Football Solidarity in occupied Palestine.

Posted: May 11, 2010 in Football Campaigning, Liberation Footbology, Republica Internationale FC

By Will (Bristol) and Nigel (Leeds)

At the beginning of May this year a squad of 13 Sunday league footballers ventured out again to the occupied West Bank for another ten days of football, volleyball, fun and falafel in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian communities who hosted us. Most of the squad were from Bristol’s Easton Cowboys FC, accompanied by two of us from Republica  (Leeds). There were also 4 Easton Cowgirls who took part in some of the football as well as some volleyball with Palestinian women’s teams.

The 2010 squad poses at the Israeli apartheid wall, in front of the "Freedom Through Football" mural we painted in 2007

There were a few differences to our last visit in April 2007. This time we mostly played in small villages, as opposed to the large centres of population like Bethlehem, and this time a large part of our visit was organised by The Villages Group, an amazing bunch of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists who organise community projects in those oppressed villages. We saw their educational work, as well as projects like well-digging and alternative energy supply for these “shanty-style” refugee and Bedouin villages, where the occupying Israeli authorities will not permit the building of any “permanent” structures. We also played football and basketball   matches in Israel itself, organised by the inspiring “Anarchists Against the Wall” group from Tel Aviv.

Our travel arrangements were complex, with many different permutations,  but everyone met up more-or-less as planned. Even on the football pitch things went rather better than expected, considering that our wafer-thin squad had to play nine games in eight exhausting days. The only game that we played with players as old as us we actually won – something we didn’t achieve at all on our last tour!

The biblical landscape that was our improvised pitch in Susiya

Everyone will have their own personal highlights. Who can forget our game on a rock-strewn ploughed field at Susiya ? My permanently scarred shins will see that I personally will never forget it! Or the match the alongside the fence of a hostile Israeli settlement at Om-El-Khair? What about our surreal “VIP” tour of Palestine’s leading fun fair, Megaland, or our unexpected appearance as guests at  a local wedding dance that same evening?

Then there was our final game in Traffur, the home village of our faithful bus driver Shaheer. As the tour bus wended its way down to the foot of the village where a floodlit stadium was carved out of a disused quarry (the “Old Traffur Stadium”, you might call it), we were besieged by scores of  local kids, and as we went in at half time all we could hear were hundreds of young voices, all chanting in unison ‘EASTON COW-BOYS! EASTON COW-BOYS!’ None of us will ever forget it.

Along the way we learned a hell of a lot about the realities of the occupation. We also donated over £2,000 to the building of a school in the community of Khallet Zakariya, a village that is surrounded on all sides by illegal Israeli settlements. And we confirmed the Easton Cowboys twinning arrangement with Tulkarem Sports Club. There are already discussions about getting a Palestinian side to tour over here next year.

The village school we are helping complete.

On top of this, there is also a cinematic masterpiece in the offing. Our camera-man and director, Jesse,  is currently working on a film of the tour that will hopefully see light of day before too long. More news on that soon (if you’d like a showing of this film, please let us know),

Well done to everyone who contributed to making this happen. Hopefully we can do it all again at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Check out the work of the villages group at http://villagesgroup.wordpress.com/        We can especially recommend the articles by the inspiring Israeli peace activist David Shulman, who has dedicated his life to the villages of South Hebron where we were privileged to spend time with him.

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