Palestinian footballers are hoping to make their people dream as they prepare to face Australia for World Cup qualifying in one of their first matches since the rise in violence in the region.
Palestine will face the Socceroos in Kuwait on November 21, five days after meeting Lebanon in the UAE.
The national team, which was given FIFA membership in 1998, draws on the Palestinian diaspora in Europe and South America but is underpinned by players based in the occupied West Bank.
While Australia’s players will be given access to the best sport science and business class flights, Palestine’s homegrown talents, who are in a training camp in Jordan, are less fortunate.
Palestine goalkeeper Rami Hamadeh plies his trade with 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.
But as Hamadeh explains, 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.”
A decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine escalated on October 7 when Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organisation by the Australian government, launched a deadly attack on Israel.
Israel responded with strikes on Gaza.
Soccer has at times been a political football amid the conflict.
In 2009, aspiring international Mahmoud Sarsak was detained by Israel.
He was released after three years, with Amnesty International reporting that during his detainment, he was tortured and undertook a self-imposed 96-day hunger strike.
In 2018 while on a peaceful march, Muhammad Khalil Obeid, a promising player based in Gaza, was shot in the knees twice, allegedly by an Israeli sniper.
He never played again.
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 AAP.
“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.”
Palestine have qualified for January’s Asian Cup in Qatar and their ambition of reaching a debut World Cup in 2026 has been helped by the tournament’s expansion to 48 teams.
Their hopes of getting there will be heavily influenced by performances in November’s matches against Lebanon and Australia.
“We want to take the name of Palestine to the highest levels so everybody can see we are a country doing what normal countries do,” Rashid said.
“We make it clear we do exist, we have culture, history and rights.”
Hamadeh added: “Getting to a World Cup would be a dream, it’s what every player wants to do and we are looking to make our people dream”.