'We want to see Palestinians play football – not die in war'

Nakba survivors travel to Ireland to support their granddaughter playing for Palestine’s national football team

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Members of the Palestinian national women's team expressed their pride at playing football in front of artwork featuring the Irish and Palestinian flags at Dalymount Park stadium in Dublin on Nakba Day.

“Walking through the pitch and seeing our flag here, it feels like home," said Palestinian-German player Nadine Mohamad, 20, before the team's match against local Irish football club the Bohemians Women.

"Ireland is a European country which supports us and I think will join Spain and Malta and Slovenia and recognise Palestine soon, so we are so excited about what's going to happen in the future.

"This is the most special moment we’ve ever had."

Mohamad, who travelled from Berlin where she plays for local club Turkiyemspor, said German authorities are restricting pro-Palestine and anti-war protests and trying to deny what is happening in Gaza.

“When you see a kid who's five years old looking for his mom or dad who's buried under the rubble of their house, how do you ignore it?” she asked.

Jihad, one of the Palestinians organising the trip, said the match at Dalymount Park was about reminding the world that Palestinians do not want to die in Gaza.

“They have hopes and dreams too,” he said. “We want people to see Palestinians playing football – not just dying in war.”

George Dabit travelled to Dublin from Canada to support his granddaughter, Charlotte Phillips, who plays in the goal for the Palestinian national team.

Born in Jaffa in 1945, Mr Dabit and his family were forced to flee their home during the 1948 Nakba, or "catastrophe", after the formation of Israel .

His family lived in Jordan before returning to East Jerusalem where he met Phillips’s grandmother, Odette.

“It’s only in the last two and half years that I’ve been able to talk about what happened to my family during the Nakba,” Mrs Dabit said.

Her family had planned to flee from their home in the city of Ramla in 1948 but after her eldest brother Zachary, who was 18, died from a gunshot wound inflicted by a Jewish militia her mother refused to leave.

“She said 'over my dead body are we leaving the land where my son is buried',” Mrs Dabit said.

Just a few years later in 1956, Mrs Dabit saw her father, who was a Catholic Palestinian, being killed in an axe attack after he refused to sell his popular restaurant in Ramla to a group of Jewish Iraqis who had moved into the neighbourhood.

“He died on my sister’s knee,” she recalls emotionally.

Various members of Mrs Dabit's family emigrated to Canada before she and husband George decided to emigrate too, in 1968.

The couple had been living in Beit Hanina, a neighbourhood near Jerusalem which was occupied by Israel after the 1967 war.

“Canada gave us a country and a flag and treated us like everyone else,” Mrs Dabit said.

“I didn’t want my kids to know about politics. I wanted to give them a fresh start, but I can’t deny who I am.”

The Dabits are proud to see their granddaughter play for Palestine.

“Charlotte’s so passionate about playing with the team,” Mrs Dabit said.

But she worries whether playing for a Palestinian team could hurt her granddaughter’s future, with the current climate on university campuses and in workplaces.

Speaking before Wednesday night's match, Phillips said that she was excited to represent Palestine in front of her family and that the players are always trying to do their best.

“It’s very competitive, no one wants to be replaced,” she said.

The friendly game marks the first time the Palestinian women’s team has played a match in Europe and coincides with the annual Nakba Day.

Bohemian defender Abbie O’Hara said the Irish team had been looking forward to the match since they heard it had been organised with the Palestinian Football Association this year.

“We’re all just really excited to play,” said O’Hara.

The Bohemian Football Club has previously raised funds for sports programmes for Palestinian children living in the Tulkarm camp in the occupied West Bank.

Proceeds from this match will support the cost of the team travelling to Ireland, as well as the work of charitable organisations including Palestine Sport for Life, Medical Aid for Palestinians and Aclaí Palestine.

Palestinian players facing the Bohemian women’s team in the sold-out match travelled this week from the West Bank through Jordan, and from Israel, Lebanon, Germany, Sweden, the US and Canada.

Bisan Abuaita, 26, who normally plays right-wing for the Palestinian team, travelled from Bethlehem.

Abuaita said the team has never had players from Gaza, as even before the war began it was too difficult for them to travel for matches because of the total blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

The team last played in Jeddah in a friendly game against the Saudi Arabian women’s team in May 2023.

Before the match, a delegation from the Palestinian team was hosted at Aras an Uachtarain on Tuesday by Irish President Michael Higgins, and at the Mansion House by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Daithi de Roiste.

Mr Higgins and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald attended the football match on Wednesday evening.

A Palestinian flag was placed on every seat in the ground and shortly before kick-off, a mural of Hind Rajab, a six-year-old Palestinian girl who was killed in Gaza, was unveiled outside the ground.

Fans who were not able to buy a ticket were encouraged to purchase a stream of the game or a non-attendance ticket, or to make a donation online.

The Palestinian team scored a last-minute goal, taking them to a 2-1 win against The Bohemians.

Updated: May 16, 2024, 12:20 PM