In the aftermath of the disturbing escalation of hostilities over the weekend, and in the shadow of Israel’s newly imposed sanctions on movement of goods through Kerem Shalom, Gaza’s football enthusiasts hope to join hundreds of millions of viewers across the world in watching the highly anticipated World Cup Final.
Gaza too has its fair share of avid football fans. Football is played on the streets, in schoolyards, the local league. People watch matches, both local and foreign, and follow the World Cup closely. During big matches, Gaza’s bustling cafés are transformed; young spectators wear their favorite teams’ colors, cars are covered with flags, images of celebrated football players are passed between cell phones.
Dreams may have no limits, but in reality, even a consistent supply of electricity is a dream out of reach for Gaza residents, one with quite a literal limit. Gaza residents currently receive electricity in cycles of only four hours of power, followed by at least sixteen hours of outage. Even before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel’s most recent economic sanctions on the Strip – closing Kerem Shalom to outgoing goods and severely limiting passage of incoming supplies – the state of Gaza’s economy is dire, mostly as a result of the closure imposed by Israel.
The communications company Jawwal recently installed a large screen on one of Gaza’s busiest streets, near the seafront, where residents gather to spend their leisure time. When Gisha’s field coordinator, Mohammed Azaiza, arrived at the spot about half an hour before the Brazil-Belgium match was due to begin, most of the seats were already taken. People from all walks of life attended the event; many were sitting on the sidewalk.
Abed Tammus, 20, who lives in Gaza City, came to watch the match in one of the coffee shops on al-Rashid St. His father works in construction but has been out of work for several months. “We have a TV at home,” Tammus explains, “but not enough money to connect to auxiliary power supply lines off the main grid. I can’t afford to go to a coffee shop to watch the matches every day either, because food and drink would cost at least 10 shekels a day, which I don’t have. I walked here from home because I can’t pay for public transportation”.
Umm Salah al-Sadudi, 43, arrived early to save four other seats for her friends. She says she and her friends come every day to have a good time, look at the sea; there aren’t enough recreational spaces in Gaza. She likes watching football and hopes Brazil wins. Rama, her daughter, says she’ll only go home when the power is back on because she struggles with the heat. In the summer, she says, the house turns into a “dark, sweltering inferno.”
Ahmad Abd al-Aal, 23, graduated Al-Azhar University last year with a degree in commerce, only to join, as he puts it, the ranks of the unemployed along with the rest of Gaza’s young adults. Unemployment among youth in Gaza is approaching 65%. He has been a Brazil supporter since childhood but hopes to travel to Belgium someday. Three years ago, his neighbors left for Belgium. “I haven’t heard from them about how they’re managing over there, but what I do know is that Belgium is a country that respects refugees, there are people from Gaza who have chosen to live there”. Because of the economic situation in Gaza, Ahmad adds, immigration is not a choice, but rather, a necessity. “We deserve to be able to think about our lives, our futures. We’re no longer willing to suffer because of the political and economic situation. I’m 23. Across from me there’s a 35-year-old who hasn’t found work yet. I don’t want to end up like that.”
Gaza residents have a right to living conditions worthy of the 21st century – stable power supply, potable running water, efficient waste management, and complete health care services. They have a right to earn a living, lead satisfying family lives, and fulfill personal and professional ambitions, which can only be achieved with freedom of movement. They too deserve the option of flying across the globe to watch the World Cup Final in all its glory.