Football League helps amputees in Gaza cope with war trauma

GAZA CITY, December 9: Players run across the pitch on crutches, jostling for the football and passing it back and forth, their prosthetic legs lined up along the sidelines at a stadium in the Gaza Strip.
It is the first Palestinian national football team made up entirely of amputees – players from a population of hundreds that has grown in recent years through several rounds of fighting between Israel and the militant Hamas leadership in the territory.
They say the game helps them cope with the trauma of their injuries and the hardships of living in a crowded territory that has suffered four wars and a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since Hamas seized power from Palestinian forces. rivals in 2007.
“We feel that we have something, we can give something,” said Ziad Abu Halib, 41, who lost his right leg in 2008 during the first Israel-Hamas war. He hasn’t missed a practice or game since joining the local league after its inception in 2019.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, in collaboration with the Palestinian Amputee Football Association, sponsored the long process of building the national team. The players hope to compete regionally, with their goal being the Amputee World Cup in Turkey next October.
The qualifying matches will take place in Iran in March – they can make the trip if the border opens to allow them to pass through Egypt.
Coach Simon Baker, Red Cross consultant and founder of the Irish Amputee Football Association, oversaw a final training session of the season on Sunday. The rules are changed in accordance with the World Amputee Football Federation. Players leave their prosthetic limbs on the sidelines and move with crutches, which cannot be used to advance or direct the ball.
Baker selected 20 players from a group of 47 athletes representing five clubs in Gaza.
“They’ve been tested (for) speed, agility, fitness and also looking at skill,” Baker said. “We want the player who has it all” and who is also a team player, he said.
Sadly, the war and unrest of recent years have provided hundreds of potential recruits. Gaza is home to around 1,600 amputees out of a population of over 2 million.
Hamas staged violent protests along the heavily guarded border with Israel for several months in 2018 and 2019, in an effort to ease the blockade of Gaza. Thousands of people came every Friday, many of them brought by bus by Hamas, an Islamic militant group hostile to Israel. (PA) 1

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