Jerusalem, MINA – In the team locker room, Khalid Sarhan prepares to enter the football stadium.
He stands in front of the mirror and wears the captain’s badge on his arm, refusing help from his teammates.
Until May 5, the captain’s badge for the Pele Sports Football Academy team in Nablus, a city in the northern West Bank of Palestine, was always worn by his colleague, Saeed Odeh.
But a phone call from a friend turns Sarhan’s life upside down.
“In the evening, a friend called me and said: ‘Aren’t you Saeed’s friend?’ When I said ‘yes,’ he said ‘your friend was killed by soldiers on the way to the swimming pool,’” Sarhan told Anadolu Agency with a heavy heart.
He couldn’t believe the news and almost lost consciousness until his father confirmed that his friend had died.
That fateful afternoon, Odeh headed to a pond near his village Odala with his friends. On the way, they get caught in the crossfire.
A live bullet from the Israeli army hit Odeh in the chest. He tried to escape to the olive fields, but fell because he lost a lot of blood.
“While he was among the olive trees, the Israeli soldiers shot him again. The bullet went through his shoulder and exploded in his chest,” according to Jihad Nassar, Odeh’s soccer coach.
An ambulance was barred from entering even though Odeh was in critical condition. The Israel Defense Forces often do not receive assistance to injured Palestinians.
It was several hours later that the army allowed an ambulance to enter the field.
The ambulance attendant was Fayez Abd Al-Jabar, Odeh’s uncle.
It was a shock to Al-Jabar when he found Odeh bleeding on the ground. He tried to save his nephew’s life along with the medical staff at Rafedeah hospital, but Odeh succumbed to his injuries soon after arriving at the facility.
“We got the news from Facebook, but we couldn’t believe it. We kept thinking there was a mistake in the name until we got to the hospital, and even when we saw him we couldn’t believe he was gone,” Nassar said.
Even though months have passed, Odeh’s coach and team are still shaken.
“He is very friendly, and at the same time very sharp in terms of the game. He’s trying to do his best,” said Nassar, who first met Odeh at the academy where he used to come with his uncle.
“He’s short-tempered, but he’s also used to apologizing without hesitation.”
Nassar has put the 16-year-old on the wing, he wants to travel to Germany this summer to visit the academy headquarters. But life has plans of its own.
“Saeed is a talented midfielder, and plays with great enthusiasm and energy. He is creative in his positioning, and because of his overactivity he broke his arm several times,” said the coach.
But he did not get to see his team play in the tournament in Sharm El-Sheikh last June.
On the day the team departed for Egypt, they prayed for Odeh at his grave. “We printed the photo on our T-shirts. He is with us all the time,” said Sarhan.
He recalled his friendship that started six years ago at the football stadium, saying: “We spent days and nights together. Losing it was very painful. He is full of zest for life.”
After Odeh’s death, Sarhan decided to quit the game, but his parents encouraged him to continue for the sake of his beloved friend.
“Saeed’s mother gave me her t-shirt, asking me to raise her son’s name wherever I go and play,” he said.
Odeh won prizes at various tournaments both at home and abroad, but was unable to attend the event in Sharm el-Sheikh.
“We brought his name and dream to Sharm el-Sheikh,” said Sarhan. (T/RE1)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)