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Gaza revived: how an Irishman is giving hope to Palestinian amputees

10 9 0
21.07.2019

Gaza. The very name evokes images of Israeli bombardment, crumbling infrastructure, keffiyeh-clad protestors standing defiantly with Palestinian flags and slingshots, and screaming children shot by snipers in a fog of tear gas and smoke from burning tyres. All of these images are the unfortunate reality of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, but there remains an untapped sporting potential within the population, and one man has dared to dig it out from among the most unlikely of people: the growing number of amputees.

Over the past few years, the number of amputees in the Gaza Strip has risen exponentially, particularly since the beginning of the Great March of Return protests at the nominal border between Gaza and Israel since 30 March last year. The brutality of the Israeli response to the peaceful protesters includes the use of live ammunition and tear gas, killing almost 300 Palestinian men, women and children, and wounding more than 25,000 others. In May this year, the UN stated that in the current crisis with its serious healthcare shortages, around 1,700 Palestinians face the possibility of having lower limbs amputated. All is not lost, though.

Speaking exclusively to Middle East Monitor from his office in Dublin where he works full-time as an accounts manager for a housing company, Simon Baker stressed his status as a football coach rather than someone who is trying to change the politics in occupied Palestine.

READ: Israel has killed 16 Palestinian children in Gaza this year

“I was there to try and create a good image,” he told me, “and the one thing I said to the players is ‘I’m not telling you to forgive, I’m not telling you to forget, but if you don’t start focusing on tomorrow and you only focus on yesterday, you’re never going to move forward’.”

His mission in Gaza began with losing his own leg after an accident at a building site in 2004. The incident left him depressed and traumatised. He overcame this by getting back into sports, football in particular, where he discovered that being an amputee was no real barrier to his value as an active member of society. Since then, he has dedicated his free time and energy to teaching and helping other amputees to realise their potential as the head of the European Amputee Football Federation (EAFF) since 2015.

Amputee Football Championships in Gaza on 13 April 2019 [Moahammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Amputee Football Championships in Gaza on 13 April 2019 [Moahammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

When he first began training Gaza’s amputee football team, his intention was clear. “I don’t understand the........

© Middle East Monitor