Palestine’s soccer team won the Asia Challenge Cup on Friday in a match against the Philippines, securing its place in the AFC Asia Cup that will be held in January next year in Australia. This is the first time Palestine’s national team has qualified for a major international tournament since the establishment of the Palestine Football Federation in 1928, so the victory holds huge significance for Palestine and for Palestinians around the world.
Palestine’s historic qualification was sealed by defeating the Philippines 1-0 after Ashraf Al Fawaghra’s scored a goal in what commentators called a “sublime” “stunning ” free-kick just a minute before the hour mark. Palestine won all of its games in this competition.
A sour note was the absence of squad member Sameh Mar’aba, arrested in April. He has not been released and has not been charged. “They always give us hassle,” said player Jarun of the team’s experiences when it reaches the Israel border. “It will be the same setup as it always is,” he said of his teammate’s arrest, predicting that Mar’aba would be held for several weeks and released. “We are trying not to talk about it.”
This puts extra pressure on FIFA and the Israelis to ensure that players can make the journey without the spurious arrests and detainments for which Israel is so infamous.