08/10/2018 - 10:38

In Jerusalem, Palestinian families play political football

The Abu Sneihehs — reigning champions and possibly the largest of Jerusalem clans, with thousands bearing the surname -– were knocked out in the first round, raising hopes for less renowned names.

The Aqals, a relatively small family, are taking on the far larger Sanuqurats in the second round.

Before the match, the referee checks documents — without the right surname you can’t even enter the pitch.

One of the team’s two Mohammeds, a burly striker whose look is more mechanic than Messi, has forgotten his ID and is temporarily barred.

“Will a picture of it do?” he pleads, waving one on a mobile phone.

On the side of the pitch is a six-foot (1.8-metre) picture of one of the tournament’s founders.

He was arrested a year ago by Israeli police and jailed for involvement in an organisation which claims to protect the al-Aqsa mosque compound, located not far away in the Old City, Israeli media reports said.

Israeli security forces did not respond to a request regarding the case, but the state says the al-Aqsa Youth group is linked to banned Islamist movement Hamas.

The al-Aqsa compound, which hosts the Dome of the Rock, is the third-holiest site for Muslims and a key rallying point for Palestinian identity.

For Jews, it is built on the Temple Mount, their holiest site.

Organisers said police showed up on October 2 and removed the picture. Israeli police did not respond to requests for information.

– ‘Children of Jerusalem’ –

On the pitch, the Aqals take an early lead but are quickly pegged back.

The standard is not much better than average pick-up games across the world, but the crowd loves it.

Hamzy Abedy is not even really watching — instead facing towards the 25 hardcore members of the extended Aqal family, orchestrating them in ever more vociferous chants.

“We are all children of Jerusalem, so I brought all the team with me,” he laughs, pointing at the frenzied teenagers.

Other participants said the tournament helped them meet members of their extended family.

Just as the city they battle over is contested, there are also concerns over their pitch.

An Israeli court could yet decide to build more than 20 Israeli settlement homes in the vicinity, although there have been no developments in the case for several years, Aviv Tatarsky from the Ir Amim anti-settlement NGO said.

Yet it still concerns Palestinian residents worried about being swallowed by Jewish expansion into east Jerusalem.

Abedy said Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem made Palestinians more determined to remain in the city.

“Trump is talking into the wind,” he said after the match.

“He is not able to cancel our existence. We are here.”

The Aqals run out 6-1 victors, with Mohammed scoring one and setting up another two.

Sport is the best thing to unify the Arabs,” he said, carrying his toddler away from the pitch.

“All the families will meet together and know each other. The whole world loves football.”

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