By Yousef M. Aljamal – Rafah
Muath Qishta, 13, was not yet born when an Israeli bulldozer driver crushed the body of American peace activist, Rachel Corrie, in March of 2003 in the Palestinian city of Rafah, while she was trying to protect Palestinian houses from demolition. Yet, Muath came this year to watch the Ramadan Rachel Corrie Football Tournament 2016, which kicked off on June 15, 2016 in Rafah’s playground in Brazil Neighborhood, a few blocks away from the site of Rachel’s killing.
The football event in its 9th year, co-organized by the Women’s Programs Center and the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, drew hundreds of young people, many of whom have not met Rachel in person, yet came to “enjoy watching football,” as Muath put it.
The event kicked off with a Dabka performance, a Palestinian traditional folklore dance, to highlight the Right of Return. The Dabka teaming carried the names of Palestinian villages and towns in historic Palestine, in a move to assert the right of these refugees to return to towns or villages in historic Palestine.
The Dabka group wore traditional Palestinian uniforms as they skillfully moved. They proudly wore their traditional Kuffyiah, as what Rachel did at the time when bulldozers killed her.
In her opening speech, Najah Ayash, Director of the Women’s Programs Center noted that the Tournament “aims to commemorate the memory of Rachel Corrie who came to Gaza and was martyred while trying to protect our houses from demolition.” Ayash, who wore a traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, called Rachel “the symbol of peace and freedom,” and concluded by thanking the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice and the organizers of the Tournament this year.
Ibrahim Mousa, 20, joined the young crowd to watch the matches. He believed that the Tournament “is the best which marks the memory of Rachel and strengthens sports in Gaza.”
60-year old Ibrahim Aburidaa shared Mousa’s feelings. Aburidaa recalled the days when Rachel moved around his neighborhood trying to protect houses from demolition, adding that his house was demolished in 2003 and he managed to rebuild it. “We must always remember Rachel. I still remember her moving around trying to protect houses from demolition,” he said.
Eighteen seconds into the start of the tournament, Mohammed Al-Sutari scored a goal, to the delight of his team’s fans, who expressed their delight in shouts of support which could be heard throughout the neighborhood.
This year, 32 teams registered in the tournament; half of them are based outside Rafah city. Mohammed Al-Ghareeb, the Public Relations Officer of the Tournament told the Palestine Chronicle that this football event “is the least the people of Rafah could do to immortalize Rachel, who sacrificed her life for the sake of us. This is to send Rachel’s family and friends back in Olympia a message of support and appreciation.”
— Palestine Chronicle (@PalestineChron) June 16, 2016
Al-Ghareeb added that the football tournament strengthens sports and local teams in Gaza, stating, “It helps strengthen and promote Palestinian sports by engaging youth. The tournament is a refuge for young and old.”
Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig, expressed their graduate and appreciation for holding the tournament that aimed to remember their daughter.
“When we hear how young people learn about Rachel through the tournament and how she continues to be remembered and honored, it reminds us of the special kindness she experienced in Gaza when she was there in 2003. We remember how you cared for her then and how you have kept her spirit alive for all these years. This is comforting and touching, and we are grateful for all you do in her memory and in support of us.”
They added, “Rachel played football (soccer) here in the U.S. on a young girls’ team. She loved the game, and we had a good time watching her play with others. So it feels appropriate that she would be remembered through this sport. We appreciate the vision of the Rachel Corrie Ramadan Tournament founders who believed that Gaza could benefit from a sports tournament that puts politics aside and brings people together.”
A poster of Rachel Corrie was hung on the wall behind the goalkeeper. It read, “Immortalizing the soul of Rachel Corrie who sacrificed herself for the people of Gaza. She lives with us, always.”
When Al-Sutari scored the first goal in the tournament, Rachel did too, but in Israel’s nets, defying Israel’s plan for her to be forgotten, and asserting her right to always be remembered.
– Yousef M. Aljamal is a Palestine Chronicle Correspondent in the Gaza Strip.