Sunday’s European Championship qualifier between Wales and Israel saw protests prior to the match from people who were there to protest against Israel’s involvement in the game, mainly due to Israeli government policy towards Palestine.
Following the match the Israeli embassy in the UK wrote on Facebook:
“Today was a win for football and a loss for anyone that tried to make it about politics…”
We at the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine completely agree that football, nor any sport, should not be politicised, however we would like to remind the Israeli government that no one is more guilty of politicising sport than they.
We would like to draw everyone’s attention to a few incidents, firstly a case in March 2014 when Israeli Defence Forces stopped two young Palestinian footballers, Jawhar Nasser Jawar (then aged 19) and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya (then aged 17), on their way back from football practice. Those two young men can never play football again as the IDF soldiers fired a bullet into each of Jawhar’s feet and 10 bullets into the feet of Adam. A cruel attack specifically aimed at permanently preventing these two young men from enjoying the sport they love.
We would also like to draw your attention to the case of Mahmoud Sarsak, who was a footballer for the Palestinian national team. In 2009, he spent three months on hunger strike after being imprisoned without trial or charge by Israeli forces whilst travelling from his home in Gaza to meet up with the football team he had recently signed for, Balata Youth. He was released after 97 days of refusing food in protest, without ever being charged.
To this day, Palestinian footballers are restricted access between Gaza and the West Bank to play inter-Palestinian football matches. In June 2014, even Sepp Blatter called on Israel to “ease” the travel restrictions they had placed upon Palestinian footballers and Palestinian Football Association officials after they had detained another footballer for the Palestinian national team, Sameh Maraabeh, when he tried to make the journey. Israeli authorities have also detained the footballers Zakaria Daoud Issa, Imad Abbasi, Omar Abu Rouis, Mohammed Ibrahim Nimr and Ziad Hassan in recent years.
Israel have even forcibly closed down football clubs such as East Jerusalem’s Islamic Silwan Club in 2012 and the West Bank’s Islamic Qalqilya Club in 2009 and, after it opened again in 2011, they closed it down again a last year.Jibril al-Rajoub, the Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association, has said himself that Israeli armed forces “insist on destroying Palestinian sport.”
Even supporting the Palestinian cause is punishable in the football world. Football clubs Celtic, St Johnstone and Dundalk have all been fined by UEFA after their fans displayed the flag of Palestine, as the governing body of European football deemed that it “transmitted a message that is not deemed fit for a sports event.” However Israeli flags are regularly displayed all over Europe and on a weekly basis at clubs such as Tottenham Hotspurs, Ajax Amsterdam and Rangers.
Outside of football, Israel prevents sporting goods being imported to Palestinian territories and they block the development of stadia and sporting facilities. Israel have even restricted the travel of Palestinian Olympians, such as Nader Masri, when he and 30 other runners wanted to participate in a marathon in Bethlehem in the April of last year.
We, at the Liberal Democrat Friends Of Palestine, are glad that the Israeli government share our belief that football should not be politicised and we sincerely hope that they will start allowing the people of Palestine to enjoy all sports, free from their political agenda.