More than 100 amateur football players and peace activists from all over Italy came to the occupied territories to play friendly matches against Palestinian men’s and women’s teams in a gesture of international solidarity.
It is the fifth consecutive year that Italian NGO "Sport Under Siege” is organising the visit to the West Bank and Gaza, in which they play against Palestinians from diverse villages and refugee camps.
On Sunday, the Italians played their first match against the Palestinian men’s and women’s “under 21” teams in Faisal El Hussein football stadium in Jerusalem, just five minutes away from the Wall and the Qalandia checkpoint.
“We’re here to play with our Palestinian brothers, to show them they are on our minds, and to show the world that we are against the occupation, even through football”, said Federico Zappini, one of the Italian players.
One of the Italian organisers said the yearly event will be kept for as long as the Palestinians will remain under Israeli occupation.
“We’re keeping our annual appointment here to reiterate our message of freedom and friendship with the Palestinians under the occupation”, said Mary Galbelli, one of the organisers. “We will continue coming here until Palestine is free.”
For 19-year-old Palestinian player Muhammad Abu Roz, the match against the Italians was a way of seeking normality.
“I love football, and playing against the Italians makes me feel the same like them for 90 minutes”, he said.
The Palestinian men’s team won 11-0 and the Palestinian women won 9-0, a normally devastating result for the Italians, however, that did not seem to matter today as was evidenced by the number of Palestinian flags that waved.
“We were tired from the journey”, one of the Italian players said smiling after the match.