A little over two years ago, Palestine's national team paraded around the Hong Kong Stadium with their national flag celebrating a 1-0 victory over Malaysia. It was their first World Cup victory as an autonomous territory - a competition they had last entered before World War II. The celebrations were all the more poignant because of the obstacles they had overcome - the latest intifada was just six months old but even so four players, a doctor and a physiotherapist had been refused permission to leave by the Israeli authorities. At the time there was still hope the conflict might be short-lived but two years on it has escalated into a vicious circle of suicide bombings, tank incursions and rocket attacks. 'In March last year several volleyball players from my club were training at about nine in the evening,' says Issa Thaher, the chairman of Jabaila Sports Club and the deputy mayor of the small market town, which has a population of about 150,000. 'The Israeli tanks came into Jabaila and we quickly closed the sports centre and sent the players home. When the players left the club the tanks were just arriving. They fired shells from 300 metres away and one of the players, his name was Iead, died. He'd done nothing. 'All he was carrying was a bag with his clothes in it. 'Everyone in Palestine has a story like this. A six-year-old child would have stories to tell,' the 48-year-old added ruefully, shaking his head. 'When I sleep at home I am woken up by Apache helicopters, by missiles. I can't sleep. If you heard these things, could you sleep well? Every day I am away I call home. Before I sleep, the last thing I do is watch the news. When I wake up, the first thing I do is watch the news. It's not good for the mind. I watch because I am always worried that someone else has been killed.' Thaher claims that more than 500 sportsmen and women have suffered a violent death since the renewal of hostilities. Sport in in the Palestinian territories has been caught in a veritable no-man's land since it ground to a halt in September 2000, when one of the Israeli responses to the new outbreak of stone throwing was to isolate the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Even travel within those areas is at times impossible, at others simply dangerous. 'We are prisoners in our own country. Our country is divided into many parts. It's very difficult now to get a bus from city to city, from town to town, or from village to village. We can't make a league programme in Palestine. It's dangerous for the players. We can only play locally. Rafah has five clubs that play against each other. There are 10 teams in Gaza who play together, but we can't have a national league. 'Before the intifada we had a good competition. We were six weeks away from the end of the league when the intifada started on September 29. From that day all the sports stopped in Palestine.' Still the Palestinians fight against the odds to field a national team in the FIFA, AFC and Arab competitions. Their national football squad now includes eight Chilean-based players and a coach, Anckola Shawan, who also holds a Chilean passport, products of an emigration to South America that started with the creation of Israel in 1948. Two more players come from Egypt, a sign of how the troubles at home over the decades have spread Palestinians across the globe. The strain is beginning to show in some of their results. Since beating Hong Kong in Dohar in the second stage of matches in World Cup qualifying, Palestine have returned home from the 2002 West Asian Championship and the 2003 Arab Cup without a win to their name. But the problems they face are typified by their experience when they tried to take a team to play two Olympic qualifying matches against Kuwait in Kuwait City and Jordan. The Israelis refusal to let any Palestinian under 35 cross its borders took more than 10 days and the intervention of FIFA to resolve. 'All the teams have technical levels and fitness far better than us,' said Thaher, who also heads the Palestinian Football Association's international relations department. 'They play regularly; they have money to bring in good coaches. Everything for the players is OK. Nothing is OK for us, but we have great heart and so we can play with a real power. We have passion and so we can play better than other teams. We want to do anything we can for Palestine. When we win, all Palestinians are happy. We want to use football to put a smile on the faces of the Palestinian people. Life is too difficult for them. We want to help them smile.' In conversing with anyone from the world of sport in Palestine it can seem that the politics of their situation is never far away. Thaher, like many others, shows his frustration at the idea that all Palestinians are behind the suicide bombers and committed to the eventual destruction of Israel. He argues that politics is never far away because everything in Palestine has become politicised. 'I'm not a politician, I'm just a civil servant. But in bread there is politics. In work there is politics. Everyone's life is political. We want to stop this. We want to take the politics out of our lives. We want peace. The Palestinians want a life like everyone else in the world. We want a life without war, without shooting. Who wants his friend, his brother, father or mother killed? Who wants that? 'We want a good life. We want a life with the Israeli people in peace. They want a life in their country and we want the same. I want a good life for them and I hope they want the same for me. I want to be able to get into my car and go to Ramallah, to Jafar, without any problems, without soldiers. Jabaila was a peaceful place before. We had a good life - no soldiers, no tanks, no Apaches, no F-16s. Inshallah, it will be peaceful again.'