CHICAGO: A team of Palestinians who have only been together for two years will compete in the 2023 annual West Asia Cup for Baseball from Jan. 26 to Feb. 1 in Islamabad, Pakistan, and are hoping to boost their nation’s sporting reputation with outstanding performances in their international debut.
Organizers said the Palestinian American Baseball Team, which consists of the nation’s players from the US and Gaza Strip, was invited to compete by the World Baseball Softball Confederation, an umbrella body that incorporates all regional organizations.
Chicago engineer Abder Ghouleh, a Palestinian whose family originates from the village of Lifta in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and who loves the game, said the Arab community has been quite supportive and raised money for travel, new uniforms and equipment.
“The Palestinian American Baseball Team has been together for two years and played at an elite level qualifying in championship games every year. They have now been invited by the Baseball Federation of Asia to play in the prestigious West Asia Cup in Pakistan in January,” said Ghouleh.
“We hope to represent Palestine on the international sports stage in a positive and impactful way. We have many things we can offer — music, art, food, but something that our community has not been known for is athletics. We want to do our little part to change that perception because we have a lot of talented athletes in our community.”
In fact, one of the athletes playing on the team is Tarik El-Abour from Los Angeles who was briefly in the Kansas City Royals minor league system. El-Abour was a pinch and designated hitter and played left field including for the Arizona Royals in 2018.
Ghouleh said the players have not been able to practice as a team because of limited financial resources and distances between their homes in the US, and with Gaza.
“It has been a struggle finding players because of the community’s limited national media reach. Full practice has been impossible. We do not have the budget to fly in guys for that. Our core group here in Chicago practices twice a week in an indoor facility in Romeoville, a suburb of Chicago. The Gaza players practice as a group overseas. The other states’ guys have been working on their own,” Ghouleh said, noting that the Arab American community has few newspapers, no TV stations and only one major radio station based in Detroit.
“We are hoping to do a better job of publicity and finding players nationally and internationally, securing funding and bringing everyone together in the future. So, for now we have 12 players from the Chicago area, four from other states including California, and four players from Gaza. But this is a great opportunity for the team players and I think for the community, Palestinian and Arab, too.”
Ghouleh said the budget for the trip is $50,000, but that they have raised a little more than half, with donations mostly coming from Palestinian Americans and from the Palestine Olympic Committee.
Nader Ihmoud, a Palestinian American journalist, has volunteered to assist the team to get the word out, and hopes that the nation’s flag can be raised “in victory” in Pakistan.
He said the team consists of many young players including Zaki Haj, Malik Abdullah and Elias Atiyeh, who also play for Division 1 teams. “Every player on our team is looking forward to the tournament in Pakistan.
“They view this as an opportunity to wave the Palestinian flag and bring positive attention to Palestinians. We all witnessed how the flag galvanized our community during the World Cup last year and we did not have a team in the tournament,” Ihmoud said.
Tariq Suboh, who is the team’s catcher, said he was proud to compete and be part of the first-ever Palestinian national baseball team. “One of my dreams was to help introduce the beautiful game of baseball to my native country of Palestine, and this team and tournament will be a fantastic way to showcase our talents to the world. Hopefully, this will cause Palestinian kids to open their eyes to baseball, and be the start of a bright future of baseball in Palestine,” Suboh said.
Allaa Daoud, who is from Ein Karem, Palestine, but grew up in the Chicago, Illinois suburb of Bridgeview, said his love for Palestine drives much of his athletic competition.
“The fact that I will be able to represent the place I love in the sport I love is such an exciting feeling that’s very hard to explain. I hope to make Palestinians everywhere proud, not just by being there but by having a successful tournament,” said Daoud, who plays second base.
First baseman Mohammed Abedrabbo said that the issue goes beyond sports. “If life has taught me anything, it is that healing and peace can begin with the acknowledgment of wrongs committed. We are not here just to play a sport that we all grew up loving.
“We are here to show the world that Palestine does not give up easily. Team Palestine wants to make a statement to the world, and this is how it begins for us,” said Abedrabbo who was born in the US of Palestinian immigrants from Jerusalem.
“I grew up watching baseball, and have had a love for it ever since. Being part of team Palestine for me means so much, because it shows that Palestinians can make anything possible. I hope to pursue this even farther in the future, and bring baseball to my homeland to be played in my neighborhood. My teammates and I all have the same goal, and that goal is to make our country proud.”
Team pitcher Zaki Haj added: “I have been working my whole life for an opportunity like this to come my way, the dream of becoming a pro-ball player was once a dream, now I’m living in reality,” said Haj, a Division 1 athlete.
Nations also competing in the six-team West Asia Cup include hosts Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The Palestine team has a fundraising page.
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