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World Cup 2018: The Palestinian team that could have been

The fate of budding young Palestinian players has been revealed by Visualizing Palestine [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 July, 2018

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A visualisation of a Palestinian 'starting 11' highlights the brutal effect of Israeli occupation on talented young players.
Imagine if Kylian Mbappé, whose lightning-fast pace helped bring France to the 2018 World Cup Final, was shot in the feet while coming home from practice? Or what if Croatia star Luka Modric had been arrested and jailed without charge while travelling to join a new team?

This was the fate of Palestinian footballers whose playing careers were brutally cut short by the Israeli occupation.

As football fans gear up for the France vs Croatia World Cup final on Sunday, social justice group Visualizing Palestine have used the global tournament to highlight the effect of the Israeli occupation on the lives of budding Palestinian footballers.

The non-profit data group researched 56 cases of Palestinian footballers who had their lives devastated by Israeli shootings, bombings and restrictions on movement. From them, a "starting 11" and a manager were selected to create a striking image [below] of the Palestinian line-up that will never be.

Among them is Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, who at 19, the same age as Mbappé, was shot 11 times at a checkpoint by Israeli soldiers and will likely never play again. 

Another talent, Mahmoud Sarsak, was at the age of 22 arrested at the Erez crossing while travelling out of Gaza to join the national team, and jailed without charge for three years. He went on a 96-day hunger strike which led to his release.

Muhammed Obeid, aged 23, who played as wing-back for al-Salah Club, was shot in both knees during this year's Great Return March protests. He needs surgery unavailable in Gaza to play again.

"From talented prospects with a shot at national stardom to children at play seeking respite from the occupation, Palestinian footballers of all kinds are affected by Israeli human rights abuses," researcher Robin Jones told The New Arab.

"The 'starting 11' shown on the visual is only a small selection... There are likely even more cases that have never been documented in the media.

"As we watch the World Cup final on Sunday, our thoughts will also be with Palestinian footballers."

Palestinian activists have called for a boycott of Israeli sports, similar to the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa.

Football governing body FIFA has also been accused of "tarnishing the beautiful game" by sanctioning matches in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

While FIFA has yet to action, global football stars have spoken in support of Palestinians.

They include France legend Eric Cantona who called for Mahmoud Sarsak's freedom while he was on hunger strike.

Most recently, the Argentinian national team cancelled a match against Israel in Jerusalem during the height of the Great Return March protests.

Israel responded with sniper fire and drone strikes to Gazans marching for the right to return to their homeland. At least 145 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces. No Israelis were killed.

The team that could have been [Visualizing Palestine]

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