Jerusalem - Aqal passes to Aqal, who finds Aqal in space out wide.
He squares to Aqal, who smashes home a strike, sending the crowd of yet more
family members into hysterics.
The match inside Jerusalem's walled Old City was part
of a month-long football tournament in which the largest Palestinian families
play each other to be dubbed champions of the city.
Building on the inaugural tournament two years ago,
participants say this year's event holds particular symbolism after US
President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's
Palestinians saw the December decision as an attempt
to deny their claims to the disputed city. They view its eastern sector, where
the Old City is located, as the capital of their future state.
For players and fans, the tournament is a defiant
display of Palestinian pride - and footballing skill.
"We feel this is our land, so we want to stress
we are the owners of the land by having a Palestinian tournament here,"
organiser Muntaser Edkaidek told AFP.
It is also a display of family ties that informally govern
east Jerusalem's 300,000 Palestinians.
In Jerusalem, family history is often entwined with
the city’s unique religious and political heritage.
The Khaldis claim to be descendants of one of the
Prophet Mohammed’s closest companions.
The Joudehs and Nuseibehs, both Muslim families, have
for centuries safeguarded the keys to the church in the Old City built where
Jesus Christ is believed to have been crucified and then buried.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem along with the West
Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War and later declared the entire city its united
Since then, Palestinians say they have been denied the
full range of rights and benefits given to Jewish citizens.
More than 200,000 Israelis now live in mostly modern,
newly built blocs east of the 1967 armistice line -- decried as illegal
settlements by the international community but thriving and growing under
The Old City is only one square kilometre, but hosts
some of the holiest sites in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
It is also a functioning neighbourhood of more than
35 000 people, with homes, schools and shops tightly packed in.
Reaching the match involves winding through
labyrinthine streets before the road opens onto a floodlit fake grass pitch
flanked by the 16th-century walls of the Old City.
A single stand can host a hundred or so fans.
The Abu Sneihehs - reigning champions and possibly
the largest of Jerusalem clans, with thousands bearing the surname - were
knocked out in the first round, raising hopes for less renowned names.
The Aqals, a relatively small family, are taking on
the far larger Sanuqurats in the second round.
Before the match, the referee checks documents -
without the right surname you can't even enter the pitch.
One of the team's two Mohammed’s, a burly striker
whose look is more mechanic than Messi, has forgotten his ID and is temporarily
"Will a picture of it do?" he pleads, waving
one on a mobile phone.
On the side of the pitch is a six-foot (1.8-metre)
picture of one of the tournament's founders.
He was arrested a year ago by Israeli police and
jailed for involvement in an organisation which claims to protect the al-Aqsa
mosque compound, located not far away in the Old City, Israeli media reports
Israeli security forces did not respond to a request
regarding the case, but the state says the al-Aqsa Youth group is linked to
banned Islamist movement Hamas.
The al-Aqsa compound, which hosts the Dome of the
Rock, is the third-holiest site for Muslims and a key rallying point for
For Jews, it is built on the Temple Mount, their
Organisers said police showed up on October 2 and
removed the picture. Israeli police did not respond to requests for
'CHILDREN OF JERUSALEM'
On the pitch, the Aqals take an early lead but are
quickly pegged back.
The standard is not much better than average pick-up
games across the world, but the crowd loves it.
Hamzy Abedy is not even really watching - instead
facing towards the 25 hardcore members of the extended Aqal family,
orchestrating them in ever more vociferous chants.
"We are all children of Jerusalem, so I brought
all the team with me," he laughs, pointing at the frenzied teenagers.
Other participants said the tournament helped them
meet members of their extended family.
Just as the city they battle over is contested, there
are also concerns over their pitch.
An Israeli court could yet decide to build more than
20 Israeli settlement homes in the vicinity, although there have been no
developments in the case for several years, Aviv Tatarsky from the Ir Amim
anti-settlement NGO said.
Yet it still concerns Palestinian residents worried
about being swallowed by Jewish expansion into east Jerusalem.
Abedy said Trump's recognition of Jerusalem made
Palestinians more determined to remain in the city.
"Trump is talking into the wind," he said
after the match.
"He is not able to cancel our existence. We are
The Aqals run out 6-1 victors, with Mohammed scoring
one and setting up another two.
"Sport is the best thing to unify the
Arabs," he said, carrying his toddler away from the pitch.
"All the families will meet together and know
each other. The whole world loves football."