Now Palestine can be over the moon

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(First Edition)

'IN THE name of Abu Jihad, in the name of the blood of our martyrs, in the name of the women who lost their children, we have to clear the pitch.'

The commentator was screaming across the dust-bowl which served as a stadium for Friday's Palestine v France 'international' soccer match. The Marseillaise and the Palestinian national anthem were delayed by a pitch invasion. The kick-off was obliterated by the churned-up dust of the desert. The players were rapidly fatigued by the beating sun. Many in the 15,000 crowd wore cardboard hats marked 'Oldest Town in the World'.

When the winning Palestinian goal came, nobody seemed sure who had scored it, but everyone knew that the French goalkeeper had turned a blind eye.

For most present, however, it was enough that the match was played. It was a start. There was no violence, only excitement. And Palestinian football - like Palestine itself - has to begin somewhere. Before the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords were signed a Palestinian football team existed only in dreams.

The guest French team of retired sportsmen included the former international Michel Platini and the tennis star Yannick Noah. For Palestine there was Mohammed Sino of Nablus refugee camp and Salem Hamdeh of Gaza's Shati refugee camp. 'In the future we play England. Gary Lineker - would he come here?' asked Nabil Hije, aged 23.

'Any room for the French consul general,' shouted an anxious French diplomat as Palestinian boy scouts, some playing bagpipes, policed the makeshift stands.

The commentator made a final effort to impose control on the crowd.

'Our national team is playing on the ground of the national state. Maintenant nous allons ecouter la Marseillaise. We are playing our game according to international sports laws.

'No spectators in the goalmouth, please.'