Marching in grief for the children of Gaza

Ciaran Tierney
8 min readJan 30, 2024


People queued up to embrace and show solidarity with the Jews for Palestine Ireland delegation at the first major national rally for Palestine in Dublin last October. Photo: Ciaran Tierney.

Long before October 7 last, I knew that Gaza was a prison camp.

In 2016 and 2017, a group of parents, activists, and football enthusiasts brought gifted children from a Gaza soccer academy to Ireland on ten day trips, thanks to Gaza Action Ireland. The bureaucracy they had to deal with to try to take a short holiday was astounding.

In 2016, their trip was delayed by a few weeks. For no known reason. And the coaches just shrugged and got on with it. A boy with facial scarring, suffered during an Israeli bombing campaign in 2008, when he was a tiny child, was not allowed to travel by the Israeli authorities. Adult coaches and a psychologist were told to stay at home.

Only two men travelled with the team on their national tour of Ireland, which included games in Galway and Kinvara. And they won every game, dazzling us with their skills.

But Irish parents were also taken aback by how small the Gazan children were compared to Irish children of the same age.

They had read that the Israeli authorities kept strict control of truck numbers for food supplies, based on precise calorific calculations as to the minimum requirement to avoid malnutrition and keep the people of Gaza alive. In Galway and Kinvara, Irish parents could see the consequences with their own eyes.

The adult members of the Al-Hillal Academy reckoned that the little boy with the scars, Karam Zaidan, was forced to stay at home by the Israeli authorities because they didn’t want parents and soccer coaches in Ireland to see his scars.

Even though, of course, the Israelis claimed that they no longer controlled Gaza, having “withdrawn” from it in 2007.

The little boys still remembered Karam with video messages from their mobile phones every day of their Irish tour. They filmed themselves when they were guests of honour at a big game between Galway United and Dundalk FC, when the entire main stand at Eamonn Deacy Park sang “Stand Up for the Gaza Boys!” in the second half.

Their coaches were in tears.

I marvelled at how the Al-Hillal Academy managed to survive against the odds. Their ground in northern Gaza was bombed by Israel in both 2012 and 2014 and the best underage soccer players from all across the strip travelled there for training.

Their chairman and coach, Ayed and Mohammad, were thrilled by the Irish tours and wanted to build relationships between their academy and Irish clubs. Some of the boys dreamed of being the next Mo Salah.

In 2018, they weren’t allowed travel, even though Gaza Action Ireland had made all the arrangements and generous Irish donors had covered all the costs. And again in 2019, long before Covid introduced Irish people to the concepts of lockdowns and travel restrictions, they were confined to Gaza.

Thanks to social media, I have stayed in touch with members of the club since that first visit to Galway in 2016.

Brothers Mahmoud and Mohamed Abu Dan, young stars of the Al-Hillal Academy in Gaza, were killed along with the members of their family in an Israeli air strike in October. Photo via Facebook

And late last year the news became desperately grim. At least four members of the club, little boys whose only desire was to play football, were killed in Israeli air strikes in the first few weeks after the Hamas attacks on October 7.

They are among thousands of children who have lost their lives in Gaza, a place where many of their families have been living as refugees since the Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948 forced them out of their homes and villages. Many of their grandparents still have the keys to the homes they were forced to leave in what is now Israel.

They relied on UNRWA, a body whose funding was cut yesterday, to keep food on the table in a crowded place with a high level of unemployment.

Major donors decided to cut funding to UNRWA yesterday after Israel accused some of its workers of taking pass in Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, a decision which has been described as “reckless” by international aid agencies.

UNRWA provides funding to 5.6 million Palestinian refugees across the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, whose families have been unable to return home since they were forced out of their homes and villages between 1947 and 1949.

Strangely enough, the same major donors have not decided to cut funding to the Israeli military even though the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza last Friday.

Atef Mohamed Dabour was a young star who dreamed of being a superstar like Mo Salah. Members of his club visited Ireland in 2016 and 2017. Photo via the Al-Hillal Academy on Facebook.

Watching the Facebook feeds of adults at the Al-Hillal Academy in the last few weeks of 2023, I felt so helpless in the face of this growing catastrophe. Imagine being in charge of a football academy, which gave hope and enjoyment to youngsters, and seeing the news that one child had been killed after another.

