The Palestinian national soccer team faced Thailand on Wednesday in an Olympic qualifying match deep in symbolism: It’s the first time the Palestinians have hosted a competitive match at the international level, and for excited fans in this conflict-ridden area, it marks an important step in their struggle for independence.
Following a 1-0 loss in the first leg in Bangkok, the Palestinian team needs to score at least two goals at Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium in the West Bank town of Al-Ram to advance to the next round in regulation. The Palestinians scored the first goal Wednesday just before halftime.
The game means much more to the home team than merely wins and losses.
“The world now will see Palestine in different eyes, in sports eyes,” said Jibril Rajoub, a former West Bank strongman who now heads the Palestinian soccer union. “This is a new launch for the Palestinian people toward freedom and independence.”
Last night I was interviewed on Channel 10 TV’s Sports Tonight (yes, my first appearance on a sports show about anything!) talking about the importance of the game but reminding people that Palestine was still occupied by Israel.