Monday, June 01, 2015

FIFA's Unfinished, and Proper, Business

WAITING for sporting chance. Palestinian team detained at border.
IT did not make the front-pages nor TV news here, unlike the arrests in FIFA, but there was a not unconnected incident on May 21 this year, that deserves to be recorded in history. It was not one of the great moments in sport, nor a proud episode for the State of Israel.  

"This evening Israeli Forces delayed the Palestinian National Football Team at the Allenby/Al Karamah Crossing, the only international border for Palestinians living in the Occupied West Bank. The national team was on its route to Tunisia as part of their preparation for its upcoming official matches.

"This new Israeli violation occurred less than 24 hours after Mr. Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, left Israel and Palestine, having received a commitment from Israeli PM Mr. Netanyahu about facilitating the travel of Palestinian athletes. The Israeli Football Association, as usual when Palestinian athletes are harassed by Israeli Forces, haven’t issued any condemnation.

Please find below the letter sent by the head of the Palestine Football Association Gen. Jibril Rajoub to FIFA President Mr. Sepp Blatter on this new Israeli violation against Palestinian sports.

The following was sent out by the Palestine Football Association earlier today:

Date: 21/5/2015

Ref: X-Pob/2015/156

Mr. Joseph Blatter

Fédération Internationale de Football Association

Subject: VIP escort for Palestinian Footballers on the border

Dear President,
Dear Brother

I hope you had the time to rest after your trip to our region and the busy schedule of meetings with both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the Israeli Government’s promise to facilitate the movement of our players is having its first test as I am writing this letter. Our National team, which is heading for Tunisia for a training camp, has been delayed at the Allenby crossing point by the Israeli authorities.

Player Sameh Maraabah has been detained by the Israeli authorities for two hours now, and the team has decided it will not leave without him.

The implications of this incident can only confirm the PFA’s position on the promises given by the Israeli Government; that they are only words unless they are included in solution that can only come through, and be guaranteed by the FIFA congress.

Sincerely Yours

Jibril Rajoub


Palestine Football Association
ALL SMILES.  Netanyahu with Blatter. But within 24 hours of promises team was detained at border.

Sepp Blatter's mission to the Middle East, meeting both Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, and symbolically releasing a peace dove in Ramallah, was meant to contain conflict before it reached FIFA.

On 20 March 2015, the Palestinian Football Federation (PFA) submitted a motion for debate at the  28-29 May FIFA annual congress in Zurich. The motion called for the suspension of the Israeli Football Federation (IFA) from FIFA until the following conditions were satisfied:

 -   Football participants and all equipment related to the sport to be able to move freely in, out and within Palestine.

  -  Football facilities are to be built and maintained in Palestine without hindrance.

 -   Football clubs established within illegal settlements in the West Bank to be banned from playing in IFA competitions

    - IFA  to take firm action in order to eliminate racist and apartheid practices within its own leagues.

   - IFA  to recognise the PFA as the sole governing body for football within Palestine.

Thus the Palestine Football Federation was not just taking the conflict with the Israeli state into another international body without considering specific relevance, not relying on rough application of the "Apartheid" word, and not calling for an unconditional boycott based merely on disapproval of the Israeli state,  or questioning its legitimacy.

There's no need to "bring politics into sport", when thanks to Israel and its occupation it is already there.   Israel systematically restricts the freedom of movement of Palestinian footballers as of other people. The use of road blocks to control Palestinian movement often means that away games can take two days and cause worry for players' families, even though the game could be in a neighbouring town or village. Athletes, staff and officials are also routinely denied permission to travel internationally, as well as between the West Bank and Gaza. Matches have had to be cancelled and foreign visitors have been humiliated at borders.

