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A political football: Palestinians urge FIFA to ban illegal Israeli teams from West Bank

By PM collaborators - October 17, 2016
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Football] [culture] [Ma’ale Adumim] [sports]

FIFA has postponed a decision about whether to suspend five Israeli teams based in Jewish settlements on the West Bank. FIFA had been expected to settle the issue at a meeting on October 14. Another meeting has been set for November.
Palestinians have long argued that FIFA have an obligation to outlaw the clubs, claiming they are unlawful and built on appropriated Palestinian land.
Speaking at a press conference on October 12, Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian FA, urged FIFA to “expel” these teams from FIFA. Rajoub also condemned Israeli “racism” and called for action so that “the whole Palestinian sporting family could be free.” The Palestinian FA also threatened to go to court if its demands were not met.

Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian FA speaking at a press confrerece on October 12.

Ahead of the FIFA meeting, on October 11, a group of Palestinian children demonstrated near the settlement of Maale Adumim, the home of an illegal Israeli team, and about 40,000 Jewish settlers.
Speaking to Palestine Monitor, Fadi Quran, from the campaign group Avaaz, explained that the protest was designed to “call on FIFA to let Palestinian children play on their land. This protest is to show the FIFA council that there is racism.”
“The land that we are marching towards is land that belongs to these children, yet they’re not allowed to access it,” Quran added.
Indeed, as the children tried to enter the settlement, to play on the pitches inside, they were blocked by a row of Israeli soldiers and policemen. Asked why the children were not allowed inside the settlement, an Israeli security officer replied: “They can play anywhere they want, but not in Maale Adumim.”
In total, six Israeli teams are based in illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Palestinian children marched on an Israeli settlement to play football on October 11.
In April 2016, FIFA released a report promising to support human rights in football. But as Quran explains: “because there is a lack of clarity about the kind of racism and discrimination that exists on the ground,” insufficient progress has been made on the issue.
Dima Youssef, 21, was also at the protest. She plays for the Palestinian national women’s team. Speaking to Palestine Monitor, Youssef explained that the protest was not about preventing Israelis from playing football: “we Palestinians do not deny the Israeli right to play football.”
Nonetheless, Youssef maintains that “what we want is for the international community to know that it is not acceptable for settlers to play on land that is not theirs’.”
The UN has also intervened in the dispute. In a letter to FIFA bosses, Wilfried Lemke, a UN special advisor for sport, wrote that the Israeli teams in the West Bank “had no legal validity” and were “in breach of international law.”
Last month, meanwhile, Human Rights Watch released a report concluding that the Israeli teams were illegal, and were playing on land unlawfully taken from Palestinians.
For its part, Israel dismisses these charges. Rotem Kamer is the chief executive of the Israeli FA. As the New York Times reports, Kamer noted that “there is certainly no place for politics [in football]. Football is not the place where the border lines of a country should be determined.”
Football has long been a divisive aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Players are often unable to travel to matches because of Israeli checkpoints and road closures.
In July, the final of the Palestinian Cup was postponed because Israel stopped players from Shabab Khan Yunis, based in Gaza, from entering the West Bank. Shabab Khan Yunis had been due to play Hebron Ahli. The match was eventually played at the start of August.
But as Lemke explained to Palestine Monitor, there have been some improvements, notably in the sphere of women’s football. “Female football has grown, and become successful. This is incredibly positive,” he said.

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