By Laura Lynott @
THEY were to journey thousands of miles from one of the most war-torn places in the world – to play the beautiful game with Irish children – but as they set off – a group of 15 children from Gaza were not provided permits to travel to Ireland by Israeli authorities.
For months the community of Ballybrack in Co Dun Laoghaire, had been preparing to host the 12 to 14 year-old’s from Al Helal Football Club, Gaza.
On Sunday, the football club were due to play the children of Ballybrack FC – before they went off to enjoy a tour lasting several days of Ireland.
But the children from Ballybrack and Gaza were left disappointed after it was revealed the Israeli authorities had not granted permits for the children to travel to Ireland.
Former Ireland football manager Brian Kerr and former Leinster and Ireland rugby player Trevor Hogan, were among those supporting the event.
One of the councillors involved in arranging the event, People Before Profit’s Hugh Lewis, said it was with “heavy hearts” that he and other organisers, had to cancel the event.
“In order to leave Gaza, a final permit has to be granted by Israel,” Cllr Lewis said. “They usually wait for Jordan to issue the permits, but this time they didn’t do that – but they (the Israelis) are saying they are being processed even though the children were meant to leave on Thursday.
“It’s so frustrating after all the organisation that has gone in to the trip – but we are still hoping that the Israeli authorities will let the children visit Ireland.”
Al Helal Football Club is located in northern Gaza, Palestine. The children’s football clubhouse is reportedly located right beside two overcrowded refugee camps and its windows were blown out by a nearby missile strike last year.
Gaza Action Ireland had organised the trip to Ireland for 12 days to give the children a taste of life in a peaceful western country and to build what was hoped would be, lifelong friendships with Irish children.
The children generally can’t travel beyond a narrow strip of land between the sea, Israel and Egypt.
The young footballers were due to play Ballybrack FC in front of the community and then enjoy a family fun day with bouncy castle.
Theresa Waters, chair of Ballybrack FC, said: “Those kids must have been so geared up for the trip to Ireland – they must be so disappointed. I know for these children, getting such a knock back must be 1000 times worse than for our own children.
“I’m really disappointed to hear it. I really wanted to see these kids getting a bit of normality and a lot of people went to a lot of bother.
“Football is a game that unites everyone, no matter the background, and this match and the trip to Ireland could have given these children such hope – a taste of freedom.
“They are only innocent children – and they live such tough lives where they must be waiting for missiles and guns to go off over their shoulder every day.
“These are just children who wanted to come to play football with our children.”
An Irish party visited Gaza in 2013 and saw the conditions the children were living in. From that moment they started making plans for the football team to visit Ireland.
Cllr Lewis took to Facebook to inform the community of what had occurred. He wrote: “Huge apologies to all of you, especially to everyone who has worked on this event, this is completely outside our control, and that of the group in Gaza.
“We hope that the permits will come over the next few days and we will keep you all posted. Thanks for everyone who supported this event and had planned on coming on Sunday, it is with heavy hearts we are forced to cancel, we hope the day can be arranged at some point in the future.”
Hundreds of children from Gaza have been killed in missile strikes in the conflict between Israel and Gaza. 50 per cent of the population of Gaza is under 18.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Dublin said: “The Israeli Government treats each case individually and can look into this issue if the group approaches the embassy directly.”
The community are still hopeful the visit will take place soon.