[News] A Women’s Boxing Team Grows in Gaza

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 5 10:53:07 EST 2021


https://www.thenation.com/article/society/womens-boxing-gaza/ A Women’s
Boxing Team Grows in Gaza
By Dave Zirin - January 5, 2021
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The Israeli government has continued its 14-year blockade against Gaza for
reasons beyond the military and the strategic. The blockade—alongside
bombings and selective assassinations—also accomplishes the political and
ideological goal of killing hope. It crushes the aspirations that
Palestinian people might have for justice, self-determination, or even a
better life.

That’s what makes sports so potent and popular among young people in Gaza.
When playing soccer or basketball—two extremely popular pastimes—they feel
that another world may indeed be possible. That is why I found it to be
potent, powerful, and profoundly moving to learn that, for the first time,
there is a women’s and girl’s boxing program in Gaza. Such a team has the
capacity to build the reserves of hope and in addition smash gender norms
as well as knockout the very idea of passivity.

As Covid has hit Gaza particularly hard, with its absence of medications
and hospital infrastructure, the new team has actually doubled in size
since June. Now as many as 45 female boxers are on the squad, ranging from
ages 7 to 21. Because of the privations caused by the blockade, they are
not exactly overwhelmed with facilities and equipment. Some speed bags are
stuffed pillowcases and heavy bags are mattresses. They even hold practices
on the beach because of Covid. But the hard work is bearing fruit and this
ragtag team will be competing in Kuwait this February under the banner of
the Palestinian National Boxing Team.
<https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/wtf-2020-bingo/?traffic_source=Connatix>

I reached out through intermediaries to their coach, 35-year-old Osama
Ayob, as well as several of the players to find out what motivates them to
go to the beach and punch mattresses. Coach Ayob says that his own
inspiration for the team came from girl’s and women’s boxing teams in
Egypt, Lebanon, and Algeria. “I wanted to create a Palestinian girls’
team,” he says. “Women are equal to men and they are half of the society
here in Gaza. It also helps to build strength and protect them from any
danger.”

I asked about the challenges to setting up this club and he said, “The
place [the Gaza Strip] is small, there’s a shortage of money, there’s no
legal boxing circuit, a shortage of hand protection gloves, a shortage of
all the protective equipment. All is at a trainer’s expense.”

I also wanted to know how the broader Gazan community responded to the
start of this boxing team. “There was a bit of a surprise,” he says. “But
then it became accepted, because I was training girls at the seashore, at
the *corniche* [the beachfront], and in public places so that the idea
would be accepted by Gazan society.” Ayob sees not just health, exercise,
and competition emerging from this endeavor but also national pride.
“Naturally, it is just a sport,” he says, “but we would like to raise the
flag of Palestine at all Arab and foreign forums and throughout the world,
so that the flag of Palestine may be held high.”

Reema Abu Rahma is a 22-year-old boxer on the team. She says, “I love
boxing because it’s a beautiful, wonderful hobby, and also for
self-defense, and it helps to release negative energy.” She says that the
hardest part of being on the team is “the difficulty of being accepted by
the Gazan community because I am a girl and the difficulty of finding
sports equipment suitable for girls.” Her family “was very excited and
happy” when they heard she was joining the team, “especially my father and
my friends were very supportive, and they also became interested in girls’
boxing.”

Her dream is “to compete in an international competition and to become an
international player and raise the name of Palestine
internationally. Finally, I would like to participate in international
clubs and in training camps so that we can compete with the other Arab and
international nations.”

This is an exciting development in Gaza, where sports is never just sports.
And when a team can survive—if not thrive—amid the blockade, it sends a
message of resiliency to oppressed people all around the world. It even
feels something like hope.
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