My name is Pablo Abdala. I am 46 years old and live in Roldán, Argentina. I played professional soccer for different teams in Latin America. Between 2002 and 2007, I was proud to defend the colors of the Palestinean national team.
My roots go back to El Libano, a village near Beirut. We know there are many Abdala’s in Ramala and Hebron. That is what justified my selection for the national team.
At home, we did not talk Arabic. But we kept the memories alive with music and food. That is very common for Palestineans in Argentina. We are a small minority here. Once I started playing professionally in Chile, I discovered a much bigger community of Palestineans. That is because no other country outside of the Arab countries harbors so many of us. Playing there put me on the radar of Nicola Hadwa, the technical director of the national team. He invited me to join the selection in 2002.
My adventure started at the African Cup in Kuwait. It lasted five incredible years. One day I played for Cobrealo in Chile. The next day I discovered stadiums in Asia, China, Bahrein, Qatar, the Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, and Singapore. Ironically though, I never played in Palestine.
When you play for Palestine, politics is part of the game. First of all, we had to train in Egypt, not in our home country. For us, it was common that players would arrive late or would not arrive at all due to border crossing issues. For our team members from Gaza, it was sometimes impossible to join us. Today, the selection can practice in Palestine. You should understand that what sounds obvious is a considerable improvement.
Of course, every time we came together, we heard first-hand testimonials about the daily struggles in Palestine: checkpoints, destroyed houses, friends in prison. Or worse: family members killed. Also, many players did not live in Palestine but were part of the Diaspora. Due to the ongoing occupation, FIFA allows Palestine to select people from the Diaspora for the national team. The presence of Diaspora players created a special bond: all of us were in this together.
Wherever we played, we would be playing far away from home. But even in Asia or Australia, there would be a small group of Palestinians in the stadium. They would sing and dance and cheer for us. It was more than soccer; it was also about memories and keeping the dream alive.
When we played in the shirt of Palestine, it was special. We were professional soccer players and for us, soccer is a job. But it is also about passion, and playing for the Palestinean team was an extra boost. It was also about giving back joy and pride to the people of Palestine. Our supporters continue to suffer from the occupation. We knew they were watching us, at home or in bars. If we did well and won our game, they would be out in the street cheering. Their smiles would be not only for themselves, not only for us but also for the future of Palestine.
In 2007, at 35 years old, my soccer career for the national team came to an end. Today, soccer still is a big part of my life. As the technical director for the youth teams of Polideportivo Portuario de San Lorenzo, I try to share my experience and pass it on to new generations. Here in Argentina, there are fewer Palestinians than in Chile, so I am less surrounded by Palestineans. Still, the internet and social media make it easy to keep in touch with the broad Palestinian community that I got to know during the past. The Diaspora is very much alive.
I have two children, a daughter named Fairuz and a son Tareck. He is 15 and does not play bad (smiles). During the last game of the national team, the majority of the selection came from the West Bank. Soccer has taken off there, that is good news. As I mentioned, the group now also practices in Palestine. But we still had a player from the Emirates, three Chilenos, an Argentinan, a Syrian and a Saudi. Like so many other youngsters in the Diaspora, Tareck can continue to dream about playing for his national team. Inchallah (smiles).
Frank Ostyn: www.frankostyn.com