Palestine’s star defender stuck in Gaza as national team competes for a place in FIFA World Cup 2026
The Palestinian National Football team played this afternoon, 21st November, in a FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifier match against Australia, which due to the current conflict, was held in Kuwait rather than in the Occupied West Bank as originally planned. To say that the Palestinian National team was unprepared for the match could be said to be an understatement, as they were restricted to less than a fortnight’s training before the tournament and several of their star players were missing - stuck, due to the conflict, in Gaza.
The game was meant to have been held at the Al-Ram's Faisal Al-Husseini Stadium on the West Bank, but everything changed on October 7th, when all sporting activities in the region came to a halt and all available selected members of the Palestinian Football team were forced to move to Jordan. This obviously did not include three of Palestine’s premier players, still stuck in the middle of the onslaught in Gaza. The disruptions meant that there has been little opportunity for serious training ahead of the qualifiers, with the first real training taking place in Shardah, Jordan just ten days ago.
Ibrahim Abuimeir, the team’s star defender, was meant to be on the pitch playing with the rest of the Palestinian team today. Instead he now walks among the rubble remains of his home in Gaza, which has been flattened in the aerial bombardment by the unrelenting Israeli onslaught. The reality is that even if he wanted to leave the rest of his family to take part in the tournament, he was unable.
Meanwhile, thousands of fans arrived at the Jaba Al Ahmad stadium, in Kuwait, carrying Kuwaiti and Palestinian flags while dressed in the Palestinian associated black and white chequered, Keffiyeh. The fans, which were made up of mostly Kuwaiti fan groups and activists, led a call to action in the stands. Their large turnout was clearly not just about showing support to the Palestinian football team during the game, but to protest the devastating Israeli assault on Gaza. Plans were circulated ahead of the game, directing supporters to stage a series of stadium actions which eventually took place during the match.
Staggered protest actions take place throughout the game
The first, timed to take place at the 7-minute mark was a direct reference to the commencement of hostilities in Gaza on 7th October. At that moment, fans raised their Keffiyehs and held them proudly aloft. The chequered scarves were being handed out outside the stadium before the game commenced for those who didn’t already posses one. The 2nd action saw children throwing small stuffed toys onto the fringes of the pitch, to commemorate those children who have lost their lives during the onslaught. The third action, scheduled to take place at around the 13-minute mark saw fans standing and turning their backs to the pitch, to protest the 13,000 lives that have been lost since the start of the conflict. As the 75th minute of the game arrived, the fourth action saw fans raise their arms and join hands to represent a protest to the 75 years of occupation. Additionally 100’s of black plastic keys which were also distributed to fans, were held up during the match to signify the keys which were taken by Palestinians when they locked up their homes and were subsequently denied the right to return – a reference to the Nakba of 1948. The message being delivered to the world was ‘Get your keys ready to go home’, explained one of the organisers.
'Some of them have families in Gaza, some of them have relatives who were killed – its not easy!'
The Palestinian Football Association President, Jibril Rajoub, expressed the difficulties faced by team members, who he said were playing ‘under the shadow of war’ which was occurring in their lands. He said that all players understood how important it was for them to raise a voice for the Palestinian people on the world stage. He said:
‘Some of them have families in Gaza, some of them have relatives who were killed – its not easy! Despite this, we have a determination; we have a commitment to continue – to keep a momentum to our struggle towards peace. As I said, some of them have families still living in Gaza and they are sharing the same situation. But in spite of that, these are genuine Palestinians who have no other choice to continue and not to give up’
Australian National Team show solidarity with their Palestinian opponents
In a sign of solidarity with the Palestinian opposing team, players from Australia’s national team, announced that they would be donating part of their match fees towards humanitarian causes in Gaza.
A Minute of silence for the victims in Gaza
Before the match began, the stadium fell silent as the big stadium screens displayed the following message and the crowd and players stood motionless. It read:
IN SOLIDARITY WITH PALESTINE
Tonight, we remember the innocent victims of the ongoing conflict in Palestine, especially Gaza.
Our thoughts are with the people of Palestine
We hope and call for peace. Let us stand for a minute
in silence and pay our respects to those affected by
Unsurprisingly and despite noble efforts of the Palestinian team, Australia’s Harry Souttar, one of Leicester City’s top players, managed to score a goal in the first half, which went on to secure a 1 nil victory for Australia.