Historic Bohemians-Palestine match ‘a show of solidarity in the face of an increasingly hopeless situation in Gaza’

The first match in Europe by any senior Palestine national football team takes place in Dublin’s Dalymount Park on Wednesday. Bohemians head Daniel Lambert explains why the club arranged the game

During a logistics meeting before Bohemians versus Palestine, Daniel Lambert pulls out his phone to reveal the mural of a Palestinian woman in traditional headscarf that now exists under the television gantry at Dalymount Park.

She wears a red shamrock brooch.

“Powerful, isn’t it?” asks Lambert, Bohs chief operating officer.

On Wednesday evening about 4,500 fans at Dalymount will witness the first ever football match featuring a senior Palestinian national side on European soil. Bohemian FC, led by goalkeeper Rachael Kelly, provide the opposition at the Dublin venue.


The mural was drawn by Niall O’Loughlin. Mango, the rapper, supplies the sound system. The artist Spicebag did the match poster. Bohs director of football Pat Fenlon was at DCU on Monday to welcome the Palestinians to training. The team was also received at Áras an Uachtaráin by President Michael D Higgins. On Wednesday morning, they will have breakfast in the Mansion House as guests of Dublin Lord Mayor Daithí de Róiste.

Lankum’s Radie Peat and Irish-Palestinian singer Róisín El Cherif will bellow out the national anthems a cappella. If Christy Moore – in his first Dalymount appearance since opening for Status Quo in 1980 – does not float your boat at half-time, Annie Mac and Toddla T DJ-ing in the Phoenix Bar under the Jodi Stand might.

None of these artists took a fee. From the €153,000 predicted match income, a profit of about €80,000 will go to Palestine Sport for Life, Medical Aid for Palestinians and Aclai Palestine. Tickets are €40. Donations start at €5.

Organising such a unique fixture required plenty of external assistance, like the fast-tracking of visas for the 35-strong delegation that was led into Dublin on Sunday by Jibril Rajoub, the head both of Palestine’s football association and its Olympic committee.

“It’s a show of solidarity in the face of an increasingly hopeless situation in Gaza,” says Lambert, who previously worked in the Department of Foreign Affairs conflict resolution unit (CRU).

Bohs and the Palestine FA had been planning to play each other months before the current conflict in the Middle East was triggered by events on October 7th, when Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis and took 253 hostage, according to Israeli tallies. More than 35,000 people have been subsequently killed in Gaza, according to the Gaza health ministry.

“It speaks volumes that Israel play in Uefa competitions [since 1992] and a senior Palestinian team has never played in Europe,” says Lambert.

On the morning The Irish Times visited Bohs’ head office, in the old Phibsboro shopping centre, Israel’s foreign minister Israel Katz was threatening to imprison Rajoub if the “terrorist in a suit”, as Katz branded him, does not cease efforts to have Israel banned from all competitions at the Fifa congress in Bangkok on May 17th.

In 1970 Rajoub received a life sentence for throwing a grenade at a convoy of Israeli soldiers near his home in Hebron. Freed in a 1985 prisoner exchange, he remained exiled from the West Bank until the Oslo Accords were signed in 1994, when he returned to serve under Yasser Arafat in the Preventative Security Force.

Fifa handed Rajoub a 12-month ban in 2018 for “inciting hatred and violence” before the eventually postponed Israel v Argentina friendly.

“To organise the game we met Jibril and the ambassador to Ireland, Dr Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid,” Lambert explains. “The PFA knew that Bohs had worked with Palestinian Sport for Life before. We were keen for the first match to be a women’s team.”

Lambert hopes this match will direct more attention to the actions of Israeli settlers and soldiers since October in the West Bank, where many of the visiting Palestine squad live.

”Hopefully this occasion makes all that accessible,” says Lambert. “We have chatted to the Palestinians and heard the trauma they are going through. Imagine Cork, Limerick and Kerry were being bombed every day, how would that affect you and me?”

Bisan Abu Ita, a Palestinian player, told RTÉ's Drivetime: “Since forever we have had difficulties gathering for the national team. We have players from all over Palestine and the diaspora from different places but the checkpoints imposed on us [in the West Bank] by the occupation makes it really hard to reach the city where we practice. Since October there has been more checkpoints and more restrictions. No football league is happening at the moment as a 90-minute match is unsafe.”

Last year Bohs raised and sent €15,000 worth of football gear to the Palestinian refugee camp in Tulkarem in the West Bank.

How Lambert – who in addition to heading up Bohs is manager to hip-hop trio Kneecap, owner of Bang Bang cafe and a parent with Peat – became such a dynamic human-rights activist goes back to his family’s influence and his previous career at the UN and in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“Dermot Ahern had a very good idea before the collapse of Fianna Fáil. The idea was that Ireland would use its unique position in the West, as a nation that is well connected with the US, Europe, the UK, but also has this recent history of a conflict.

“The Good Friday Agreement is one of the only peace agreements that has held. Ireland is seen by certain parts of the world as trustworthy; Palestine being one, Africa due to missionaries, and Cuba all have good solidarity with Ireland.

“We’ve never harnessed that as a nation, never used it diplomatically. The Norwegians are far better at doing it than we are.

“The CRU was four people, it should have been 50, from 2011 to 2013. We would bring people over to the peace and reconciliation centre in Glencree, Wicklow. Ten years ago, it was mainly Afghans.”

Essentially though, food trucks crossing a border in the 1980s moulded Lambert into a humanitarian.

“I used to love going up the North as a kid. My grandad, a referee in the League of Ireland, had a haulage business and all my uncles from my ma’s side drove trucks, seven brothers, each doing deliveries to Dunnes in the North and I used to go with them during the summer holidays and sit in the old Mercs where there was a bed on the top. I’d go with my uncles, six or seven years old, sitting up there with a little window. We would go through a checkpoint at Newry and I used to think this was mad.

“Two totally different landscapes when you jump in a truck for an hour or two.”

He cuts through any debate about the rights and wrongs of hosting this game now.

“Think of the atrocities that we are still trying to deal with as a nation – the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, Aidan McAnespie, Seán Brown the Derry GAA club chairman – but in Palestine we are seeing dozens of these, daily, for decades.

“We have seen the total dehumanisation of Palestinians. That’s what this match will show: that their position is hopeless and all we can do is show them solidarity.”

And, over four days, show them around Dublin and Wicklow.

“We have arranged a full schedule for the players, from Sunday right through to Thursday morning; breakfast with the Lord Mayor, a trip to Glendalough, the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Howth cliff walk, and there is a meal at Shaku Maku.”

Hosting Palestine now or at any time in recent history could prompt accusations of politicising sport.

“We are not trying to politicise the game,” Lambert counters. “Is it a political act bringing them here? It is probably viewed by most people as being one, but it should not be.

“We’ve assisted migrants in Ireland for a very long time. Since 2011 we have raised easily €1 million for different [non-sporting] projects. We were chatting with the Palestine FA and we are assisting people who have fled persecution, so we said ‘why don’t we try going to them?’

“There is too much settler violence in the West Bank to travel now, but we still want to play the men’s Palestine team, we still want to send Bohs players, male and female, over to coach kids in the Tulkarem camp.”

Bohs v Palestine could be the start of something. Or just a fleeting moment in time.

“It is great to have an international team at Dalymount again, 1990 was the last one, when Morocco came, Denis Irwin’s debut. So it’s been 34 years.”