by Ezzedine Said – Sun Oct 26, 3:00 pm ET
AL-RAM, West Bank (AFP) – Cheering and applause filled the new stadium near Jerusalem on Sunday as thousands of Palestinians urged on their national football team in its first ever home match.
The Palestinians long for their own state and an end to the Israeli occupation, but the friendly against Jordan gave football fans a rare moment of national joy in the cool autumn night, even though the result was a draw.
"This is a day of celebration. I hope that things will really change and that we can live like any other people," said Hiyam al Wahwah, 39, a veiled woman wearing the iconic black-and-white Palestinian headscarf.
"It sends a strong political message because it's taking place in Jerusalem," said Suleiman al-Zuhairi, a 50-year-old fan.
"This shows the world that we are capable of hosting a major sporting event and that our people aspire to lead a normal life despite the occupation."
Less than ten minutes into the game, home captain Ahmed Kashkash outwitted the Jordanian goalkeeper to give the Palestinians the lead, setting off a round of thunderous applause. Rayed Freish equalised for Jordan shortly after half-time but the determined Palestinian squad clung on to ensure that honours were even in the 1-1 final score.
"Palestine will make the earth tremble!" the sports announcer said through blaring speakers, treating the crowd to verses from the late Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish. "Football is more noble than war!"
Spectators included FIFA president Joseph Blatter, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and dozens of foreign diplomats, including the French and American consuls.
The Palestinian and Jordanian national anthems echoed through the Faisal al-Husseini stadium, a new facility built in the Israeli-occupied West Bank outside Jerusalem and named after an historic Palestinian leader.
As the Jordanian team took to the pitch several players of Palestinian origin knelt and kissed the artificial turf. The stadium's 6,000 seats were filled with fans decked out in red, green, black, and white cheering beneath giant portraits of Yasser Arafat, the former Palestinian leader who died in 2004, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Earlier in the day Blatter met with Abbas and Fayyad in the West Bank town of Ramallah and gave his backing to Palestinian political aspirations, saying he hoped football could help provide hope to the troubled region.
"Football is hope for politicians to reach the goal. This is a small goal, as the president and the prime minister try to reach a big goal," the president of football's world governing body told reporters.
In the past, the Palestinians have hosted international games outside their own territory, mainly in neighbouring Jordan, because of the precarious security situation and the lack of adequate infrastructure at home. The move to the new stadium is the culmination of months of tireless work by Jibril Rajub, a general who has headed the Palestinian football federation since May after gaining a reputation for toughness as chief of the Palestinian Authority's feared preventive security agency.
"This match is a significant message to the world that the Israeli occupation, the closures and the difficult living conditions have not defeated the determination of the Palestinian people," Rajub told AFP.
The match provided a rare show of Palestinian unity in the wake of the Islamist Hamas movement's bloody seizure of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after routing security forces loyal to Abbas, the head of the secular Fatah party.
Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya called Rajub -- a Fatah leader who once presided over the arrests of scores of Hamas men -- to wish the team luck ahead of the match.
Several players hail from Gaza, including Kashkash, who scored the first and only Palestinian goal of the game.
Palestine has been affiliated to FIFA since 1998 even though and games are broadcast to the Arab world by the Saudi-owned ART television network. The federation financed the construction of the stadium named after Faysal Husseini, an east Jerusalem Palestinian leader who died in 2001.
Source: yahoo news