Unreported World meets members of the Palestinian Paralympic team hoping to qualify for London 2012. They find athletes struggling to train in the conflict zone.
In a territory where those who die fighting the Israelis are considered the true heroes, the Paralympic team goes completely unrecognised by its own people.
Nobody knows who team captain and discus thrower Khamis Zaqout is, despite the international medals he’s won since he helped establish disabled sports in the Occupied Territories two decades ago. This is in spite of the fact that the only athletes representing Palestine in London will be disabled ones, because there’s no Palestinian Olympic team.
Reporter Aidan Hartley and director Richard Cookson meet Khamis as he struggles to find a taxi to take him to the gym. He introduces them to the rest of his eight-man squad at the training ground – a little patch of green in an overcrowded enclave of bombed-out buildings and shanties.
The news is that, as things stand, only four Palestinians are going to qualify to make it to the Games. The athletes are shocked and tensions boil over.
Mohammed Fanuna, a partially sighted long jumper and javelin thrower, loses his temper. The news is too much for him to take when he also has all the other daily worries of living in Gaza – the air strikes, the siege, the lack of freedom to travel, the poverty – and of course his disability.
Another very worried young athlete is 20-year-old Abed Abuwatfa, who invites the team back to the home he shares with his parents. Abed tells Hartley that the suspense over whether he will qualify for London is adding to the pressure on him to give up sport and find a job.
Three of Abed’s cousins are deaf and his two sisters are also disabled, placing an enormous burden on the family. In Gaza it’s common for poor people to marry into their extended families, which is a major reason why it has one of the highest rates of disability in the world.
The team learn that there’s also a women’s team. Disabled Palestinian women athletes have never had the chance to compete overseas as in this conservative Muslim society their families hadn’t allowed them to travel alone.
This time, coach Hala Shakura has persuaded the families to allow them to go. One of them, shot putter Fatma Halooli, is the team’s best hope for a place on the podium if she can make it to London.
She says she needs a new leg to perform well, but her best hope of getting that is if she qualifies. If she becomes a winner, she says, she may attract a sponsor who will give her the new leg she dreams of.
Gaza is effectively under siege and Israel controls the goods that go in, which has caused problems for the athletes as well as disabled people more generally, as it’s difficult for amputees to get equipment such as prosthetic limbs or suitable wheelchairs.
The team visits the only place in the Gaza Strip that manufactures them. Since the last war in Gaza, Israel has relaxed a blockade on a range of items and denies that it blocks medical supplies. But the centre’s director alleges that one donation from Slovenia has been stuck in an Israeli warehouse for the last eight months.
The conflict itself is also swelling the number of injuries and amputations. Hartley notices one young man who watches the training sessions but never joins in.
Adli Obeid lost his left leg when he was recently blown up by an Israeli drone-launched missile. He wants to join the team but can’t until he finds an artificial limb and recovers from shrapnel injuries.
Hartley and Cookson meet some of the athletes one last time. They learn that Khamis is one of the four almost definitely going to London. Abed is still on the borderline but has decided to defy his family and keep training.
Hatem is struggling to improve his personal best at discus so he doesn’t miss out, and Mohamed has resumed training and is one of the squad’s best bets for a medal.
(www.channel4.com / 23.06.2012)