Fever Pitch

And then I got to see my first ever football game. The air was filled with dust but nothing stopped Palestine from playing UAE at the East Jerusalem stadium of Al Ram, it was the first FIFA game played in Palestine.

The photo story first appeared here, on Al Jazeera English.

Al-Ram, Jerusalem – On September 8, Palestine’s national football team hosted its third World Cup qualifier on Palestinian territory – which has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967 – against the United Arab Emirates in this Jerusalem suburb’s Faisal Husseini International Stadium.

The game, which was a qualifying match for the Asian Cup as well as the 2018 FIFA World Cup, ended in a 0-0 draw.

The game follows a campaign mounted by the Palestine Football Association (PFA) to get Israel kicked out of FIFA for discriminatory policies the military implements against Palestinian players.

Some Palestinian players were killed in the latest Israeli war on Gaza and in confrontations with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank – while others were injured or arrested, including Johar Halabiyeh, an Abu Dis player who was shot 11 times in his legs in January 2014. Israeli authorities have imposed restrictions on the building of sports facilities, while Israeli forces have broken up games and even attacked the PFA headquarters.

So far, this campaign has not succeeded in kicking Israel out of FIFA, but Israel did agree to grant entry to players from the UAE, a country with which it has no official diplomatic relations. Palestinian players from the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and the diaspora also took part in the historic match.

Despite the heat and dust-filled air, a festive atmosphere characterised the match, with fans playing drums and shouting slogans welcoming the Emirati players. The 12,000-seat stadium is located in al-Ram, historically a neighbourhood of Jerusalem but now cut off from the Holy City by Israel’s illegal separation wall.