Remembering the dead

Palestinian youths play football on a street near the West bank town of Nablus (Getty)

In part five of Football Under Fire, I delve into the events in Palestine over the past few months that have resulted in players, supporters and officials losing their lives while enjoying the sport they love. They are not easy stories to tell, and they won't be easy to read, but ignoring them won't make them disappear.

Football is the most uncomplicated of sports: a patch of land, a ball, a goal, an opponent and away you go.

It's also why it is so loved by so many across so many lands and why, even in the midst or aftermath of the greatest of tragedies, this simple game can bring succour.

I've seen it first hand in the streets of Iraq, racked by civil strife, and on the fringes of the Sri Lankan coastline washed away by the devastating tsunami in 2004.

Occasionally, those who belong to this sweeping global family - players, supporters and officials - are caught up in events beyond their control and lose their lives while enjoying the sport that provided them with so much.

The high-profile cases - Heysel, Hillsborough, Accra, Port Said, Munich or Superga - have become part of the general lexicon.

The recent events in Palestine are no less significant.

Artillery and rocket fire both into and out of Gaza has wrought untold misery on a region already on its knees and the scale of death and torment has been widely reported outside of the region.

The stories of those like you and me, who play, watch and love football - many while actively involved in pursuit of the sport - being killed and maimed has received scant attention.

This is about honouring those from the Palestinian football community that have been affected by these events.

Estimates from the Professional Footballers Association are that facilities (including clubhouses and pitches) from these clubs have been either damaged or destroyed: Al Rayyan; Al Ta'awaun; Al Nuseirat; Khadamat Al-Shatii in addition to the Palestinian FA building at Beit Lahia.  

More than just the toll on infrastructure, it's the loss of human life that has devastated the football community.

Listed below are several stories that have had an impact on the football community in some way.

Comment was sought from both the Israel Football Association and the Israel Defence Forces but was not received. However, where available, reaction has been included from news reports of the selected incidents.

FOUR CHILDREN KILLED PLAYING BEACH FOOTBALL

In an attack that drew worldwide condemnation, four members of the same family - cousins - were killed while playing football on a beach in a fishing port near Gaza City on 16 July.

The boys - 11 year old Mohammed Ramiz Bakr, 10 year-olds Zakaria Ahed Bakr and Ahed Atif Bakr and 9 year old Ismael Mohammed Bakr - were sons of local fishermen.

A report in the Independent newspaper claimed the boys were playing hide and seek as well as football on the beach and were hit by gunfire from Israeli warships just after 4pm on a sunny and clear afternoon.

An Israeli military spokesperson, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, told the ABC that this was an "unfortunate human tragedy".

"The IDF had a target, a Hamas terrorist target. We had visual surveillance clearly to an extent that we should have been able to determine who was on the beach."

FANS KILLED WHILE WATCHING WORLD CUP SEMI-FINAL

Eight football fans were while killed while watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup semi-final between Argentina and Netherlands at a café in Khan Younis.

They had gathered at the Fun Time Café when it was struck by Israeli rockets.

The café, replete with plastic chairs and walls featuring palm leaves, was a popular spot to watch football matches and was reduced to rubble by the attack.

A sister of two of the dead, Samah Sawali, told the New York Times that her brothers would spend their evenings at the café during the holy month of Ramadan.

One of the survivors of the attack, Tamer al-Astal, spoke in the same report of the moment when the blast struck.

"We were watching news on the television and waiting for the match to begin, then I heard a terrible boom and felt myself suffocating. I woke up to find myself in the hospital."

The dead were named as: Ibrahim Khalil Qannan (24 years old); Mohammad Khalil Qannan (26); Hamdi Badee' Kamel Sawali (33); Ibrahim Badee' Kamel Sawali (28); Sulaiman Al-Astal (17); Ahmad Al-Astal (18); Mousa Al-Astal (15) and Mohammad Al-Aqqad (24).

A spokesman for the Israeli military, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, was quoted by the New York Times as saying the attack was meant to be a "precision strike" that was "targeting a terrorist".

FROM BLATTER TO A BULLET IN THE CHEST

Two months earlier, in late May, Mohammad Al Qatri had met Sepp Blatter on a visit from the FIFA President to Palestine.

A former player from the Al Amari club, the 19 year old had more recently been working at the Jospeh Blatter Football Academy in Al Bireh and after being pictured with Blatter was told he 'had a bright future'.

On the afternoon of Friday 10 August Al Qatri was at a protest against Israel's actions in Gaza near the West Bank town of Jabal Al Tawil when clashes broke out with the Israeli military.

A report in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, stated that an IDF soldier had fired one round of live ammunition from an M16 at the footballer and killed him.

