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PHOTOS: Gaza and Hebron go head-to-head in Palestine's soccer championship

Gaza’s Ittihad Shejaiya traveled to Hebron’s Hussein Bin Ali Stadium on Friday night for the first Palestine Cup since 2000. But due to Israel’s harsh restrictions on Palestinian movement, the match almost didn’t happen.

Text by Yoni Mendel, photos by Oren Ziv / Activestills.org

Hebron's Al-Ahly's players prepare before their return leg football match with a group from Shejaiya, Gaza, for the Palestine Cup final, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron.  Hebron's Al-Ahly won 2-1, in the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions. Al-Ahly will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Hebron’s Al-Ahly’s players prepare before their championship match against Shejaiya, Gaza in the Palestine Cup final, August 14, 2015, at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

In front of 11,000 fans, and for the first time in 15 years, the top teams from Gaza and the West Bank met to determine Palestine’s soccer champion in the Palestine Cup on Friday night in Hebron’s Hussein Bin Ali Stadium.

Players of Shejaiya group pose for a photo beofre a football match with Al-Ahly Hebron for the Palestine Cup final, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron.  Hebron's Al-Ahly won 2-1, in the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions. Al-Ahly will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Players from Shejaiya pose for a photo before a football match with Al-Ahly Hebron during the Palestine Cup, August 14, 2015, Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hebron’s Al-Ahly defeated Gaza’s Ittihad Shejaia 2-1, with Ahmed Maher scoring the winning goal in the first minute of injury time to secure his team’s place in the next African Football Confederation (AFC) Cup. Al-Ahly will join the Al-Zahiriya team after it won the previous West Bank championships.

A band plays music during a football match between Shejaiya and Al-Ahly Hebron for the Palestine Cup final, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron.  Hebron's Al-Ahly won 2-1, in the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions. Al-Ahly will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

A band plays music during the Palestine Cup between Shejaiya and Al-Ahly Hebron, August 14, 2015, Hebron, West Bank. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Fans celebrate during a football match between Shejaiya and Al-Ahly Hebron for the Palestine Cup final, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron.  Hebron's Al-Ahly won 2-1, in the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions. Al-Ahly will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Fans celebrate during a football match between Shejaiya and Al-Ahly Hebron for the Palestine Cup final, August 14, 2015, Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Palestinian Football Association head Jibril Rajoub attended the match, along with the mayors of Hebron and Bethlehem, respectively, and MK Ahmad Tibi.

Gaza Strip's Shejaiya's players pose for a photo before their return leg football match with Hebron's Al-Ahly's, for the Palestine Cup final, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron.  Hebron's Al-Ahly won 2-1, in the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions. Al-Ahly will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Gaza Strip’s Shejaiya’s players pose for a photo before their football game against Hebron’s Al-Ahly’s, for the Palestine Cup final, August 14, 2015. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Gaza Strip's Shejaiya's players (green) vie with Hebron's Al-Ahly's players (red) during their return leg football match for the Palestine Cup final, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron.  Hebron's Al-Ahly won 2-1, in the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions. Al-Ahly will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Gaza Strip’s Shejaiya’s players (in green) vie with Hebron’s Al-Ahly’ (red) during the Palestine Cup finals, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Friday’s game was the first time in 15 years that the Palestine Cup has taken place. Following the Second Intifada and the restrictions on movement between the West Bank and Gaza, the championship game could never come to fruition.

Since Shejaiya fans could not obtain permits to accompany their team to the championship, hundreds of Hebron residents cheered on the team from Gaza.

Palestinian boys watch a return leg football match for the Palestine Cup final, between Gaza's Shejaiya and Hebron's Al-Ahly, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron. Hebron's Al-Ahly won 2-1, in the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions. Al-Ahly will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Palestinian boys watch the Palestine Cup final between Gaza’s Shejaiya and Hebron’s Al-Ahly, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Gaza Strip's Shejaiya's player (green) vies with Hebron's Al-Ahly's player (red) during their return leg football match for the Palestine Cup final, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron.  Hebron's Al-Ahly won 2-1, in the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions. Al-Ahly will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

A player from Gaza’s Shejaiya’s (in green) vies with a player from Al-Ahly (red) during the Palestine Cup final, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Following pressure by Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub at the FIFA Congress in May, Israel began allowing Palestinian players from Gaza into the West Bank, and vice versa. The first match between Al-Ahly and Shejaia took place in Gaza last week and ended in a 0-0 tie.

Al Ahly fans and team players celebrate after a football match for the Palestine Cup final between Gaza's Shejaia's club and Hebron's Al-Ahly club on August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron.  Hebron's Al-Ahly won 2-1, in the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions. Al-Ahly will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Al Ahly fans and players celebrate after defeating Gaza’s Shejaia’s and winning the Palestine Cup, August 14, 2015. Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Al Ahly team players celebrate after a football match for the Palestine Cup final between Gaza's Shejaia's club and Hebron's Al-Ahly club on August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron.  Hebron's Al-Ahly won 2-1, in the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions. Al-Ahly will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Al Ahly team players celebrate after defeating Gaza’s Shejaia, Hebron, West Bank, August 14, 2015 . (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Palestinians did not give up on participating in the game as planned, even after Israel hampered attempts by four of the players from Shejaia to enter the West Bank. Shejaia announced that it would only travel to the West Bank as a team — either everyone goes or no one goes. Eventually, all of the Gazan players were granted entry permits, and were greeted with celebrations as they entered Hebron.

Who says soccer doesn’t bring hope?

Al Ahly fans and team players celebrate after a football match for the Palestine Cup final between Gaza's Shejaia's club and Hebron's Al-Ahly club on August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron.  Hebron's Al-Ahly won 2-1, in the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions. Al-Ahly will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions. (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Al Ahly fans and team players celebrate after defeating Gaza’s Shejaia’s club in the Palestine Cup, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth watch a return leg football match for the Palestine Cup final, between Gaza's Shejaiya and Hebron's Al-Ahly, August 14, 2015 at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium in the West Bank city of Hebron.  (photo by: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth watch the Palestine Cup final, Hebron, West Bank, August 14, 2015. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Related:
How one soccer match tells the entire Palestinian story
The Palestinian soccer league: A microcosm of a national struggle
What Israelis don’t get about attempts to boot Israel from FIFA

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