How Israel’s war on Gaza changed Ramadan soccer | Israel’s war on Gaza News

Deir El Bala, Gaza – For over six years, Moath Rajah Allah was known as one of the top players in Gaza’s Ramadan football tournament.

The 19-year-old from Nouseirat has won 12 trophies and countless accolades for his skills.

Raja Allah, who was uprooted from his family during Israel’s war in Gaza, is spending Ramadan this year in a makeshift refugee camp at the Al Salah Football Club in Deir El Bala, in the central Gaza Strip.

His only wish is to buy his family a chicken for iftar and break his fast on the rubble. His house was destroyed by Israeli shelling, and he was left with a shrapnel wound on his head.

“Ramadan tournaments are no longer the same as before,” Raja Allah told NDMT.

“They lack the rivalry, the passion, the celebration that they had in years past.

“Plus, we ended up playing for packs of food aid packages instead of trophies.”

More than 1,000 people displaced by the war have taken refuge at Al Salah Football Club, where soccer matches and training sessions were stopped five months ago.

However, to provide a temporary diversion for the families living on the premises, the club hosts five-a-side soccer tournaments during Ramadan.

“By hosting this tournament, we are trying to deceive ourselves that there is life in Gaza,” said Nabil Abu-Asr, the club’s sports activities director.

“We’re going to give awards to the top two teams, but it’s probably going to be a very small amount of money or food aid,” he said with a disappointed shrug.

“It feels wrong, but we want to bring them joy.”

Two teams gather in the center of the pitch before the start of the match during the Ramadan soccer tournament at Al Salah Football Club in Gaza [Abubaker Abed/NDMT]

“We are no longer children”

Although much different from the Ramadan tournaments of yore, this event provides fleeting moments of joy for athletes and their families.

A mother beams with pride when her son scores a goal. Younger children cheer every move from the sidelines, and those on the pitch imitate the celebrations of their soccer idols.

Barefoot teenagers, or young men in torn boots, show off their skills on a futsal-sized court surrounded by residential neighborhoods on one side and date palm-lined streets on the other.

The sounds of Israeli drones hovering in the area were momentarily drowned out by the cheers of the crowd.

When the battle ends, the reality of the ongoing war begins again.

For Real Madrid fan Karam Al Fazili, 12, soccer reminds him of life before the war.

After finishing the match, he said, “I find solace in the football pitch.”

He prefers to play as a goalkeeper, but is also not averse to venturing further down the field to be part of the action.

“I want to enjoy the last moments of my childhood because I know I’m going to be killed.”

Despite his young age, al-Fajli recognizes the burden of war and says what Gaza’s children have endured is “beyond anyone’s ability.”

“We are not children anymore.”

Karam Al Fazili (right) reacts to a shot during the Ramadan football tournament at Al Salah Football Club in Gaza [Abubaker Abed/NDMT]
Karam Al Fazili (right) reacts to a shot during the Ramadan football tournament at Al Salah Football Club in Gaza [Abubaker Abed/NDMT]

Khalil Al Kafarneh, a 16-year-old athlete, has been evacuated several times since October. His family of 10 left their home in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza shortly after the war broke out.

Al Salah Football Club’s camp has been their home for three months, but with limited food and clean water supplies, they are struggling to survive.

Al Kafarne has been playing soccer for 10 years. He says the war robbed him of his athletic ability and skill.

Khalil Al Kafarna (right) in action during the Ramadan soccer tournament at Al Salah Football Club in Gaza [Abubaker Abed/NDMT]
Khalil Al Kafarneh (centre) in action during the Ramadan football tournament at Al Salah Football Club in Gaza [Abubaker Abed/NDMT]

“I hardly ever kick a ball now. I’m a high school student, but I can’t continue my studies. My house is a pile of rubble. There’s nothing left.”

An aspiring footballer, he wanted to represent Ittihad Al Shujaiyah, one of Gaza’s most prominent clubs. Then war shattered his dreams, and a bomb hit the club’s grounds.

More than 90 Palestinian soccer players have been killed in Gaza during the war with Israel, including legendary forward Mohamed Barakat.

Some of Gaza’s most famous stadiums have been destroyed or occupied by Israeli forces, including Al-Yarmouk Stadium and Gaza Sports Club.

The United Nations calls the Gaza Strip “a graveyard for thousands of children.”

At least 13,000 children have been killed in Israeli attacks since October 7, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Thousands more are missing under the rubble, most of them presumed dead.

Many of the survivors are injured and suffer from malnutrition due to lack of food and the trauma of war.

Seven-year-old Nadine Isa and her family moved to Al Salah Football Club in January after their home was attacked by Israeli forces in Rafah, southern Gaza.

She has survived on canned food since the war began, but says she misses her favorite shawarma sandwich. However, Nadine’s ambition remains intact.

“My dream is to be a nurse and a striker,” she said while watching a football game on the sideline.

“I wish I could have been born in another country and played and learned like other children. I miss my school friends, my home, and sitting under the roof.”

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