Last week, fourteen young footballers the Al-Helal club in the blockaded Gaza Strip touched down in Dublin Airport for a ten-day trip of football, fun, and friendship. The boys, aged ten to 14, have been staying and playing their way around the country through counties such as Dublin, Kildare, Tipperary, Wexford, Limerick, and Galway.
“The situation for Palestinians in Gaza trying to play sports, living as they do under siege, is extremely difficult,” says Gaza Action Ireland (GAI) coordinator Zoë Lawlor. Al-Helal’s clubhouse in northern Gaza was damaged by bombings in both 2012 and 2014, and the children have already lived through three major Israeli-Palestinian conflicts in their homeland.
The team, whose arrival was delayed due to difficulty obtaining Israeli travel permits, were officially welcomed at Mansion House, Dublin by Lord Mayor Brendan Carr and Palestinian ambassador Ahmad Abdelrazek. “This is a very historic trip,” Carr said in a statement. “We really welcome the fact that children who find it very difficult to live a normal life in their home have been able to visit Ireland, where we will show them what a society living in peace is like.” He also asserted that a trip like this is also very much extended to Israeli children: “This is about striving for peace.”
In terms of activities so far, the Al-Helal team have trained on Sandymount Strand in Dublin, enjoyed the iconic Viking Splash Tour on the River Liffey, and met with President Michael D. Higgins at the Galway United football club in Eamonn Deacy Park.
The visit grants the young players “a wonderful chance to meet other children, explore a new culture, and to tell their stories,” according to Lawlor. She added, “It is a great opportunity for the people of Ireland to participate and support them.” ♦