This post was originally published on Sports Politika Substack.

Israeli MMA fighter uses platform to celebrate Palestinian deaths

Mohamed Abu Samra only had two days to mourn the death of his twin brother Ahmed, killed during Israel’s bombardment of Southern Gaza on Dec. 7, 2023, before he was met with the same tragic fate. 

Abu Samra, a Palestinian journalist and sports photographer, had been covering the ongoing war in Gaza when he was killed as part of Israel’s vicious assault on the Gaza Strip. His death was confirmed by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate. 

While touching tributes have since poured in for Abu Samra—one of at least 63 journalists and media workers who have been killed since the war broke out on Oct. 7—an Israeli MMA fighter named Haim Gozali took to social media to celebrate the Palestinian journalist’s death. 

“The “journalist” and “sports photographer” Muhammad Abu Samra was eliminated 🥳🍾,” Gozali wrote in a post accompanied by a picture of Abu Samra with a pig snout and ears added to it. “Two days before, his twin Ahmed was eliminated, now they will be able to rest the pigs together 😁”

Gozali, 50, is among Israel’s best known MMA fighters. He holds a 15-6 professional record, including a five-fight stint in Bellator MMA. He also worked for Bellator as a promoter, scouting talent and matchmaking fights during the organization’s events in Israel. He also heads the Renzo Gracie jiu-jitsu academy in Bat Yam. 

Apart from his tenure in MMA, Gozali served in the Israel Defence Force (IDF) as well as with the border police. He later ran a security company in Tel Aviv that went bankrupt during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, Gozali has emerged as a vocal proponent for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza. 

The fighter’s social media presence, particularly on his Telegram channel, is fueled by unbridled hatred towards Palestinians. Over the past two months, he mocked Palestinians fleeing their homes in Gaza, spread misinformation of crisis actors pretending to be dead Palestinians, and celebrated as Israel intensified its siege of Gaza. 

Perhaps the most shocking of Gozali’s posts was a picture of an artillery shell that he had inscribed with the names of four Muslim UFC fighters: retired former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, lightweight champion Islam Makhachev, Chechen star Khamzat Chimaev, and Palestinian fighter Belal Muhammad. The shell was bound for Gaza. 

“This is from me to the [rats emoji],” read the caption of the original post on Twitter. 

A screenshot of the artillery shell that Haim Gozali inscribed with the names of four Muslim UFC fighters.

Gozali’s deeply insensitive post was not well received. He was accused of Islamophobia and of promoting genocidal tendencies, while the image was removed from various social media platforms. 

Haim Gozali has targeted UFC fighters for their pro-Palestinian stances

This isn’t the first time that Gozali has taken aim at these specific UFC fighters. Back in September, he challenged Chimaev to a fight after the latter said that Israelis were “just guests of Palestine, respect them for giving you asylum. One day they will expel you from Palestine, Inshallah.”

Nevertheless, Gozali appears to have targeted the four Muslim fighters in the artillery shell post for their vocal support for Palestine since the outbreak of the war. 

For example, Nurmagomedov, a former UFC lightweight champion and one of the most popular Muslim athletes in the world, has repeatedly expressed solidarity with Gaza while drawing attention to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the besieged enclave. As civilian casualties mounted, he referred to Israel’s bombardment as “genocide” and wrote that “no one deserves to be bombed just because they were born where they were born.”

While Gozali is one of countless voices spreading hate on social media, it is important to note that he is also a prominent figure in Israel. In 2017, he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset ahead of Bellator 188 in Tel Aviv. Gozali, who was accompanied by legendary fighters Fedor Emelianenko and Royce Gracie, gifted Netanyahu a pair of branded MMA gloves and posed for a photo-op.

“I need some of these gloves,” Netanyahu said as he tried on the gloves. “I’m constantly punching without them.”

Gozali continues to spread hate

Last year, Gozali attempted to co-promote an event in Tel Aviv with Brave CF, an MMA organization owned by Bahraini prince Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa. The event, dubbed “Fighting for Peace,” was supposed to highlight the growing relationship between Israel and Bahrain after the two countries established full diplomatic relations in 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords. 

Gozali even met with Bahrain’s Ambassador to Israel at the embassy in Tel Aviv, where the two discussed the planned cooperation through MMA. Netanyahu later commented that that “sport connects between people and this event is yet another factor in strengthening Israel’s relationship with Bahrain.”

The event was canceled in February 2023 after Brave CF released a cryptic statement informing fans of the “decision to cancel the upcoming event in Israel due to unforeseen circumstances.”

Though Gozali is yet to host another MMA event since his failed attempt at sports diplomacy with Bahrain, he continues to spread Islamophobic and hateful messages while cheering the murder of Palestinians.

In a recent post, Gozali shared the now-infamous photo of the Palestinian men who had been captured by IDF soldiers and were forced to strip and kneel in front of their captors. 

“This time, the work must be finished,” read the caption. 

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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