Only A Game? - Ahed Zaqout offered Gaza hope but now he’s dead

Ahed Zaqout (left).
Ahed Zaqout (left).

The vast majority of people will never have heard of Ahed Zaqout but please read on.

Ahed Zaqout was regarded by many as the greatest ever footballer to play for the Palestinian national team.

Last Wednesday, while sleeping in his bed, Ahed was killed by an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) bomb.

The 49-year-old former midfielder worked as a coach and ran a Palestinian sports programme in Gaza and was not believed to be politically involved with Hamas.

Zaqout is but one of over 1000 civilians killed by the IDF since Operation Protective Edge started on July 8.

If you have watched even five minutes of Channel 4 News’ coverage of the military bombardment of Gaza you will know that huge sections of the small piece of land called the Gaza Strip have been left in a dreadful post-apocalyptic state.

Where families once shared food and prayed together now stand piles of grey rubble; it’s almost as if the Israelis are attempting to erase any notion that places like Khan Yunis and Gaza City were once full of life, civilization and hope.

Ahed Zaqout was an important component to that concept of hope.

Ahed was proof to every Palestinian that despite living in a place of humanitarian crisis you could still inspire others around you.

I’ve never visited Gaza and I can’t even begin to imagine what the conditions must have been like for Ahed.

Gaza has lived under a very cruel and inhumane economic blockade since 2007 but still Ahed and many Palestinians like him did the best they could with what they had.

As the children of Israel played soccer on sun soaked beaches Ahed and his sports programme had to make do with substandard facilities and equipment.

Many of today’s footballers consider the size of their bank balance as a meaningful parameter for their success but for Ahed his career highlight was playing against a world class France side in 1984 and he was also part of the side which led Palestine to their highest ever Fifa World Ranking, 85th, in 1985.

Ahed lived in conditions that many will never be able to imagine yet he continued to offer people hope but like hundreds of others of Palestinians he is dead.

It’s unlikely that Zaqout was the intended target of the IDF bomb and if this is true then in just goes to prove that Israel’s actions in Gaza are not working.

People like Ahed were and are so important to the future of Palestine because when both sides reach a peace agreement it will be people like Ahed who will take the country forward.

Israel is not just beating the military wing of Hamas into submission they are destroying the entire soul of a collective people.

By destroying their hope and dreams of a better future they end up creating endemic violence, fear and death.

Ahed Zaqout was not famous outside of Palestine; he never reached the heady heights of world football but in my opinion he contributed something much more important and that was he offered alternatives to many of Gaza’s young people while they existed in a very hostile, primitive and terrifying place. That’s surely much more admirable than any match winning goal.