Young Palestinian Woman Finds Passion for Life through Wheelchair Basketball
Palestinian youth Fatima Al-Halouli was born in Gaza 39 years ago without her right leg. She struggled with frustration and anger for a long time until she discovered wheelchair basketball.
She joined the 'Al-Salam Club' wheelchair basketball team for people with special needs. The club operates in the Gaza Strip, which has been under strict Israeli blockade since the summer of 2007. Fatima quickly showcased her talent in sports.
The team was one of several that participated in a local championship for girls who have lost limbs due to previous wars with Israel or accidents. The tournament, sponsored by the International Committee of the Red Cross, took place in the covered 'Saad Sayel' sports hall west of Gaza City.
This championship, which saw enthusiastic participation among the girls, was held after a four-year hiatus due to funding shortages for organizing tournaments for this segment of Palestinian society, compounded by the political instability in the region, home to over two million people.
Fatima Al-Halouli stated to Xinhua News Agency, 'Engaging in wheelchair basketball helped me overcome the stereotypical image of women with disabilities, which often separates us from able-bodied individuals.'
She added, 'Participating in competitions, even if they are local within the Gaza Strip, allows us as women to lead our lives normally and challenge the obstacles surrounding us most of the time.'
Fatima, at 39 years old, is the star player of her team, as recognized by her coach Heba Al-Rawagh. Heba praised her for being the driving force behind the team's victory in all the matches of the local championship, securing the top spot.
While sitting in her wheelchair, Fatima noted, 'Securing the first place was not easy for me or my team. Day by day, we prove to ourselves and our society that a person with physical disabilities is an integral part of their community.'
Nearby, Suhaila Abu Aouda, a wheelchair basketball player, was busy discussing tactics with her coach to defend their basket and prevent the opposing team from scoring. Suhaila, who also battles cancer, expressed her joy to Xinhua, saying, 'I'm very happy to have this golden opportunity to practice my favorite sport and participate in numerous local basketball competitions.'
Suhaila, 35 years old, while seated in her wheelchair, added, 'I'm extremely proud to have established the first women's wheelchair basketball team in Gaza since 2016. It's an attempt to entertain ourselves and prove our ability to live a normal life like others.'
She recalled that all their sports activities were halted for four consecutive years due to military conflicts between Palestinian armed factions and the Israeli army, in addition to funding shortages that could have improved their skills.
In Gaza, there are eight men's wheelchair basketball teams competing in local tournaments overseen by the Palestinian Paralympic Committee, according to Mousa Qadoum, the technical director of the Palestinian Paralympic Committee in Gaza.
Furthermore, Qadoum mentioned, 'There are four other women's wheelchair basketball teams undergoing intensive training to be prepared to represent Palestine in international competitions.'
He added that the Palestinian Higher Council for Youth and Sports is set to organize a national competition in September, including teams from the West Bank and Gaza. The winner of the tournament will represent Palestine in international competitions.
Wheelchair basketball, which follows the rules of classic basketball, is played on a regular basketball court. Each team consists of five field players and up to seven substitutes.
This sport enjoys fierce competition and international attention, being included in the Paralympic Games. Official Palestinian statistics indicate that nearly 49,000 people with disabilities in the Gaza Strip live in extremely difficult conditions.