Bohemians v Palestine: ‘In Gaza, our fields and our stadiums have been demolished’

Getting the Palestinian women’s football squad to Dublin in time for their friendly against Bohs was a victory in itself

Whatever the result in their friendly against Bohemians at a sold-out Dalymount Park on Wednesday evening, just getting a Palestinian squad to Dublin in time for the game was a victory in itself.

The bulk of the players had to make their way from the West Bank via Jordan; others came from countries such as Canada, Sweden, Germany and the United States, where they or their parents headed to build new lives.

Another only made it to Dublin on Tuesday morning having had to navigate her way from Lebanon. There are, need it be said, no representatives in the squad from Gaza.

The players have been overwhelmed by the reception they’ve received since most of the squad arrived in Dublin on Sunday.


“Being here is amazing, we’ve seen the love, we’ve felt the love, and we will take it back to Palestine with us,” said team manager Deema Said, the former international who is a native of Ramallah in the West Bank. “In Palestine we’re not even allowed show as many of our flags as we’ve seen flying here.”

Dina Abdeen is one of eight “exiles”, as Said describes them, in the squad, the 17-year-old yet to graduate from West Springfield High School in Virginia. Both her parents were born in Palestine, but both moved to the States “to look for a better future – with hopes of going back”.

Abdeen and her older brother were, she says, raised with a deep knowledge of Palestine and its history, all her family, apart from her parents, uncle and sibling, still living there. She began playing football when she was five, and says it was her dream ever since to play for Palestine.

Since coming into the squad, for February’s West Asian Championship in Saudi Arabia, her team-mates have become “like my older sisters”.

“The moment I got on the team they showed this love to me, it’s like my family.”

Different worlds, different lives, but their bond is their Palestinian blood. “And together, we just want to spread our message: to prove our existence and to show our resilience. We’re just here for our people, for everyone in Palestine.

“I haven’t been able to be with the squad in Palestine, there are borders and barriers that don’t allow us to be there together so we’ve had to meet somewhere else. In Gaza, our fields and our stadiums have been demolished.

“Emotionally, it has been a lot. It’s very hard because I don’t know what I can do for my people because I’m so far away. But my people are very strong, we don’t give up easily. Being here in Ireland, supporting them, representing them, wearing the flag with my name on my back means a lot. Hopefully we can make them proud.

“The Irish people have shown us overwhelming love and support from the moment we arrived. They’ve been stopping us, giving us gifts, it’s an experience I’ve never had before.”

Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian Football Association, was also in Dalymount on Tuesday when the players spoke with the media. Rajoub, a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, reminded his audience that he had spent 17 years in prison in the course of his life, his first incarceration coming when he was just 15, so he was no stranger to resilience.

He spoke, with no little passion, about what he claimed is “the ethnic cleansing” of the Palestinians, noting that the game against Bohemians marked the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, when Israel tried “to negate Palestine from the map”.

“We are here to send a message that we are determined to continue our struggle. Yesterday, I was inspired by a meeting with your President, who is a symbol of this, the solidarity with your people is encouraging us not to give up. Being here is also a message that we are not alone. It is a message of hope to our people but, also, it is a message of a red card to Israelis: enough is enough.”

Said echoed that view. “We have to prove that we exist. We have to prove that Palestine will always remain, that it will never be forgotten. This is more than football for us. Just being here sends a very powerful message – we will represent Palestine in every way possible.”

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times