Even though France’s first encounter with its Australian rival won’t be held at the World Cup till tomorrow, Frenchman Antoine Griezmann scored two goals yesterday. But not in any Russian stadium– about 750 meters away from the barbed wire between Israel and Gaza.
The real blonde-haired Griezmann was represented by his number 7 blue shirt, worn by the 25-year-old Rami Jendia, who played for a Gaza sport club in a simulation match of the World Cup, held at “Malaka”, the base camp for the Great March of Return protests in Gaza. In the simulation, 14 amputee players played who had lost a leg from Israeli fire either from the weekly marches that began March 31, or from three wars on Gaza over the past decade.
The simulation-team players wore T-shirts from several countries participating in the World Championships. They were not able to buy only French and Australian jerseys because they are not available in sport equipment stores in the blockaded Strip.
The short game lasted only one-sixth the length of a real match, due to the stress on the players who were forced to jump on one foot all the match time. It kicked off after 13 hours of continuous fasting of the last day of the Holy Ramadan month.
Hamza Sersawi, 23, who symbolized the Manchester City’s superstar Leroy Sane, preferred to play as a goalkeeper, despite suffering paralysis on his left side of body and unable to repel his opponent’s balls.
“There are people on this planet who love life and love sport, and not being forced to be killed or wired to deprive their freedom,” Sersawi, who represented his country’s 2012 athletics national team, told Mondoweiss.
Sersawi has been injured twice; one by an explosive bullet in his left foot, and another by an artillery bombardment in November 2012 in Shejaiya neighborhood, one kilometer from the match venue. He said that amputees “are human beings and fond of watching the World Cup matches”.
The match, which ended by two scores in two no-nets goals; were accompanied by the screams of players demanding passes from their teammates, as well as the clash of their aluminum crutches, which the players have used sometimes to kick, if they failed to move the ball in front of their feet.
Gaza has three special soccer teams of those whose legs were amputated due to Israeli fire.
Tens of thousands of Gazans usually gather to watch World Cup matches or Europa league on large screens placed in public squares and seaside cafes. But organizers of the match say that no residents of Gaza could reach the Russian stadiums for the World Cup because of restrictions on their travel. Leaving Gaza for Egypt through the Rafah crossing is a rare, expensive and laborious process for Palestinians. The northern Erez crossing, the other exit for Gazans, is managed by the Israelis, who put severe limitations on the number of people who can pass through it.
During the last World Cup, Gazan players simulated Brazil and Croatia in a match, and wore a slogan calling for lifting the siege on Gaza.
Abdulsalam Haniya, a member of the Higher Council for Youth and Sport in Gaza, said that this event is a short message to all soccer fans that there are people who are isolated from the world who also likes to participate in sports and they are part of a life-loving society.
“This match represents the will of young people who have succeeded in addressing the peoples of the world who will understand this language, the language of soccer that can make an impact as politics able to change maps and societies’ trends.” Haniya told Mondoweiss.
Argentina’s national soccer team last week canceled a friendly match against Israel’s national team in Jerusalem amid political pressure, and after facing death threats that the Argentine foreign minister said were “worse than ISIS.”
Honoring the cancellation, a huge picture of Lionel Messi was posted at Gaza’s main crossroad. It reads: “Thanks Argentina & Lionel Messi for canceling Israel friendly, you scored a goal for freedom”.