Sun, 04 Dec 2022

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GAZA, Nov. 15 (Xinhua) -- When Qatar won the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in 2010, Walid Jouda, a football fan living in Gaza, posted on Facebook that he would attend the world's most-watched football tournament held in the Gulf Arab country.

His post read, "Guys I will attend the matches of the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, who would like to come with me!"

Back then, people laughed at him. For anyone living in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian coastal enclave under the Israeli blockade, getting out of the territory was difficult. For Jouda, it was even more unlikely.

Jouda, born in Iraq, visited Gaza in 2000 with his family. But the outbreak of the Second Intifada, a major Palestinian uprising from 2000 to 2005, prompted Israel to impose a harsh blockade on Gaza. Since then, Jouda and his family have been stranded in the small Palestinian enclave.

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"I did not have a national identity or a passport," said the 35-year-old man, whose World Cup dream had gradually died out as he turned from a teenager running after a rugged football to a father of five.

Luckily, life made a surprising turn for Jouda and rekindled his dream when he was selected as a volunteer for the 2022 World Cup after having been stranded in Gaza for nearly 22 years.

"Really, I am still feeling as if I were in a dream. It is as if time had never passed and I am still 12-year-old and still passionate about football," Jouda said, flashing a smile when recalling the moment he knew the news.

Jouda is one of the 28 Gazan volunteers who travelled to Qatar on Sunday. They will participate in the operation and organization of the competition, whether inside or outside the stadiums.

Fadi Jabir, another Gazan volunteer of the upcoming global sports event, has been competing in local matches for more than 13 years and achieved considerable success in Gaza's football circle.

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"This is the first time in my life that I will deal with large crowds that may exceed the population of the coastal enclave," Jabir told Xinhua, expressing his happiness to join the World Cup.

In fact, "it is our golden opportunity to show the world that we (Gazans) love life and would like to get involved in all sports activities, not only as volunteers but also as players," he said.

"The Doha-based World Cup organizing committee selected the Gazan volunteers on standards it had previously established, including English language competency, knowledge with the general culture, and public relations skills," Abdul Rahman Tafish, supervisor of the Gaza delegation, told Xinhua.

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As one of the biggest sports events in the world, the FIFA World Cup will be held in the Middle East for the first time in history, making it easier for Gazans to take part in the event, Tafish noted.

"We will not participate only in organizing the events of the World Cup, but will also serve as the ambassadors of our state of Palestine ... to exchange the sports experiences with other participants from different nations," he said.

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