Young Bilal with Big Dreams – Palestine Chronicle-Sponsored Footballer Killed in Gaza (PHOTOS)

Bilal Kamel Mahfouz, 13, was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. (Photo: supplied)

By Abdallah Aljamal – Gaza

One of them was 13-year-old Bilal Kamel Mahfouz, who was killed along with his family by an Israeli airstrike, only one week following the start of the war. 

Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza has destroyed buildings, homes, mosques, churches, infrastructure; it has killed over 25,000 people, mostly women and children; but worse than anything, it has crushed hope and dreams of those who challenged the hardship of siege and occupation on a daily basis. 

In 2021, a group of young Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip established the Youth Stars Center. The center was a small but critical project entirely run by volunteers.

It was dedicated to serving an impoverished area located between Khan Yunis and Rafah in southern Gaza, known as Qizan Abu Rashwan.

In recent years, the center established a football team for young kids, and eventually two teams, partly funded by personal financial gifts provided by the editors at the Palestine Chronicle news network.

The idea, then, was simply to give children a healthy way to interact, work as a community and recover from the horrors of Israeli wars in Gaza.

With time, however, the teams improved beyond expectations, and several protégés quickly emerged.

Bilal is Dead 

One of them was 13-year-old Bilal Kamel Mahfouz, who was killed along with his family by an Israeli airstrike, only one week following the start of the war. 

Bilal’s death was a shock for the young volunteers at the center and for the Palestine Chronicle team. Since then, Israeli airstrikes have also destroyed the playground where the children used to play and demolished the headquarters of the Youth Stars Center.

The Palestine Chronicle spoke with Ahmed al-Laham, the supervisor of the team, who retraced the most significant steps leading to the establishment of the center and told us how Israel destroyed many achievements that existed prior to war. 

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How We Became Popular

“Since the beginning of the Israeli war on Gaza, we have lost many loved ones and many achievements. The most shocking news was the killing of Bilal, who was one of our players,” al-Laham told us. 

“In 2021, we succeeded in forming a team of children from the Qizan Al-Najjar area south of the city of Khan Yunis city, and we contacted Dr. Ramzy Baroud, the editor-in-chief of The Palestine Chronicle. They decided to financially sponsor the team,” he continued. 

“We were able to buy sports uniforms, shoes, and balls for the team, and we managed to reserve a grassy field for them to train on. Before The Palestine Chronicle sponsored the team, no one knew about us, but then, we became popular and we began to compete with other teams in the Gaza Strip.”

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‘Barefoot in the Sand’

“When we first established the team with the Youth Stars Center, children from the Qizan Al-Najjar neighborhood used to play football on the sand, without shoes or sports clothes. They used their shoes to mark the football goal, and they used empty bottles to exercise,” al-Laham said.

“When we received the sponsor, we named the team after The Palestine Chronicle. I will never forget the joy of the children when we bought clothes and sports shoes for them,” he continued.

“With the money we received, we managed to reserve a grassy five-a-side field weekly for training, and to provide a volunteer coach to train the youngsters. We were in constant communication with the management of The Palestine Chronicle,” al-Laham also said.

“Before The Palestine Chronicle sponsored the team, no one knew about us, but then, we became popular and we began to compete with other teams in the Gaza Strip.”

Meet The Palestine Chronicle-Sponsored Football Team in Gaza (Photos)

The Norway Cup  

Achievements followed. In August 2023, one of the players, Mohamed Zaki Al-Baiuk, was selected to join the Palestinian youth team that was scheduled to participate in the prestigious Norway Cup – an annual football competition for children.

Mohamed did more than participate. He scored five goals and had ten assists, taking his team to the final game. Some of Mohamed’s goals proved most decisive in winning critical matches.

Upon his return, Mohamed was recognized for winning the ‘Player of the Tournament’ award.

“Our dream continued until the Israeli war broke out in October 2023, and everything changed.”

The Young Palestinian Gaza Footballer Who Became a Star

Bilal’s Dream 

“The headquarters of the Youth Stars Center were turned into rubble during the invasion of Khan Yunis. They also demolished my house and the houses of many players and team supervisors,”al-Laham told us.

“Currently, we are living in displacement tents in Rafah city or in the Al-Mawasi area, west of Khan Yunis. We lost everything, and the occupation turned all our dreams and aspirations into destruction, sadness, and pain.”

Al-Laham told us that the playground that the children used to train in was completely destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. 

“They also injured a large number of team players, many of whom are still receiving treatment until now,” he said.

The saddest news, however, was the killing of our player, Bilal Kamel Mahfouz, on October 14. 

“Bilal dreamt of becoming a famous player for a premier league Gaza club. He wanted to travel and play with one of the big Arab and international teams, but the occupation killed him, his dream, and our dream with him,” al-Laham said.

When the war broke out, al-Laham was busy organizing a training trip for the team outside the Gaza Strip, and he told us that that dream is still alive.

“I hope this dream will come true soon. My only wish is to see the team reunited.”

Currently, al-Laham cannot communicate with his team players and he does not know the fate of most of them, as they are all living in tents under intense Israeli bombardment. 

“I wish them safety. May God protect them from the occupation’s strikes,” he said.

“Our dream before the war was to establish the team, and we managed in doing so. Today, our dream is for the war to stop and to convey the heritage of Bilal to future generations of young players.”

(The Palestine Chronicle)

Abdallah Aljamal is a Gaza-based journalist. He is a contributor for The Palestine Chronicle from the Gaza Strip. His email is

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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