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Saturday 16 December 2017

From Gaza to Sandymount: Teens living under blockade enjoy first trip abroad and enjoy kick-about on Dublin beach

Rebecca Lumley

A group of Palestinian teenagers were welcomed to Ireland today with a friendly game of football on Sandymount Strand.

Arriving to Dublin from Gaza at 7:20 this morning, 18 boys from the country’s only football academy went straight from airport to astroturf, triumphing over local team, Iveagh Trust, in the first of a series of games scheduled for the week.

They were then taken to the South Dublin beach for a less competitive kick-around.

Speaking to Independent.ie, trip organiser Zoe Lawlor said for most of the boys, it was their first trip out of Gaza.

"For many of them, except for the kids who were here last year, they’ve never been outside Gaza, which is a very small area. So they live essentially in a prison."

Ms Lawlor is a senior member of Gaza Action Ireland, a charitable group attempting to "make links between Palestine and Ireland".  Gaza forms a small Palestinian territory between Israel and Egypt, measuring just 41 km long and 6-12 km wide.

Following an Israeli takeover in 2014, travel has been heavily restricted for natives, particularly adults. Ms Lawlor said that unless the siege is lifted, many of the group's members may never have the opportunity to travel again.

Before the trip, two members of the group were stopped from leaving the country, as was the team's coach.

"There should have been 20 but one of the children was denied a permit before we were supposed to travel and one of the children was stopped yesterday at an Israeli checkpoint and had to go back to Gaza, which was extremely distressing for him," Ms Lawlor said.

"Their coach (also) didn’t get a permit. And that’s two years in a row we tried to bring him and couldn’t bring him."

Ms Lawlor described the trip as a "window into the outside world" for many of the boys' parents, who are also banned from exiting the country.

"They (the team) were recording everything and sending it all home because most of the people in Gaza, particularly adults, can never leave."

This is the second year of the initiative, called Gaza Kids to Ireland, though the group have been attempting to organise such trips since 2013.

They look forward to a packed itinerary over the week and are scheduled to play teams in Galway, Limerick, Cork and various areas of Dublin.

Ex-Ireland football manager, Brian Kerr joined the group in Sandymount and hailed the young players as "technically brilliant."

"What I see are technically brilliant players who are playing in the streets, not the flash pitches that we have here in Ireland," he said.

Mr Kerr noted that despite their impressive footwork, members of the team were much smaller and younger looking than Irish teenagers.

"I think the most notable feature is, given that most of them are in the 14-15 age bracket, how small they look compared to Irish kids the same age. That’s an indication of the lifestyle in Gaza, how difficult it is, how malnourished some of the kids are," he said.

"It just shows you the effects of the system they are living in and the society that they’re living in."

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