YOUTH TEAM GOALKEEPER KILLED IN RANDOM ATTACK

On 22 July, Ahmad Abu Salah Sidou was killed during an artillery bombardment in Gaza. He was a highly talented 17 year-old goalkeeper and had been involved with the Palestinian youth team, where he was considered a future first-team player. 

PLAYER KILLED IN RAFAH AIR STRIKE

Abdelrahman Jamal al-Zamli, a football player with Al-Zaytoon FC, was killed on 9 July by Israeli air strikes on a residential area in which he lived in East Rafah.

He was 22 years old and had been planning to marry his fiancé after the Eid celebrations.

AL DARAJ MIDFIELDER MAIMED

Mohammad Abu Bei'dh, a star midfielder at Al Daraj FC, was hit by shrapnel during the bombardment of the Al-Shajaiyeh area of Gaza on 15 July.

A footballer for the past 12 years, he will never play again after doctors had to amputate his left leg.

TEENAGE PLAYER KILLED DURING HOSPITAL STRIKE

Alaa Abu Dahrouj, 17, was killed during Israeli artillery strikes on a hospital in central Gaza on 21 July.

He was a promising footballer at the Deir Al-Balah club and was one of five victims of an attack that the Gaza Ministry of Health described as a war crime.

A French freelance journalist, Eloise Bollack, spoke of the devastation in a CNN report.

"One side of the third floor was bombed several times; we saw a lot of impact hits from tank shells on the walls," she said.

"Some walls and rooms were totally destroyed, covered with dust and debris. Everything was upside down. The shock was so strong that a pillow in one of the rooms was hanging on the fan on the ceiling. The tank shells fired not only penetrated through the exterior wall but managed to go through several walls inside the hospital."

The IDF was quoted in the same report as saying they were targeting a weapons stockpile nearby. 

FORMER REFEREE KILLED

Bahaa Al-Gharib had been a referee during the 1980s and 1990s and was more recently working as a producer of Hebrew news for the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation.

He was killed alongside his 16 year-old daughter, Ola, in an attack on northern Rafah on 30 July.

FORMER NATIONAL PLAYER/COACH KILLED

On the morning of 30 July Palestine suffered its most high-profile casualty – former national player and coach A'aed Zaqqout. The former midfielder, who once played for a Palestinian selection against a French side containing Michel Platini, went on to coach not only Palestine but also a string of high-profile local clubs.

He was killed when an Israeli bomb struck his apartment in Gaza as he slept.

Also regarded as a talented television pundit a former Palestinian colleague, sports journalist Khaled Zaher, told Reuters that, "Palestine has lost one of its best players; he may have been the best midfielder we ever had".

A 19 YEAR-OLD FOOTBALLER SHOT IN THE CHEST DURING RALLY

Odai Nafez Jaber was a promising footballer who played for both the Beit Ur and Kharbatha clubs and was on the verge of signing with a professional club before he was killed by Israeli forces on the afternoon of 1 August.

A report from the Maan News Agency said he was killed near the West Bank village of Saffa while attending a demonstration against the ongoing assault of Gaza.

As the protesters marched towards the separation wall with Israel they were fired upon with live bullets, rubber coated bullets and tear gas.

The teenage footballer was shot twice in the chest and once in the hand and died in hospital later that evening.

CLUB DIRECTOR KILLED IN ROCKET ATTACKS

The Technical Director and Board member of the Al Tuffah club, Ahmad Daloul, was killed by an air strike on 13 July.

Palestinian authorities have reported that 14 members of the Daloul family, mainly children, were also killed in this attack.

ATTACKS ON FOOTBALL INFRASTRUCTURE

For many years various Israeli departments have hindered and delayed the construction and development of football facilities. These include halting construction of artificial pitches at Beit Ummar and Beit Foreeq in 2010; stopping construction of a grass pitch in Beit Leqya under zoning pretenses; halting the construction of the Sa'as Sayel stadium due to 'security reasons'; bombing the Palestine Stadium in Gaza in 2012 and delaying construction at the Majed Assad Stadium in Al Bireh with the reason given that 'cheering spectators' may disrupt a nearby Israeli settlement.

Recently these attacks have stepped up with the Israeli military, on the afternoon of 20 June, breaking into the Shabab Al Khalil club and, according to Palestinian reports, assaulting club staff, confiscating computers, destroying furniture and shooting live bullets through the corridors and windows.

On 7 August, the Palestinian FA headquarters in Beit Lahia/Gaza was struck once again by Israeli artillery fire. This office was partly funded by a FIFA grant and had been previously targeted.

The incidents listed above are just a small sample of the tragedy that has struck Palestine over the past months.

They are real cases of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends and colleagues, most of whom were simply trying to go about their lives when they were killed.

It's an issue much bigger than merely football, but as part of our community today we recognise them – and remember.

May this bloodshed soon end.