Footballers and other sportspeople are frequently targets for arrest and detention. In July 2009, leading national team member, Mahmoud Sarsak, was arrested without charge, imprisoned for three years and tortured while in prison. He was only released after worldwide pressure was imposed by FIFA and UEFA. In April 2014, Sameh Maraabeh was arrested and imprisoned without charge for eight months then denied permission to travel to the 2015 Asian Games in Australia.
Damage and destruction inflicted on facilities

Football facilities have been hit by war, as well as restrictions on development. In 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, the pitches and buildings of 30 Gazan football clubs were damaged or destroyed. The rebuilding of facilities in the West Bank has been extremely difficult. Since many of these facilities are in Areas B and C (80 percent of the West Bank) Israel has the power to prevent development for what they deem “security reasons” while FIFA officials have been prevented from constructing new facilities as part of FIFA's Goal Project. Additionally, the importing of new equipment to both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank has been blocked and massive taxes have been imposed.

An argument that I've more than once used against comparisons with Apartheid South Africa is that Israeli sport is not legally segregated, and even the national football team has Arab players, Palestinian citizens of Israel.  But that does not mean the game in Israel is free of racism. Fans of Betar Jerusalem, historically linked with the ruling right-wing party, are notorious for racialist chants on the stands and violence in the streets. They protested when two Chechen players were taken on, and neither theirs nor other Betar teams are likely to tolerate Palestinians. 

The blatant racism imposed at Beitar Club has been highlighted to FIFA and UEFA by The Mossawa Centre and the Coalition Against Racism. IFA has never been disciplined for the club's failure to employ any Arabs, and the management that signed two Chechen Muslims was ousted, as were the players - after destructive demonstrations by fans. In November of 2014, during a football match, Beitar fans chanted "Death to Arabs." This kind of chanting has been an issue in the past and continues.

IFA recently segregated Palestinian youth teams from Jewish youth teams by splitting a national children's league in the al-Shomoron area, in clear breach of FIFA's statute (No 3) on racism. Reports say that this action was taken following the request of parents of Jewish child participants. The rights group, Adalah (the Legal Centre for Arab Minorities in Israel) has taken IFA to the district court and a decision is yet to be determined.

Israel has failed to stop the alarming growth of racism against Arab minorities in Israeli football. The Coalition Against Racism in Israel's 2013 report stated that incidents in the premier league were rising steeply and that despite various initiatives in this field, it appears that so long as enforcement measures are not announced, including penalties, this trend will not show any significant decline.
- See more at:

The timing of the moves against FIFA officials accused of corruption have led some people to talk as though it was all a plot to save Israel from expulsion. In fact the investigations had been going on for some time, and if there are any "dark forces" at work, as suggested by Sepp Blatt's daughter, they are probably interested in even bigger global issues than Israeli and Palestine football fixtures.

Besides which, FIFA was unlikely to have expelled the Israelis. Whereas, though the PFA withdrew
its expulsion call, the Israelis were not left untouched. The issues are still live. The Israeli journalist Amira Hass, a thoughtful and forthright critic of her government and its occupation, and committed anti-racist, writes:

"A laywoman’s question to UEFA, the European soccer federation, and to its president, Michel Platini, who worked diligently to shelve the Palestinian bid to suspend Israel from FIFA.
Will you let Beitar Jerusalem play against European teams? This question is based on an amended Palestinian motion adopted in full at the FIFA congress relating to Israeli violations of the organization’s statutes.

"After its win against Maccabi Tel Aviv, Beitar is in fact expected to play in Europe. This is the team whose coach Guy Levy said about a month ago: 'Even if there was an [Arab] player who suited me professionally, I wouldn’t bring him on because it would create unnecessary tensions.'
So I ask you, Platini, how do you square Levy’s statement with Section 3 of the FIFA statutes, entitled 'Non-discrimination and stance against racism'? The section states: 'Discrimination of any kind against a Country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin color, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion … is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.'

