An uncanny account of war-torn West Bank and Balata Refugee Camp through the eyes of a foreign journalist depicting how football is shaping its future amidst desert, bullets and crisis. First featured on the award-winning website on football & pop culture – Goalden Times.
I ended up in small, dimly lit room with a high ceiling. Few tables and lots of chairs were thrown around the room. A big picture of Yasser Arafat was hanging on the wall above a counter with cans and bottles- a clue that this is some kind of a bar, I guess. Suddenly a kid, couldn’t be more than 17 years of age, appeared behind the counter. He approached me yelling in Arabic and then turned his back, unbuttoning pants in front of my camera. Right, I thought, show me your butt so that I can go on with my work.
Still yelling in Arabic, he pulled up his shirt and lowered the pants. There was a hole of the size of an orange in his lower back, just a few inches to the right of his spine. “He says, take picture of that you nosy journalist”, explained the other boy who had shown up behind the counter.
When you see a kid, you judge him by his counterpart from the West. It is fun to show your butt to a stranger with a camera when you are 17. However, if you are a kid in Palestine, you have other things to show. I went to West Bank, Palestine, to write a story about football and how it influences the lives of people in this eternal state of war. I couldn’t have been less prepared. When you hear the word “refugee camp”, you imagine a temporary place. However, refugee camps in West Bank, like Balata Camp in Nablus, were built in the 1950s. They were made for five thousand Palestinians displaced from lands that became part of Israel. Now Balata Camp is inhabited by approximately 20,000 refugees for two or three generations. Unemployment is at 60% and raids by Israeli Security Forces are happening on a daily basis. This creates anxiety, insecurity and all sorts of social problems that come along with the occupation.
The beautiful game is the most popular sport in Palestine and has a huge following. Palestinians know about all the big leagues, tournaments and players as much as anyone in Europe. However, they follow only two clubs – Barcelona or Real Madrid. Any conversation will sooner or later end with the question “Do you follow Barca or Real?”. The huge polarity that the occupation has created (us – Palestinians and them – Israelis) has spilt over into the society and created a strange division among football fans as well.