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The Palestinian soccer team just made history, sparking a moment of joy amid war

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Palestinian soccer team made history this week. For the first time ever, it secured a spot in the knockout stage of the AFC Asian Cup. And as NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi reports, it was a rare moment of happiness.

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, BYLINE: It's never been easy for the Palestinian soccer team, says forward Tamer Seyam.

TAMER SEYAM: (Non-English language spoken).

AL-SHALCHI: "Preparing for the cup was very difficult," he says, "we faced a lot of challenges to get together, to train." No one was sure how the team would do. But then...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: The ball whipped in, and it's met by Dabbagh for the opener in the 12th minute.

AL-SHALCHI: They beat Hong Kong 3-0, sending them to the knockout stage. There were tears of joy on the soccer field. The stadium erupted with elation, chanting Palestine, Palestine and waving Palestinian flags and kaffiyehs. The win is a bright spot during a difficult time as the Israel-Hamas war rages in Gaza. The death toll there has topped 25,000 people, according to health officials. Waleed Abdullah watched the game with his son at a cafe in the West Bank city of Ramallah. He said he was overjoyed at the win.

WALEED ABDULLAH: (Non-English language spoken).

AL-SHALCHI: "The Palestinian people need hope," he said, "something to be happy about to feel like they're alive." Coffee shops in Ramallah were packed yesterday with people watching the match, and the atmosphere was festive for the first time since the war began. Mohamed Aweida, from Jerusalem, watched with his friends and said it was an incredible accomplishment.

MOHAMED AWEIDA: (Non-English language spoken).

AL-SHALCHI: "I've had no appetite for doing anything," Aweida said, "but it's our national team, so I have to support them." The next match is on Sunday, and Palestinians are hoping to experience another small moment of joy.

Hadeel Al-Shalchi, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAYTRANADA AND BADBADNOTGOOD'S "WEIGHT OFF") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.