Football dreams battle Israeli bullets

Young man in athletic wear holds up phone showing him receiving a trophy

Muhammad Khalil Obeid has not given up on his dream to play football internationally, despite being shot in both his knees.

Amjad Ayman Yaghi

Muhammad Khalil Obeid is refusing to abandon his dream of becoming a professional football player.

After being shot in both knees by an Israeli sniper on 30 March, Obeid requires major surgery to have any chance of resuming his beloved game. Doctors have told the 23-year-old he would need to travel from Gaza to Germany or Turkey for that surgery.

Overcoming initial despair and determined that the operation take place, he has decided to search for a charity that will pay his costs.

“I dream of playing in Europe, I will not kill my dream,” he said. “And I will not let the Israeli occupation kill my dream.”

Obeid had been part of al-Salah club in Gaza since he was 17. As well as being a talented football player, he finished first in a Gaza marathon that he ran last year.

He is one of 27 competitive athletes injured during the Great March of Return between late March – when the protests began – and late April, according to Gaza’s youth and sports ministry.

A video which Obeid made capturing the moment he was shot during the protests has been widely viewed on the Internet. Obeid was accompanied by several other sports enthusiasts from the Deir al-Balah area of central Gaza at the time he was shot.

Life-changing injuries

A recent investigation by Amnesty International concluded that Israel may be deliberately causing life-changing injuries to people such as Obeid, who have taken part in the Gaza protests.

Amnesty has also cited evidence that Israel is using high-velocity rifles and bullets that expand on impact to cause maximum harm against protesters. Many of the weapons used by Israel against protesters are US-made.

Ata Ahmed Abu al-Hossna was shot by Israeli forces on Friday, 6 April – one week after Obeid.

The 27-year-old spent much of that day at a protest tent near Jabaliya, northern Gaza. When he saw youth burning tires – an effort to thwart Israel’s detection of targets for sniper fire – Abu al-Hossna decided that he should join them. Shortly afterwards, Israel began shooting live ammunition in the direction of demonstrators.

As he tried to flee for safety, Abu al-Hossna was shot in the left leg. “I do not remember what happened after that,” he said.

Young man with bandaged leg holds a trophy as he lies across a bed in a sparely furnished room

Athlete Ata Ahmed Abu al-Hossna wants the leadership of global sports bodies to visit Gaza to see how Israel “destroys our dreams.”

Amjad Ayman Yaghi

When he regained consciousness the following day, Abu al-Hossna was in the intensive care unit of Gaza’s Indonesia Hospital. As the bullets had caused severe damage to the arteries in his legs, he needed prompt surgery, which took place that Sunday.

He is waiting for a follow-up operation.

Abu al-Hossna has learned from his doctors that it could take 18 months before he will be able to walk on his left leg again.

The likelihood that he will have to give up football has depressed him so much that he cannot even watch the sport on television. “I sit alone in my room,” he said.

As well as playing as a forward for the Namaa football team, Abu al-Hossna had taken part in running and table tennis competitions.

He argues that representatives of the world’s major sporting organizations should visit Gaza. “These envoys should come and see how the Israeli occupation destroys our dreams,” he said. “We try to follow our dreams despite being under siege.”

Deep sadness

Alaa al-Dali, a 21-year-old cyclist, had qualified to represent Palestine at the Asian Games being held in Indonesia this summer.

Going there will not be possible. On 30 March, he was shot in his right leg by an Israeli sniper. The damage caused was so severe that the leg later had to be amputated.

Al-Dali had gone to the first Friday in the Great March of Return with some friends. They joined the protest in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza. Al-Dali had gone to the protest by bike and was dressed in cycling shorts and jersey.

He was shot below the knee that afternoon.

Man with amputated leg uses a crutch with one arm while holding on to the seat of his bicycle with his other arm

Cyclist Alaa al-Dali’s leg was amputated weeks before he was set to represent Palestine at the Asian Games.

Amjad Ayman Yaghi

The al-Dali family has accused Israel of denying Alaa permission to leave Gaza for specialist treatment in the occupied West Bank. After he was denied permission to travel, doctors decided it was necessary to amputate his leg. The amputation took place in mid-April.

The thought that he won’t be able to attend the Asian Games makes him “go into a deep sadness and cry,” al-Dali said. He is nonetheless determined to have a prosthetic leg fitted so that he can resume cycling.

With bitter irony, al-Dali was shot at a time when Israel was courting cycling fans internationally. The 2018 Giro d’Italia – a major bike race – recently opened in Jerusalem as part of an Israeli propaganda exercise.

Al-Dali stressed it is necessary that the focus on Israel’s human rights abuses be maintained. “The Israeli occupation has committed brutal crimes against us,” he said. “The world needs to know that the Israeli occupation is cruel.”

Amjad Ayman Yaghi is a journalist based in Gaza.