"Racial segregation in sports led to South Africa’s suspension from FIFA in 1962. The Israeli sociologist Tamir Sorek, who teaches at the University of Florida, has researched Palestinian soccer before and after 1948. He told Haaretz that in 1977, whites were asked in a South African opinion poll to name the greatest damage inflicted by apartheid. Damage to South African sports ranked No. 3. “Historians disagree on the extent sanctions in general, and in sports in particular, contributed to the downfall of the apartheid regime,” Sorek said. “But there is no doubt that the ruling party believed that the boycott was influencing public opinion.”

"On Friday, 163 FIFA members voted in favor of the Palestinian amendment to the motion (with nine against and 37 abstaining). The headlines and reporting focused on the shelving of a resolution that would have suspended Israel from FIFA. My Haaretz colleagues Barak Ravid and Uzi Dann suggested that anybody celebrating an Israeli victory shouldn’t overdo it.
In that same spirit, I would suggest that Palestinians angry that once again a Palestinian leader has caved should learn something about how politics work.

"A Palestinian insistence that FIFA vote for Israel’s suspension would have ended in failure. The head of the Palestinian soccer federation, Jabril Rajoub, could have retained a macho image and flaunted the demand to put the Palestinian resolution to a vote, just as those who fire Qassam rockets at Israel from Gaza flaunt their dubious military achievements. But the predicted defeat of the motion would have given a kosher stamp of approval to Israel’s violations.

"But now, 167 delegates have affirmed in the amendment that passed: “Restrictions of Palestinian rights for the freedom of movement. Players and football officials both within and outside the borders of the occupied State of Palestine, have been systematically restricted from their right to free movement, and continue to be hindered, limited, and obstructed by a set of unilateral regulations arbitrarily and inconsistently implemented. This constitutes a direct violation by IFA of Article 13.3 of the FIFA Statute, specifically in relation to Article 13.1(i) and its correspond[ing] articles in UEFA rules.”

"Commentators spoke of a yellow card against Israel, not a red card. Another hackneyed phrase — a snowball effect — would no less accurately reflect the maneuver room the Palestinian delegation managed to create.

"FIFA has now appointed the equivalent of a probation officer for Israel. The establishment of a monitoring committee will enable the Palestinians to continue to pester FIFA, and it puts Rajoub under the microscope of social-media activists who will demand proof that a corrupt FIFA hasn’t bought him off.

"On the other side of the front, the monitoring committee leaves Israel in a state of constant tension. Any expression of racism on the Israeli soccer field and the delaying of a soccer player at the Allenby crossing would be grounds for deliberations and possible punishment of Israel."

It remains to be seen whether Amira is too optimistic, or if UEFA and Western governments together with a media focused on different matters will allow Betar to play in Europe and the Israeli government to get away with holding up Palestinian teams, in breach of the promises it has made.

To put this in a wider context, in 2009 a Palestinian under-19 team was invited to Britain, to train and play some friendly matches, only to be prevented from coming not by the Israeli authorities but by British officialdom refusing them visas. Some MPs and other people asked why, and I was deputed by the Jewish Socialists' Group to write to then new Foreign Secretary David Miliband. I argued that if Britain wanted to be an honest broker and help achieve peace in the Middle East, it should be doing everything to encourage such contacts and restore confidence in a better future among Palestinian youth.

In reply I received a letter from some Foreign and Commonwealth Office official whom I'd never heard of, naturally ignoring the points I'd made, and setting out in detail procedures for visa applications.

Hopefully since Ed Miliband supported recognition of a Palestinian state and possibly lost some votes in certain quarters as a result, things have started to change, even though Labour's defeat has sent Ed off to Ibiza, and the Nasty Party are back again.  The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is to lobby Parliament on Tuesday, June 23, and it would not surprise me if football became one of the issues raised.


Jordan has reportedly declared the Palestinian football federation leader ' persona non grata' after he backed Sepp Blatter over the Jordanian candidate for the top FIFA post.

Jibreel Rjoub has complained before he can only enter and exit the West Bank through Jordan - claimed he can't go through Israel. Now it seems he can't go through Jordan either!

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