Gaza soccer kids visit Sandymount

Above: Members of Gaza kid’s football team on Sandymount Strand.

Above: Members of Gaza kid’s football team on Sandymount Strand.

Children from the Al-Helal Academy, a soccer academy set up in the battered and beleaguered Gaza Strip, enjoyed a visit to the Dublin 4 area and played football with representatives of Shamrock Rovers on Sandymount Strand on Saturday July 30th.

The young footballers, aged between 10 and 14 years, made the journey to Ireland for ten days of playing soccer and enjoying Irish hospitality in locations across the country.

“We couldn’t be more delighted to have these lovely children finally here to see us,” Gaza Action Ireland (GAI) coordinator Zoë Lawlor said.

GAI, who fundraised to organise the visit, are an Irish NGO that seeks to highlight the conditions under which Palestinians live in the besieged Gaza Strip, and to work towards ending the humanitarian crises occurring there.

“The situation for Palestinians in Gaza trying to play sports, living as they do under siege, is extremely difficult. The children are hampered by lack of facilities, equipment, places to play and restrictions on their movement. This visit to Ireland provided a wonderful chance for them to meet other children, experience a new culture and to tell their stories – we have a lot to learn from them,” Lawlor explained.

In a packed programme of events across the country that caught the attention of the national media, the Gaza soccer group enjoyed playing matches with local teams in counties Tipperary, Limerick, Galway, Wexford and Dublin. Among other activities they got to try their hand at hurling at an event at Cloughjordan Eco-Village in Nenagh, and were invited to form a guard of honour on the pitch at Eamon Deacy Park, Galway, before the Galway v Dundalk match on Friday August 5th.

Local politician Chris Andrews, who is a founding member of GAI, explained how the group organises civil society contacts between Ireland and Palestinians in Gaza: “In addition to artists and sports clubs, it has also forged links with fishermen, journalists, human-rights activists and providers of emergency services,” he said. Andrews was involved in fundraising and logistics for the Gaza team visit and believes that the initiative will strengthen ties between Irish communities and the residents of Gaza.

Above: Sean Boyd (Shamrock Rovers) and Chris Andrews with under 14 Gaza kids team players.

Above: Sean Boyd (Shamrock Rovers) and Chris Andrews with under 14 Gaza kids team players.

“It’s important to show those living in the Gaza Strip that they are not on their own,” he stated. “Their struggle is our struggle. It was also an act of solidarity with the club and the people of Gaza. The visit allowed the kids to tell their story and for communities across the country to see that the Palestinians are just like the rest of us and all they want to do is have fun and enjoy life. The kids are like a window into Gaza,” he explained.

In 2010 Gaza Action Ireland was involved in organising the Irish contribution to the Freedom Flotilla, a project that sought to sail activists towards Middle Eastern waters to protest and challenge the blockade of Gaza. Israeli forces intercepted and boarded the flotilla in international waters on the Mediterranean Sea and nine human rights activists were killed in an incident that drew international condemnation of the Israeli intervention. Resulting UN reports were critical of both the Israeli actions against the flotilla and the blockading of Gaza’s ports.

Details of GAI’s current campaigns can be found at and the group can be followed on Facebook at:
By Harry Bradley