Hassan Haneidiq was allowed to travel to Hebron for his championship match.

Dozens of Palestinian Authority security personnel are checking identity cards and bags outside Hebron’s Hussein stadium.

In the bleachers, fans are finding their seats and waving Ahly Khalil and Shebab Khan Yunis flags ahead of the final round of the Palestine Cup, the championship match between the winners of the West Bank’s and the Gaza Strip’s regional leagues.

Just before the start of Tuesday’s second leg match, Hassan Haneidiq, the 35-year-old captain of Shebab Khan Yunis, assumes his position at midfield, and takes a deep breath, giving his teammate to his right a thumbs up. Seconds later, the referees blow the whistle and ball is in play.

The game ended in a 1–1 draw, meaning Hebron’s Ahly Khalil won the Palestine Cup on aggregate, 2–1, as it defeated Shebab Khan Yunis 1–0 in Gaza last week.

Haneidiq originally thought that Israel would not allow him to travel to Hebron for the championship match after authorities at the Erez crossing denied his entry late last week. However, after the Palestine Football Federation postponed the match in an effort to convince Israel to allow Haneidiq and a number of his teammates to cross, he received a phone call that his permit had been approved.

Haneidiq, the oldest of 16 brothers and sisters, grew up in a modest apartment in the Khan Yunis refugee camp and started playing soccer as a child on a makeshift pitch next to his primary school.

In a meeting with The Jerusalem Post in Hebron, Haneidiq said, “Every day, I would return home from school and complete my homework as quickly as possible and then run to the field. My parents only allowed me to play after I finished my work.”

Haneidiq had a dream of becoming a soccer star. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of the famed players of Shebab Khan Yunis. “I used to go to Shebab Khan Yunis matches and tried to learn from the playing styles of the best Khan Yunis players, Mahmoud Bitar, Mahd al-Ashqar and Khalil Halawa.” He continued, “I wished that I one day could walk in their shoes and play for the team.”

The young soccer player realized that if he wanted to achieve his dream, he had to train hard and develop his fitness. He started doing a number of soccer drills daily to hone his fundamentals and began running along the sandy beaches of Gaza every other day to improve his stamina.

When everything seemed to be working in his favor, Haneidiq suddenly faced a life-altering tragedy at the age of 11, in which he lost his mother. According to Haneidiq, an Israeli military vehicle hit his mother when she had come to pick him up from school.

He said that the event weighed heavily on him. “It was the hardest day in my life. I loved my mother so much and could not believe that she had become a martyr,” he said.

Haneidiq continued to train and at the age of 15, Shebab Khan Yunis’s second team offered him a position.

He quickly rose through the ranks of the second team and in 2000, the senior squad called him up.

“I finally made it on the first team and many of the people in Khan Yunis started to recognize me as a soccer player. I would walk down the streets and everyone would say hello to me,” he said.

Now playing for the top team, he wanted to dedicate all his time to playing soccer, but his salary did not suffice. So he decided to try out to become an officer in the PA’s paramilitary National Security Forces.

Within months, he started serving as an officer part-time.

While he had to balance two professions, Haneidiq persevered and became one of the best offensive players and captain on the first team, leading it to a few local and national championships and regional tournaments.

Haneidiq plans to retire soon and hopes to work as coach for Shebab Khan Yunis in the coming years.

“It is possible that I could play another 10 years, but in all honesty, I am planning to retire and hope to coach the younger generations, who will soon be leading our team.”

Before this year’s Palestine Cup, Haneidiq remarked that he hoped to win the game, but would be happy regardless of the result because it represented the unification of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“This game is a national wedding. We live under a very unfortunate division, but today we will break that reality.”

Originally posted at jpost.com

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