Adam Jamous and Jawahar Halbiyeh will never forget their last ever soccer practice, even if it was three years ago. It was nearing the end of winter on the last day of January — they were tired and it was late. Their hometown, in a section of occupied Jerusalem that lies on the West Bank side of the separation wall known as Abu Dis, is usually quiet by 10:30 when they were walking home. The sharp whiz of the first bullet cracking through the air came as a surprise.
Israel accused the boys of throwing stones, but Jawahar told Mondoweiss the teens did not even know there were soldiers out that night. “There were no clashes,” Jawahar told Mondoweiss. “We didn’t know there were soldiers out. The streets were quiet, they had put up a small checkpoint, but we had no warning, they just shot.”
Adam was hit, and fell to the ground, his soccer gear thumped down on the uneven road just a few blocks from home. Jawahar lifted his younger teammate and lifelong friend, following his instincts to get them out of the line of fire, only to hear more cracks of gunfire being shot toward them. Jawahar was hit several times, but fueled by adrenaline, he kept trying to drag himself and Adam to safety. Soldiers kept shooting and Jawahar kept moving. By the time Israeli forces released the dogs that eventually took the two teens down, Jawahar had been shot eleven times, and Adam three.
The gash left behind by the dog bites are still sharply visible on Jawahar’s right arm, though most people would first notice the lifted straight-lined scar that runs diagonally across his left hand.
Jawahar was shot seven times in his left leg, three times in his right leg, and once in the hand. Adam was shot three times: twice in his left thigh, and another in his right. One of the bullets that hit his left thigh shattered his femur — that was the life-changing hit, he said. A week later doctors confirmed neither of them would ever play soccer again.
In November 2014, eleven months after the boys were shot, Israeli forces raided the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) headquarters, which is the facility attached to the stadium in al-Ram village where the two teens had been practicing before they were injured. Following the raid, the PFA made the first call for the Israeli association to be banned from FIFA.
Six months later, the PFA called for an investigation into Israel’s soccer teams based in illegal Israeli settlements.
According to the bylaws of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), no country is permitted to have soccer facilities on another country’s territory without permission. The Israeli federation currently has six teams facilitated in illegal Israeli settlements, against the wishes of the PFA and the Palestinian government in the occupied West Bank.
FIFA has implied that the settlement teams do not fall under the bylaw, as the settlements are “disputed territory.”
PFA Director of the International Department Susan Shalabi Molano told Mondoweiss that she finds the idea of protecting the settlement teams under such an argument ludicrous.
“We are not in the business of deciding borders,” she said. “That is not our prerogative, ever since the problem started we said we cannot decide the borders, so we said okay, let the UN and the international community decide, and the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 clearly does so, we didn’t define the borders, and neither did FIFA, the UN and international community did and we have to comply with that because we do not live on the moon — the borders are clear and the FIFA statutes are clear: No association is allowed to administer [soccer] on another association’s territory.”
For the past two years, the PFA has been trying to force Israel’s hand on the subject. Earlier this month, an investigation launched in May 2015 by a special monitoring committee tasked with analyzing the situation in order to “identify solutions to issues hindering the development of [soccer] in the region” came to an end.
A final decision is set to be made next month during the FIFA congress.
While the Israeli Football Association insists that their Palestinian counterpart is unfairly making politics out of soccer, Jawahar and Adam will never play the sport they love ever again due to Israel’s military occupation, in other words: politics.
The teens say they don’t care about the Israeli teams playing in the settlements, they’d rather the settlement teams stay, and in return, Israel allow Palestinian teams through checkpoints in a timely manner and permit players to leave the country for matches.
“Teams are constantly late to matches which are sometimes canceled and often delayed because the whole bus — who are obviously players headed to a game — is stopped and checked and held for hours, intentionally” Adam said. “Let us build facilities for our teams. Let them keep the settlement teams, but stop Israel from holding our players for hours at checkpoints, imprisoning and shooting us. By the time we were 17, which is when a player is really preparing to go professional, at least 50 percent of our team had been arrested by Israeli forces.”
“It’s not just [soccer] players, all Palestinian youth deal with this,” he said. “When you arrest someone at 17 and send them to prison it destroys their entire life. We feel like the Israelis do it on purpose.”
Molano said Palestinian players live under circumstance unlike any other in the world.
“It’s like playing under fire all the time. Movement is restricted, the lives of our players are threatened, it’s very difficult to bring equipment into the country or to build new facilities,” she said. “During games, suddenly without prior notice, Israeli forces come into the stadium. Imagine how the youth feel seeing soldiers like that when they are trying to play a game, but in the end this is what we have, these are the circumstances we live under — whether you’re playing sports or at home with your family.
Today, Jawahar and Adam are just thankful to be alive and both have regained the ability to walk normally.
Jawahar is currently going to college for law, but his love still lies in the game.
“My dream is to coach kids [soccer], that is what I am working toward,” Jawahar told Mondoweiss from his family home. “I can’t stop my life because of what happened to us, but the restrictions are huge and it makes everything harder now.”
Adam studies business administration at the same university as Jawahar. He has given up any hopes of being involved in sports. Even coaching is too risky.
“My leg is full of metal,” Adam explained. “I wanted to study sports in university, but to do that I have to be able to play all the sports, and I can’t. I have no way to be in touch with sports — if I trip or someone bumps into me lightly and I fall my leg could shatter all over again and I’ll end up in a wheelchair.”
Stacks of photos and medical papers sat on the coffee table between Jawahar and Adam, whose interactions express the familiarity of brothers. The photos show gruesome images of the two being treated at the hospital, some of blood-soaked medical sheets, their faces wretched with pain, while others show dejected expressions in the aftermath, with long lines of stitches stretching across their limbs.
While a member from the PFA from the boys’ hometown told Mondoweiss that Jawahar specifically had a bright future in soccer, with a likelihood of playing professionally, when asked if they had dreamed of going professional before the shooting, both boys grin and shrug.
“Sometimes, as Palestinians, we cannot dream a lot,” Jawahar said. “It’s hard enough to coordinate matches and games inside the West Bank with all the checkpoints and obstacles the occupation creates.”
“We don’t want to make [soccer] political, everyone should have the right play, but unfortunately we always relay life to politics here,” he continued. “We have to if we want our rights, even our right to play [soccer].”