In Gaza, loss of a leg doesn't deter 'hero' footballers

Palestinian footballers compete in the final of a local championship for amputees between Al-Jazeera (black kit) and Al-Abtal (blue kit) organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestinian Football Association in Gaza City
Palestinian footballers compete in the final of a local championship for amputees between Al-Jazeera (black kit) and Al-Abtal (blue kit) organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestinian Football Association in Gaza City Mohammed ABED AFP
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Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Using his crutches, Mohammed Abu Bayad runs as fast as he can, kicks the ball and... goal!

He's the first to score in a football match in Gaza between Palestinians whose legs were amputated after they were hit by Israeli fire.

After a break of a few months due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tournament between four clubs culminated Thursday in the final, organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Palestinian Football Association.

"I played football before I was injured and my life changed, but I was determined to continue," said Abu Bayad, at a stadium west of Gaza City.

He was shot by the Israeli army in 2014 during the last war between Israel and Gaza's rulers, the armed Islamist movement Hamas.

According to the United Nations, some 8,000 other Palestinians were injured by Israeli army fire during the "great march of return" protests that started in March 2018.

For several months, thousands of Palestinians gathered along the barrier between the Gaza Strip and the Jewish state, heavily guarded by the Israeli army.

They were demanding an end to the decade-long Israeli blockade on the enclave.

They also demanded the right of Palestinians to return to the lands they fled, or were driven from, when Israel was created in 1948.

Ahmed Abu Nar, who also scored a goal for his team, lost his left leg during those protests.

"It was very difficult when I was wounded," he said. "Playing football helps me psychologically and physically, and makes me happy."

Mohammad Abu Samra, one of his teammates, said his interest in the game grew after his injury.

"I wanted to challenge myself and prove to the Israeli enemy that we will not surrender," he said.

For ICRC spokesman Hesham Mhanna, the players are "heroes", "victims of armed conflicts" who send a message that it is possible to overcome obstacles stemming from disability.