The World Cup behind barbed wire

ABC PM shows how people inside Palestine are trying to make life as normal as possible while under occupation:

MARK COLVIN: The Palestinian Soccer Union can’t send a team to South Africa so they’re holding their own World Cup instead. The local under-15s are representing each of the 32 sides in Durban and playing to the same match schedule.

And in their equivalent opening game the young Palestinian Socceroos performed admirably against the Palestinian Germans and managed to avoid defeat.

Middle East correspondent Anne Barker went along to the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium for PM.

(Sounds from a locker room)

MALE: Min wen.

BOYS: Australia!

MALE: Fantastic. Min wen?

BOYS: Australia!

MALE: And who are we going to beat today? How do we say?

ANNE BARKER: I’m in the locker room with Lucas Neill, the fit and skilful captain of the Australian Socceroos who are about to take on the formidable German side.

You’re the captain.

MALE: Yeah. (Applause)

ANNE BARKER: Okay – so he’s not the exact same Lucas Neill who led the Australian team onto the ground in Durban. And no the team isn’t wearing the exact same colours of the Socceroos uniform. In fact most of these players don’t actually speak English and they look a bit puzzled when you yell “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi”.


But for today at least in his head Mustafa Khatib is the Australian captain. His team mates are the Socceroos. And as you watch him lead his pint-sized team onto the ground it doesn’t take too much imagination to believe they could be the real thing.

(Sounds from soccer match)

After all just like the real Socceroos today’s team is used to being up against the odds. The Palestinian players have to pass through Israeli military checkpoints to a second-rate ground just to make it to training. Behind the grandstand you can see the huge security barrier that separates the West Bank from Israel. And their team mates in Gaza aren’t allowed out to play.

And yet after the real team’s woeful performance in Durban this Australian side might just have a thing or two they could teach the Socceroos.

(Sound of Amjad Taha speaking)

“Two months ago they played in the Palestinian League,” says coach Amjad Taha. “And out of 120 teams, they came in eighth. As soon as we have peace I think the Palestinian team will do very well.”

After a quick warm up it’s time for the match to begin. Although there is one problem – the German side hasn’t shown up. But eventually another pint-sized team in replica German uniforms is on the ground and displaying an amazing similarity to the German skill seen in Durban.

(Sound of goal being scored)

The Socceroos in fact scored first but Germany replied within minutes to be one-all at half time. Germany then got a second goal but a late penalty helped Australia level the score to a draw.

SUPPORTER: Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi Oi Oi! Go Australia!

(Sound of Amjad Taha speaking)

“Hopefully one day the Palestinian team can play against the Aussies,” says coach Amjad Taha. “And maybe we’ll both get to the World Cup.”

The Palestinian Socceroos now have a few days’ rest before their next match against Serbia on Friday.

MARK COLVIN: Middle East correspondent Anne Barker.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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