PHOTO ESSAY: Obayda, the Gaza Football Fan Who is Fighting to Survive

Obayda at the stadium where the incident took place. Beit Hanoun, Gaza, October 24, 2021. (Photo: Mahmoud Nasser, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Mahmoud Nasser

Obayda El Khabo is a survivor of misfortune. The 27-year old is fighting numerous odds. 

In the small town of Beit Hanoun, Obayda is famously known as the guy who rouses the crowd during soccer matches of his favorite team, Al-Ahli. On one occasion, while leading the Ultras in the stands, a tragedy struck. In a horrific incident, a faulty firework exploded in his hand, leaving him badly injured and in need of surgery

Without total control of his arms and fingers, Obayda can no longer work the way he did before. 

Before becoming a cobbler, Obayda worked mainly in weddings, pouring coffee and juice to attendees. Even such a seemingly simple task can no longer be done after the incident. But there’s always a glimmer of hope. Somehow, Obayda can fix shoes.

Obayda told me his story from the very start, of how for a moment, seconds after waking up from surgery, he began to wonder if he’ll ever fix shoes or pour coffee ever again. He almost lost his livelihood. At this age in Gaza, especially in a small town like Beit Hanoun, losing one’s income is the single divide between a state of poverty – experienced by most Gazans – and mere survival. 

Obayda continues to live valiantly but in obscurity. The current political and economic climate has pushed many young Gazans out of the country seeking opportunities elsewhere. They look for a better life whenever they are lucky enough to be presented with the opportunity to do so. However for many, like Obayda, leaving is not an option. 

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate in the besieged Strip stands at 39.5%. 

Obayda continues to live and work despite the obstacles – career-ending injuries, the skyrocketing unemployment, and the horrific poverty rate of 53%.

There are those that cannot face hardship and choose to leave in search of a better life elsewhere, and then there are people like Obayda, the one who confronts life head-on, fight the good fight, and refuse to be a mere statistic. 

To be alive in Gaza is itself a challenging act. Here survival is a big ask. But to overcome all the odds, to work and to insist on living with passion, hopes and aspirations is an act of great courage. 

Obayda in his small makeshift work area during an early morning in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. October 24, 2021.
Obayda’s tools hanging from a tree adjacent to his workspace, Beit Hanoun, Gaza. October 24, 2021.
Visible scars on Obayda’s hands due to the firework incident. Two scars are visible, one at the bottom of his right hand, the other on the wrist of his left hand. Beit Hanoun, Gaza. October 24, 2021.
Obayda seen grabbing a shoelace from his makeshift tool board in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, on October 24, 2021.
Obayda commences his day working at the entrance of his home in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. October 24, 2021.
Obayda repairs a shoe on October 24, 2021, in Beit Hanoun, Gaza.
Obayda at the stadium where the incident took place. Beit Hanoun, Gaza, October 24, 2021.
Obayda stands at the exact corner of the stands where he was injured. Beit Hanoun, Gaza, October 24, 2021.
Relatives of Obayda outside his home in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, on October 24, 2021.
Obayda at work. Beit Hanoun, Gaza. October 24, 2021.
Obayda’s humble work station outside his home in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. October 24, 2021.

(All Photos: Mahmoud Nasser, The Palestine Chronicle)

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