Palestine Karate Champion, Who Escaped Gaza, Forges Future In Egypt

Palestine Karate Champion, Who Escaped Gaza, Forges Future In Egypt

She and her family fled south from their home in the northern Gaza Strip,


On October 6, 2023, Palestinian karate champion Mais Elbostami went to bed thrilled after winning a competition in the Gaza Strip. She awoke the next day to a different world.

“I’d won first place,” the shy 18-year-old told AFP from a Cairo suburb, where her family now lives after escaping the war and where she is training in the hope to one day represent her country internationally.

She said she “hadn’t even hung up the medals” she won on October 6 before Hamas militants launched an unprecedented attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Immediately, she and her family fled south from their home in the northern Gaza Strip as Israel launched a relentless retaliatory military campaign.

Over the past nine months, the war has reduced much of the besieged Palestinian territory to rubble and killed more than 38,000 people, according to Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry.

Amid the hell of bombing and displacement, “every hour that passed felt like it aged you by a year”, said Elbostami.

Death was all around her.

“In the first 10 days alone, I lost my coach Jamal al-Khairy, and his granddaughter who used to train with me,” she said.

When the family made it to the Egyptian capital in April, Elbostami had two things on her mind: making sure relatives back home were safe, and getting back to her karate training.

‘Raise the flag’

Despite being trapped in Gaza, Palestinian national team coach Hassan al-Raiy put her in touch with the Egyptian team, and within two weeks she was back on the mat.

“My coaches here in Egypt have practically adopted me, and they’re working with me so I can get good enough to compete in the next championships,” she said.

Whenever she can, she spars on the mat. But with limited resources and gym time, Elbostami has also had to train in the streets and gardens around her house.

She often finds her mind wandering to Gaza’s Mediterranean shore.

“Training back home was different. Every Friday my teammates and I would go and train by the sea,” she said.

Karate is known for its strong focus on discipline and self-control, and this has helped the young karateka to “detach from reality” — living as a refugee from a brutal war — even for a little while.

“My emotions sometimes get the best of me. There are times I can’t get through a full session” without remembering “fleeing on foot as air strikes fell all around us”, she said.

Elbostami tries to focus on her goal — “to represent my country and raise its flag in international competitions”.

‘It’s for my country’

She has a long way to go, and her first stop on that journey is Egypt’s own national championships in August.

“It’s a tough challenge,” she said, because Egyptian karate athletes have historically outperformed their Palestinian counterparts.”

“But it will bring my level up, too.”

Elbostami’s Egyptian coach, Mamdouh Salem, told AFP that the teenager was an “athlete with a lot of potential, dedication and persistence”.

“We’re working on her technique, but ultimately karate is more a game of skill than talent — I expect Mais will excel.”

He said he wants to help her raise the Palestinian flag around the world.

“If we can’t fight with them” in Gaza, “we can at least help them represent their country abroad”, he said, echoing widespread Egyptian solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Her Gazan teammates, coaches and most of her relatives may remain trapped in Gaza — and she said dozens of them have been killed — but against all odds, Elbostami has survived.

“So I don’t have any excuse to keep me from achieving my goal,” she said.

“I’ll do everything I can to highlight the Palestinian cause. Every championship and every time I represent Palestine, it’s for my country, for the martyrs and for the wounded.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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