

Tributes paid to Yousef Al-Heela  

Since Yousef's passing, numerous tributes from colleagues and friends have poured in. 

Khadamat Al Maghazi football club’s player Izz Rabah tells The New Arab that he wouldn’t have played football if it had not been for Yousef.

Since 2011, they have trained together, challenged each other, and aimed to win every game. 

"We were joking just two days before his passing, hoping this war would end. I'm appalled, furious, and can't believe it," Izz says.

"He wasn't just my manager; he was my role model, brother, and guide on and off the pitch. He was like a spiritual father to me in football. Losing many teammates and now my manager is truly heartbreaking," Izz added. 

Yousef Al-Heela during a training session with Khadamat Al-Maghazi Football Club
Yousef Al-Heela during a training session with the Khadamat Al Maghazi club

"I had a serious shoulder injury about two years ago. Even though he wasn't my manager then, he visited me and lifted my spirits to recover soon. He was a beautiful soul with immense determination and big dreams. He dedicated his life to coaching the Palestinian National Team, but the war has taken his life.

"I promise to follow in his footsteps and spread his love and passion for the game wherever I go in the future. I feel demotivated now, but I'll never give up because he always wanted to see me shine," added Izz.

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Khalid Abu-Habel, Izz's teammate, was brought to tears upon hearing the news of his loss.  

"It's a huge loss for football in Gaza and Palestine," Khalid tells The New Arab.

"He was an inspiring coach who aimed to elevate our performance and push us to excel on the pitch. I can't recall a time when he didn't want us to give our all for the team. His kindness, understanding, and love for the game were unparalleled, which is why he was a top-level manager," Khalid added. 

"My connection with him wasn't just about football. We hung out, played five-a-side football, and shared updates about each other, especially since the war on Gaza began.

"We had just met days ago. I can't believe how much sorrow we have to endure during this war. His loss will leave me heartbroken for years. I don't know how I'll continue without his invaluable advice and unwavering support." 

Yousef Al-Heela in blue manages an activity under a Palestinian-German project of promoting mental health through sports
Yousef Al-Heela, in blue, manages an activity under a Palestinian-German project to promote mental health through sports

Tamer Abu-Daher, Yousef’s colleague and the current manager of Khadamat Al Maghazi Football Club, attended his funeral. 

Tamer, who has lost many of his colleagues and players since Israel's brutal onslaught began, has been coaching the Al-Maghazi Football Club for over three years. 

Throughout these football campaigns, he consistently sought advice from Yousef, taking his advice and discussing various techniques with him. 

“He was an honest friend and a brother through every stage of life. He was a man with the purest of smiles. He was my football partner and companion who always took the initiative to help others. He had a dream, but Israel killed him before his dream could even come true," Tamer said. 

“He trained many football generations and instilled an unbreakable and professional mentality. He always inspired them to stardom. No words can describe his loss as he was the friend of all time and a big name on the Palestinian football stage. That’s why he was priceless."

Successful milestones  

Before Yousef's passing, the manager earned the nickname 'Manager of All Generations,' for his work with over eight different age groups, ranging from 10 to 30 year olds. 

Some of Yousef's best achievements include winning the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) 2001-Youth Championship in 2017 and securing two under-16 championships with Champions FC in the past two football seasons. 

Yousef also led his teams to the semi-finals and finals of the Tokyo Youth Championship sponsored by the Japanese government, competing in the Palestinian-occupied territories in 2016 and 2018. 

In addition, he took charge of the Khadamat Al Maghazi club, enabling them to finish mid-table in the first-tier league.

The following year, he moved to the Khadamat Al-Nusairat club within the same league, only just missing out on a promotion. 

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In 2019, he signed with the first-tier Al-Aqsa club, maintaining their position in the league. He was later appointed coach for the Palestinian youngsters participating in Spanish academies as expatriates. 

The next year, he joined Champions FC as head coach, securing two championships and overseeing the club's youth academy. 

Despite having a strict training schedule, Yousef managed to obtain a bachelor's degree in Arabic Language Teaching from the Al-Aqsa University of Gaza, which now lies in ruins after Israeli military operations in Khan Younis. 

The death toll from Israel's war on Gaza has hit over 34,600, but as Israeli tanks and planes pound Rafah, many more lives and sporting dreams will be destroyed. 

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

Follow him on Twitter/X: @AbubakerAbedW and Linkedin