Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

Asian Cup: Fans of Palestine and Jordan celebrate their mixed heritage

Palestine team this year includes players from Gaza and West Bank as well as diaspora

Palestinians as they watch Palestine play Jordan in the Asian Cup. Photo by Heidi Levine for The National
Palestinians as they watch Palestine play Jordan in the Asian Cup. Photo by Heidi Levine for The National

Nur Mohammad was on his dream date with fiance Suma Raid: Sharing food and shisha in the chic Jasmine cafe in Nablus and watching his two favourite football teams, Palestine and Jordan, face off in this year’s Asian Cup.

Nur, 33, is from Jenin but works in Dubai. Like many Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, he has a Palestinian ID and Jordanian citizenship, a holdover from Jordan's occupation between 1948 and 1967. Around half of Jordanians are also of Palestinian origin, descendants of those displaced across the east bank after the founding of Israel in 1948. Some players from both Palestine and Jordan represent this mixed heritage.

“We are one people,” said Nur as the game flashed on the big screen. That Tuesday evening, however, he was rooting for his home team: “It’s Palestine first for me.”

Nur held his breath, hopeful his team would qualify.

Going into the game, though, the odds were not looking good for the Palestinians. Jordan had won its previous two games, while Palestine was yet to score a goal at the tournament.

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In the end, both defied expectations and tied 0-0 – letting Jordan advance while boosting Palestine’s ranking and keeping Nur's hope alive.

As he and his fiance, 25, watched the game, he said he was happy to see Palestine – which the United Nations does not fully recognise as a country – looking like a legitimate state before the world.

“You know the situation in Palestine and how it feels here,” he said, referring to the depressed economy and politics. He gestured to the TV and smiled. “Our flag is flying everywhere... our national team has Palestinians from everywhere. All Palestinians are represented here.”

This year’s team includes players from the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and the diaspora – including Sweden, Chile and the United States. Thirteen of the team’s members play in the domestic league and 10 are professional players from abroad, explained Ghassan Jaradat of the Palestinian Football Association.

“The main problems faced by Palestinian football and players as a result of the occupation practices are freedom of movement, entry of sports equipment from abroad, the establishment of sports facilities, and many other obstacles,” said Mr Jaradat.

Nur Mohammad, 35, was on his ideal date with his fiancé, Suma Abu Raid, as they watch Palestine play Jordan in the Asia Cup. Photo by Heidi Levine for The National
Nur Mohammad, 35, was on his ideal date with his fiancé, Suma Abu Raid, as they watch Palestine play Jordan in the Asia Cup. Photo by Heidi Levine for The National

It is uncommon for Palestinians to see their flag or national identity represented internationally. Football, however, has allowed for this. Fifa, the sport's global governing body, recognised the Palestinian team again in 1998. Palestine, though, only made it into the Asian Cup for the first time in the 2015 games.

Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub, a former advisor to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, has heavily pushed for Palestine’s football prominence on and off the field. Mr Rajoub and human rights groups have been, thus far unsuccessfully, lobbying Fifa to disqualify Israeli teams that come from illegal Israeli settlements.

Mohamed Shaksher, 23, is a manager at Jasmine Cafe. On Tuesday night he made sure the game was showing on the cafe’s three televisions. Like Nur, Mohamed has a Palestinian ID and Jordanian citizenship and says he feels a connection to his family across the disputed border.

“There are many Jordanians with family there and they face many of the same problems,” he said.

Palestinian Jordanian Mohammed Shakhir,23, the manager of the Jasmine Cafe. Photo by Heidi Levine for The National
Palestinian Jordanian Mohammed Shakhir,23, the manager of the Jasmine Cafe. Photo by Heidi Levine for The National

Palestinians with a Palestinian ID are technically stateless. Those who live in Jerusalem have Israeli residency and Jordanian travel documents, but are not citizens of any country. In the West Bank, most Palestinians are either Jordanian citizens or have a Jordanian passport to travel on. The situation is different in the besieged Gaza Strip, where many Palestinians have Egyptian citizenship, a holdover from when Egypt occupied the territory.

The relationship between Palestinians and Jordanians has not always been easy. The Jordanian government kicked out the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the 1970’s, while Human Right Watch has reported that the government in recent years has stripped some Palestinians of their Jordanian citizenship.

But Mohamed says that as Israel, the US and some Gulf states grow closer, Jordan is becoming Palestine's strongest ally. “Jordan is still the one that stands up for Palestine,” he said.

Only a handful of people came to watch the game on Tuesday in Jasmine cafe. The low turn-out could have been due to a general strike taking place across the West Bank to protest the Palestinian Authority’s new social security law and corruption within the semi-autonomous body.

Mohamed, though, wasn't too worried about the number of customers or the game outcome. He was proud of the winning team no matter what. “We’ll be happy either way,” he said.

Updated: January 16, 2019 04:16 PM

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