Key PointsPalestine’s team draws on the Palestinian diaspora in Europe and South America and players from the West Bank.Some team members relocated to Jordan to train, while the game against Australia had to be moved.While Palestine is not universally recognised as a nation throughout the world, FIFA gave it member status in 1998.
The Palestine national football team is known by a few nicknames. They are the Lions of Canaan to some, others refer to them as the Knights, and at times they are also called the Fedayeen, or freedom fighters.
Being recognised differently by different people is not uncommon for Palestinians.
Palestine is not universally recognised around the world as a country. Nearly three-quarters of United Nations member states saying it is a state, but Australia, along with the United Sates, Canada and the United Kingdom does not recognise it.
However, Palestine does have a national football team.
Amid a humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza, that team will take on the Socceroos in a World Cup qualifier match on 1am Wednesday, AEDT.
So what is the story behind the Palestinian football team?
Palestine takes on the Socceroos amid devastation in Gaza
The Palestine versus Australia game was going to be held in the West Bank, but it had to be moved due to the escalation of violence in the region.
It will now take place in Kuwait, and Australian players have pledged to
Israel has bombarded the Palestinian region of Gaza since Hamas’ 7 October attack in which more than 1,200 people were killed, according to the Israeli government, and over 200 hostages taken.
More than 13,000 people have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, according to the health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
A map showing Gaza, Israel and West Bank. Credit: SBS News
The current national team draws on the Palestinian diaspora in Europe and South America but is underpinned by players based in the occupied West Bank, where
The team had to pull out of a tournament in Malaysia in October due to the ongoing conflict, and a number of players relocated to Jordan in order to continue training.
According to Arab News, had been expected to play in the Olympic qualifiers but were unable to get out of Gaza.
Speaking at a press conference in Kuwait ahead of the match, Palestine head coach Makram Daboub described the “very hard” situation the players faced, as long training camps meant they were away from their families for long periods.
“Nowadays, whether we’re going to training or to the hotel, players spend 24 hours on their phones to follow what’s happening,” Daboub said, as translated by Al Jazeera.
“When it comes to sensitive cases, such as the loss of children, civilians and their families, it motivates them to react and achieve victory to make the Palestinian people happy. As they say, despite the pain, there is hope.”
What is the history of football in the Palestinian territories?
Palestinian football has faced monumental challenges since the first iteration of the Palestinian Football Association was started in 1928.
Many Palestinians, including talented footballers, became displaced during the bloody 1948 Arab–Israeli War – which led to a mass exodus known as the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe.
In the years following, members of the Palestinian diaspora who had dispersed to neighbouring countries came together with players based in the occupied Palestinian territories to form teams under the banner of ‘Palestine’.
It was not until 1998, a few years after an interim agreement that Palestinians would recognise the state of Israel and the Israelis would recognise the Palestine Liberation Organization as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, that Palestine gained FIFA membership.
The men’s team reached its highest ranking of 73 in 2018, and a women’s team was formed in 2013.
The harsh reality for Palestinian players
While the Socceroos will be given access to the best sports science and business class flights, the Palestine team’s homegrown talents are less fortunate.
Palestine goalkeeper Rami Hamadeh also plays for Jerusalem-based club Jabal Al Mukaber, and swapped shirts with Socceroos No. 1 Mat Ryan when the two sides met at the 2019 Asian Cup.
Palestinian goalkeeper Rami Hamadeh (pictured during a match against Saudi Arabia in 2019) says there are additional challenges for those playing for Palestine. Source: Getty / Ahmad Gharabli
But as Hamadeh explained, a task as basic as attending training or travelling to a match can be difficult as a result of occupation.
“Sometimes with my club, when we play away we can have one, two or three checkpoints,” Hamadeh told AAP.
“You have to show them (Israeli forces) your ID card.
“Sometimes they let you go but they can ask you questions about where you’re going or they can make you wait for one hour for no reason and then let you go.
“It feels bad and it makes you sad because you just want to train and play like any normal player.”
Earlier in 2023 when Hamadeh was playing in the Yasser Arafat Cup final, Israeli forces interrupted the match by firing tear gas bombs into the stadium.
“As a footballer, you shouldn’t have to worry about bombs being thrown on the pitch,” Palestine midfielder Mohammed Rashid told the Australian Associated Press.
Many of the Palestinian team members play for international teams around the world, like Mohammed Rashid (pictured playing for Palestine against China) who plays in Indonesia. Source: Getty / VCG
“Rami started choking because the first one landed near him and the referee had to stop the game for an hour because people were choking.
“I had to wrap my shirt around my face because it burned. Then as soon as we resumed the match, they threw another smoke bomb onto the field.”