Palestine footballer Barakat killed in Israel’s war on Gaza

Mohammed Barakat, who played for Ahly Gaza and Palestine, died when his house in Khan Younis was bombed by Israeli forces.

Gaza football player Mohammed Barakat
Barakat was killed by Israeli forces on March 11, 2024, in Khan Younis, Gaza [Courtesy of Yousef Baalousheh]

Palestinian footballer Mohammed Barakat has been killed in an Israeli bombing of his house in Khan Younis during the ongoing war in Gaza.

The Barakat family’s home was hit by Israeli bombs early on Monday, the first day of fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Barakat, Gaza’s first centurion of goals and one of its top scorers, represented the national team, for whom he appeared three times, and the Ahly Gaza football club in the local league.

The 39-year-old scored 114 goals and was known as “the legend of Khan Younis” during his long association with the Khan Younis Youth Club, which he captained. The forward, who was also part of a generation of two-way footballing sides – playing both beach and pitch football – played for several clubs in the occupied West Bank and Jordan, including Al-Wehdat, as well as Saudi Arabian club Al-Shoala.

Barakat kept performing when it mattered, and his last goal was in a 1-1 draw against the Shujayea Club at Yarmouk Stadium in Gaza City on August 18 in matchweek two of the Palestinian Premier League.

His death was called a “huge loss for Palestinian football” by Khalid Abu-Habel, a local club footballer.

“I played against him,” Abu-Habel, a defender for Khadamat al-Maghazi, told Al Jazeera hours after the legendary striker’s death was confirmed.

“He was quick and clever. A top, top goal scorer. Off the pitch, he was kind and friendly. A beloved friend of all.”

Abu-Habel, who is also a doctor and works at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, said Gaza’s football community has “lost a lot” during the continuing war.

“How many should we lose more? The sports community in Gaza is simply collapsing.

“I am too angry. He is a football icon. Sport in Gaza has lost a lot during the war.”

In the first month of the war, which began on October 7, Khalil Jadallah, a Palestinian football commentator and analyst, put together a starting XI of Palestinian players who have died due to Israeli violence.

“It is difficult to know exactly how many have died during this war because of the sheer amount of death,” Jadallah told Al Jazeera five months ago.

Among the confirmed dead are athletes and administrators from a wide range of sports, including basketball player for Al-Breij, Bassim al-Nabahin, 27; footballer Rashid Dabbour, 28, who played for Al-Ahli Beit Hanoon; and Ahmad Awad, 21, who represented Palestine’s national football team for dwarfism.

The Palestinian sporting community in the occupied West Bank has also been affected as tensions have spiked there. Nineteen-year-old Markaz Balata midfielder Mohammed Maree Sawafta was killed by Palestinian Authority security forces during a protest in his hometown of Tubas near Nablus on October 27.

Perhaps the biggest loss has been that of Hani Al-Masdar, one of Palestine’s greatest footballers and a manager of the Olympic team, who was killed in January. Al-Masdar was hit by shrapnel from a missile that landed near his home in central Gaza.

‘A constant feeling of anxiety’

When the Palestinian national team participated in the AFC Asian Cup 2023 in Qatar in January and February, the players cut a visibly emotional figure when they recorded a historic win over Hong Kong in the group stage and qualified for the second round.

In an interview with Al Jazeera during the tournament, Palestine forward Mahmoud Wadi opened up about the struggles of putting on his best performance on the field while the war raged at home.

Wadi explained how players, especially those from Gaza, spent their days and nights anxiously waiting for news from home.

“One morning, my brother disappeared. No one in my family knew anything due to a communication blackout. I felt very anxious during those 10 hours until I heard from him.

“This is our situation: A constant feeling of anxiety and unimaginable conditions. It’s indescribable not knowing where your loved ones are, feeling helpless and unable to do anything. All you can do is pray. Every second of our lives is a test.”

Abubaker Abed contributed reporting from Deir el-Balah, Gaza.

Source: Al Jazeera