Palestinian national soccer team aims to host World Cup qualifier games in West Bank

Palestinians, who have not hosted a match at the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium in Al Ram since 2019, hoping to take on Jordan at home in September

Palestine's Mohammed Rashid (3) and Qatar's Abdel Aziz Hatim compete for the ball during the Asian Cup round of 16 soccer match between Qatar and Palestine at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Monday, January 29, 2024. (AP/Aijaz Rahi)
Palestine's Mohammed Rashid (3) and Qatar's Abdel Aziz Hatim compete for the ball during the Asian Cup round of 16 soccer match between Qatar and Palestine at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Monday, January 29, 2024. (AP/Aijaz Rahi)

After advancing further than ever in World Cup qualifying, the Palestinian soccer team is determined to host a game.

The Palestinian Football Association has proposed playing games in the third stage of its Asian qualification campaign in the West Bank and already has support from several sporting opponents, starting against Jordan on September 10.

The Palestinian team progressed through the second round of continental qualifying for the first time in its history in June but because of the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, staged its “home” games in nearby Kuwait and Qatar.

“Playing at a neutral venue isn’t permanent and was never meant to be so,” Susan Shabali, the PFA’s deputy president, told The Associated Press. “Faisal Al-Husseini is ready to host.”

The 12,500-capacity Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium is situated in the West Bank town of Al Ram. In 2019, it hosted the team’s last competitive home game, a World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia that ended 0-0.

“We hope that all goes well,” Shalabi said, adding that there had been “no objections” from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, or the Asian Football Confederation.

Palestine’s Abdallatif Albahdari, center, jumps for the ball in front of Saudi Arabia’s Salman Alfaraj during their FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifying Group Four soccer match, at Faisal Al-Husseini Stadium, in the West Bank town of Al Ram, Tuesday, October 15, 2019. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

Violence in the West Bank has soared since the start of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, following the terror group’s devastating October 7 onslaught on southern Israel. Since October 7, troops have arrested some 4,200 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 1,750 affiliated with Hamas.

According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, more than 540 West Bank Palestinians have been killed in that time. The IDF says the vast majority of them were gunmen killed during raids or terrorists carrying out attacks.

During the same period, 22 Israelis, including security personnel, have been killed in terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank. Another five members of the security forces were killed in clashes with terror operatives in the West Bank.

The Palestinian team’s success has been remarkable as it has had to play dozens of games on the road since 2019, and the players have had to seek overseas contracts.

While little soccer is currently being played in the territory, most players in the Palestinian roster belong to clubs in foreign leagues. The most recent roster saw coach Makram Daboub select players based in countries including Sweden, Belgium, Libya, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan.

Palestinian youth play soccer in a field next to Israel’s separation barrier in Aida Refugee camp, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Wednesday, March 8, 2023. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)

Mohammed Rashid, who plays club soccer for Bali United in Indonesia, told reporters in Perth last month ahead of the second-round finale against Australia that the hardest part of competing in international competition was not being able to play at home.

On June 27, the Palestinian team, currently ranked No. 95 in the world, was drawn in Group B of the third round which contains South Korea, Iraq, Jordan, Oman and Kuwait.

The top two from each of the three groups of six qualify automatically for the 2026 World Cup.

After the opening game in South Korea on September 5, the Palestinians will return to West Asia to take on Jordan five days later.

The Jordan Football Association issued a statement this week to “affirm its position in support of the Palestinian Football Association’s right to hold its home matches on its land and among its fans.”

“Jordan is proud to be the first team to face our Palestinian brothers in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers on Palestinian territory,” the statement said.

The Oman Football Association also said it supported the PFA’s “legitimate right to hold official national team matches in front of its fans on home soil.” Kuwait earlier issued its support.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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