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Family Dynasty Dominating Palestinian Football
A football team with a difference is taking the Palestinian League by storm.
Wadi Al Nees are topping the table after numerous victories over far bigger clubs.
But there is something a little unusual about the team that hails from a tiny village on the West Bank - every player is from the same family.
Three generations of the Abu Hammad family are represented, either on the pitch or on the sidelines.
Wadi Al Nees sits on a hilltop just south of Bethlehem, and has only 900 inhabitants.
But that has not stopped the village team dominating the top football league in the West Bank.
All the players have professional contracts, and six play at international level, some for the full Palestinian national team, others for the youth team.
Their last league clash took place on Saturday evening, on a rain-drenched all-weather pitch at the Faisl Husseini Stadium in East Jerusalem.
Taking on a rival club from nearby Ramallah, the Wadi Al Nees minibus arrived at the ground just 45 minutes before kick-off after being delayed going through Israeli checkpoints.
A few dozen supporters, largely also members of the Abu Hammad family, also travelled to the game, watching from the relative shelter of the stadium terraces.
Football is a release for many young men in the West Bank, but despite that politics is never far away - posters of Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah II of Jordan all hang around the stands.
Palestinian riot police lined the pitch, aware that such matches have in the past concluded with scuffles and violence.
But the pouring rain dampened the tempers on this occasion.
Despite two power outages during the course of the match, which left the pitch in total darkness, the team managed to grind out a 1-0 victory.
Speaking after the game, striker Gehad Abu Hammad said the family ties and the team's loyalty to the village were the key to success.
"We are family, thanks be to God, and this helps on the pitch every time. It's the secret of our success."
The only member of the Wadi Al Nees set up that is not part of the Abu Hammad family is the team's coach Abdel-Fattah Arar, but he says the family spirit does not make his job easy.
"It's difficult, it's not easy - we don't have a pitch to train on and we only have 14 players, so any yellow cards or injuries cause big problems."
As the successes continue, he may have more than just the lack of a home pitch and low squad numbers to worry about.
Earlier this season a bid by a Saudi Arabian team to poach one of the team's top players fell through only due to visa issues.
But the Abu Hammad family probably have enough depth in numbers to ensure the team will continue on for some time yet.
The patriarch of the village, and father figure of the team, is 75-year-old Yousef Abu Hammad.
He has 12 sons, all of whom have played for the team over the years.
The six youngest form the core of the current line-up, and their own families are now coming through the ranks.
And their commitment to football is not just about family pride, but about the advantages that success have brought to the village as a whole.
Since the team was formed 30 years ago, electricity, water and a school have all come to Wadi Al Nees. According to Yousef Abu Hammad, it was the success of the team he founded that made people realise the village existed.
It is a view confirmed by the Secretary General of the Palestine Football Association, Abdel Majed Hejeh, who recently told the Associated Press that he believed the village team was the best of all the clubs in the West Bank and in Gaza.
"The players are very loyal, they even resist attempts by other teams to attract them."
While many in the Palestinian Territories follow the highs and lows of teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid more closely than their home-grown teams, the compelling story of a team called Wadi Al Nees might be starting to turn that trend.
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