Displaced Gazans see brief respite in national football team's match

Lack of access to electricity meant Palestinians in Al Mawasi had to follow the game through a WhatsApp group

Displaced men with no access to TV followed the game through WhatsApp groups, sharing updates. Mohamed Souleimane / The National
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About an hour before Palestine’s national team played its first game in the 2024 Asian Cup over the weekend, 25-year-old football fan Medhat Al Abadla rushed to a hut owned by a resident of Al Mawasi, where he has been displaced since the start of December.

Abu Salim’s hut, he was told, had become a gathering point for Gazan men displaced in the enclave, offering access to something Mr Al Abadla had not seen since he fled his home in Khan Younis last month: a television.

In the northern part of Al Mawasi, near Mr Al Abadla’s hometown of Khan Younis, which he fled as Israel intensified its military operations there, several Gazans were already in Abu Salim’s hut, deeply engaged in a debate on the developments of the war and the struggles of survival.

Mr Al Abadla sat politely with his eyes glued to the small TV set in the centre of the wooden hut.

Twenty minutes later, an impatient Mr Al Abadla interrupted the discussion, and asked if he could search for a satellite channel that would air the game. Powered by solar panels, which 48-year-old farmer Abu Selim had installed to make up for the lack of essential infrastructure in Al Mawasi, the set is used only when necessary, as valuable electricity is often used to power more important equipment around his house.

The match, which pitted Palestine’s national team – winless since its launch in 2015 – against multi-time Asian Cup winners Iran, was a good enough reason to make an exception.

“It’s not about winning, or even the team’s performance. The chance of Palestine beating Iran – a multiple time Asian champion – was close to none,” Mr Al Abadla told The National before the match.

Palestine lost 4-1, an outcome Mr Al Abadla and others had predicted. “We were not expecting victory as much as we were trying to feel that we support our national team in any way, even by trying to watch them play.”

However, Mr Al Abadla’s plans for a smooth watch were interrupted, minutes before the match began.

Abu Salim’s 60-volt battery ran dry. A cloudy morning had weakened the solar panels.

Mr Al Abadla and his friends, also passionate football fans, weighed up what other options they had.

One of Abu Salim's neighbours invited a handful of men to watch the football at his home, also powered by solar energy.

“Our pain is great and our displacement has been endlessly long. But we cannot give up on everything, It will drive us to madness. This match is a good opportunity to breathe, even if just a little, from the state of death we are living in,” Abu Salim told The National.

The state of sadness and despair among the displaced people is profound, but we’re trying to make it out of this ordeal alive
Mahmoud Abu Omar, displaced Gazan

But not everyone was fortunate enough to have access to electricity to watch the match.

Elsewhere in Al Mawasi, a crowd of men huddled in a tent with no access to a television screen or radio transmission to tune in to the game.

Mahmoud Abu Omar, 43, who was displaced from central Khan Younis more than a month ago, was only able to follow updates on the game through a sports-focused WhatsApp group, which he had access to through limited internet made available by a non-Palestinian e-sim card.

“The state of sadness and despair among the displaced people is profound, but we’re trying to make it out of this ordeal alive,” he said, adding that his children, who were never that drawn to football, showed increased interest in following the match.

He suggested they stay in a nearby tent to listen for updates he read out loud off the WhatsApp group. “Patriotic emotions are heightened. And so is desperation. We’re desperate to make our children smile, and this is more precious than anything,” he said.

The story was published in collaboration with Egab.

Updated: January 16, 2024, 10:52 AM