At this stage, I have no idea how many members of the Al-Hillal club have been murdered. Their families have been turned into refugees again, living in tents in the cold winter months after being displaced from their refugee camps and homes. It is harder and harder to contact each other.

When phones, the Internet, and electricity have been cut, when so many have been displaced, it must be impossible even for the soccer coaches in Gaza to know at this stage how many of the children have survived.

It is because of the anguish of these innocent children and their families, who were so appreciative of the hospitality they were shown in Ireland, that I and many others have attended rallies for Palestine in Ireland since last October.

There were 100,000 people on the streets of Dublin on January 13 last, marching to express horror at a genocide which is unfolding “live” on Al Jazeera English even if it is not being covered properly on Irish or British TV channels.

If I thought for one second that the rallies I attended in Dublin or Galway were associated with bigotry or anti-Semitism, there is no way I would have joined thousands of protestors on the street week after week, month after month.

In fact, one of the most uplifting features of the first major rally for Palestine in Dublin last October was the sight of dozens of people from all across the world who queued up to express admiration for and solidarity with the delegation from Jews for Palestine — Ireland as the speeches concluded at Merrion Square.

Irish people have always made a clear distinction between the crimes of the state of Israel, currently on trial for genocide at the International Court of Justice, and Jewish communities across the world, including here in Ireland.

It renewed my faith in humanity a little during these terribly dark times to see so many people from across the Arab world, and indeed here in Ireland, taking time out at the end of the rally to embrace the small Jewish delegation, to express admiration to them for standing up against war crimes and oppression, and to tell them they were most welcome.

Hundreds have travelled from Galway to join the national demonstrations for Palestine in Dublin. Photo: Ciaran Tierney.

While I cannot speak for the 100,000 people who attended the biggest street demonstration for Palestine ever witnessed in Dublin on January 13, I am pretty sure that thousands would not have travelled from all over Ireland to the Garden of Remembrance if they felt that these rallies were in any way associated with expressions of anti-Semitism.

While Israeli society may be traumatised since the Hamas attacks on October 7, there can hardly be a place on earth where children are more traumatised right now than Gaza, where almost two million people have been displaced from their homes.

After a week in which the UN estimated that 93 per cent of the people of Gaza face “crisis levels” of hunger, and with a death toll exceeding 25,000 in a tiny strip of land in less than four months, I have not heard one expression of anti-Semitism at any of the rallies I have attended or participated in either in Dublin or Galway.

I have marched for the children of Gaza, who have known nothing but trauma, travel restrictions, and aerial bombardments all their lives.

I have walked in solidarity with my friends in the Lajee Refugee Centre, outside Bethlehem in the West Bank, who are regularly subjected to repeated raids by violent, racist, settler-colonial soldiers from an occupying army which has no right to operate beyond the 1967 border.

A huge increase in violent attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank has also occurred in recent months, without much media attention here in Ireland.

I have marched for my friend in Bethlehem, who faced racist abuse and long delays at a checkpoint as she used to make her way in a minibus to University in Jerusalem every day.

I have walked in solidarity with my friend who had two family members murdered as they tried to make their way along the “safe passage” designated for them in Gaza last October.

And yet I have seen these emergency rallies, where the overwhelming feeling is one of anguish and despair, described as “pro-Hamas” gatherings in some quarters.

Of course, anti-Semitism exists and it has to be vehemently challenged, exposed, and opposed. But I have not heard any expressions of hatred towards the Jewish people on any of the marches here in Ireland.

What I have heard are massive outpourings of grief, anger, and despair among ordinary Irish people that the world could allow such scenes of slaughter to take place in one of the most crowded places on earth in 2024.

What is happening in Gaza right now is unforgiveable, when we see how political leaders in the US, Europe, and the UK have given full backing to a genocide.

It is too late for some of the boys from the Al-Hillal Academy, whose dreams have long since been shattered, but it is never too late for ordinary Irish people to take to the streets and tell our political leaders that they are not doing enough to bring an end to mass slaughter in Palestine.

* A digital journalist based in Galway, Ireland, Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award. Find him on Facebook or Twitter here. Please follow him on Medium.

Speaking out about the murder of children in Gaza last October on Nuacht TG4.



Ciaran Tierney

A former newspaper journalist, with an interest in human rights, travel, and current affairs, Ciaran won the 2018 Irish Current Affairs Blog of The Year award.