29 Apr 2024

'A key foundation' - memories of football in Gaza

From Here Now, 5:00 am on 29 April 2024
Najji and Rahman Bashir

Photo: RNZ

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Football players from over 26 teams found solidarity through sport at the Football Fest as part of the annual World of Cultures event in Auckland's Walter Massey Park. For Hone Fowler, this is exactly what the game is all about - a shared language and an opportunity to express solidarity with each other.  He says "whether you're from the middle of Africa or the middle of Central America, there's some connection, some relationship to the game. And it's about weaving all those connections and sharing that love of the game together here."

Hone Fowler

Hone Fowler at Football Fest 2024 Photo: RNZ

Hone has been helping organize the Football Fest for a few years now and his love for the game took him to Gaza over 10 years ago. Manukau City United, his club, has a twinning agreement with the Al Ali footballl club in Nuseirat, Refugee Camp, Gaza. He says "we've had a long standing relationship for over 12 years now with the club, and we have annual fundraising efforts and opportunities to share some of the stories and realities..and football has helped facilitate that connection."

Nuseirat Camp is a refugee camp in the middle of the Gaza Strip, which has been left heavily damaged in the Israel-Hamas war. About 85,000 refugees lived here up until 2023. One of his most cherished memories of his time in Gaza was seeing football played in the alleys on the streets. "You could see in sense that it was a it was a key part of foundation of the kids enjoyment of life. And that was really special and can be related to in many different places around the world. And I think that's the power of the game" he says.

Najji Ghamri

Najji Ghamri Photo: RNZ

Najji Ghamri set up the Free Palestine team for the tournament today. He's a bit of a seasoned athlete and a love for the beautiful game has taken him a few places so far, particularly with Futsal.

A former refugee, Najji arrived in New Zealand as a seven year-old with his parents and grandparents, who had become refugees at the time of the Nakba in 1948.The Nakba, which translates to ‘catastrophe’ from Arabic, was the exodus of 1948 when at at least 750,000 Arabs were displaced from their homes.

Since coming to New Zealand with his family, Najji has been back to Palestine once and he longs to return. "The air, and the sea, you know the soil, you just have this weird feeling that you're at home and it's hard to describe. I've only felt it really once and I wish I can go back" he says. 

Like everyone in his Palestinian community, Najji’s days are filled with concern for people back in Gaza. For now, his determination to qualify as an orthopedic surgeon and return to Palestine to help one day, keeps him going.  He says "my dream is to go and help my people and grow my nation. And that's why I'm doing what I'm doing..because my dream is to help as many people as I can."