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Muhammad Khalil Obeid

An Israeli sniper ruined my football career

'Over a year on I'm still struggling to escape Gaza to access better healthcare' [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 June, 2019

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Comment: If Puma truly believes in equality, it must end its sponsorship of the Israel Football Association, which includes teams playing on stolen Palestinian land, writes Muhammad Khalil Obeid.
On March 30th 2018, I joined tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza as we began our "Great Return March"; a series of weekly protests - still going on today - calling for our fundamental right to return to the homes from which we have been displaced, to be fulfilled.

The Palestinian people are well aware of how Israeli forces treat unarmed protesters, and of the high risks we face when demonstrating for our freedoms.

But for so many young Palestinians like me, who have grown up living under siege and occupation, protest is not simply a choice; it is an obligation.

Despite this, I could not have prepared myself for what happened next. While standing near to the Gaza fence, totally unarmed, simply filming what was going on, Israeli snipers shot me in both my knees. In a flash, my dreams of becoming an international football player were stopped in their tracks.

Football had been central to my life since I was young. From the age of 17, I played with Palestinian football club Al-Salah in my home of Gaza, where I ended up becoming captain and was given the nickname "habooba" meaning 'loved one'.

I dream of a society where anyone, regardless of religion or ethnicity, can pursue their passions and experience the joy that sport brings to so many across the world. But that dream is impossible if you are a Palestinian living under Israel's regime of occupation and apartheid.

Whether its shooting us down while protesting, restricting our freedom of movement, or denying us basic resources and civil liberties, there are countless ways in which the Israeli state prevents Palestinians from engaging in sport. But as well as undertaking endless attacks on Palestinian sport, Israel also manipulatively uses sport as a key tool for legitimising its illegal occupation.

Israel also manipulatively uses sport as a key tool for legitimising its illegal occupation

The Israeli Football Association (IFA), an official affiliate of FIFA, includes six teams based in illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land. These settlements are the fabric of Israel's occupation infrastructure and are considered war crimes under international law. As a Palestinian footballer, the cruelty of seeing my life passion being used to prop up the ethnic cleansing of my people is indescribable.

How then, can FIFA and companies such as Puma - the main sponsor of the IFA - claim to support universal equality and inclusion, while enabling and allowing these crimes to go on with impunity?

Through their actions, they are firmly placing themselves on the side of one of the most brutal occupying forces in the world, despite direct calls from the Palestinian people to stand with us on the side of freedom and justice.

More than 200 Palestinian football clubs have called on Puma to drop its sponsorship of the IFA. This Saturday, thousands of human rights campaigners in 20 countries across the world are supporting this call by taking action to apply pressure on Puma to live up to its stated commitment to human rights.

Read more: Gaza medic shot in the head by Israeli forces dies from injuries

This includes almost 30 actions at locations across the UK being co-ordinated by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, as activists take to the streets to spread the word about the international campaign.

The power of international solidarity like this cannot be underestimated.

My personal story hit the global headlines when it happened, but over a year on I am still struggling to get out of besieged Gaza to get the care I need so that I can play football again, and I hope that my fellow footballers across the world can help me.

But my story is just one example of the countless Palestinian careers, communities and lives destroyed by Israel's violent regime of oppression. We Palestinians will never give up our struggle for freedom, but we cannot do it alone.

An essential part of this solidarity must be to not allow Israel's occupation to be normalised and accepted on the global stage, and that has to mean holding the Israeli Football Association to account for its ongoing sportwashing and facilitation of war crimes.

I urge all those who truly believe in freedom, justice and equality for all to support our call for Puma to end its sponsorship of the IFA.

Let us together strive for a world where football is a vehicle for joy, passion and liberation; not a tool of occupation and apartheid.

Muhammad Khalil Obeid is a Palestinian who played football for Al Salah club in Gaza. On 30 March 2018, he was shot by the Israeli army in both knees during one of the Great Return March protests, a shooting that was captured on film, and that ended his career.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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