The photo on Facebook is dated May 27, 2014, exactly three months ago. Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, the president of FIFA, the international soccer federation, is warmly shaking the hand of a powerfully built young man in a Nike jersey. “Mr. World Soccer” told the young Palestinian player that he predicted he would have a professional future in the sport. A few weeks later, an Israel Defense Forces soldier fired one round of live ammunition at the promising athlete and killed him.
Friends of the dead man wrote a sarcastic letter to Blatter: “We thank you for the brilliant future you promised Mohammad … Here, this is the future you promised him.” The president of the Palestinian Football Federation, Jibril Rajoub, also fired off an official letter of protest to Blatter over the soccer player’s death.
But in Israel no one had ever heard his name; no one was aware he’d been killed, in the midst of the Gaza hostilities. Of course, a possible protest or show of solidarity by Israeli soccer officials in the wake of the killing of the Palestinian player was out of the question.
Thus ended the short life of the 19-year-old athlete Mohammad al-Qatari from the Al-Amari refugee camp, outside Ramallah. His life was truncated, his dream aborted. Qatari will not be a professional soccer player, like Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale, from Real Madrid, whom he revered and whose pictures he pasted on the wall next to his bed.
One M16 rifle bullet straight to the center of the chest, fired from about 70 meters during a protest demonstration against the war in Gaza, felled him.
His parents proudly show his training outfit. His official uniform, bearing the number 16, is being kept in the Al-Amari soccer club’s headquarters. The memorial poster shows him in the uniform, Kalashnikov in hand, Al-Aqsa Mosque in the background. His parents say it’s a computer collage done by his friends after his death, as is customary in the West Bank; they say he never held a weapon. At the moment of his death he might have been holding a stone, which he possibly intended to throw at the soldiers who were deployed at a distance, next to the gate of the settlement of Psagot.