Justice v Apartheid: Israel’s attacks on Palestinian sport
Thursday’s protest outside the Dundalk FC v Maccabi Tel Aviv football match in Tallaght (7pm) will be a small act of solidarity with the people of Palestine who have suffered so much injustice, and continue to suffer daily, at the hands of the Israel’s apartheid regime due to the ongoing occupation of Palestine and the continual denial of rights to the Palestinian people.
While there are those who insist that that sport and politics shouldn’t mix, we believe there is no place in sport for racism or teams who act as ambassadors for racist or apartheid states. As a member of the Israel Football Association, an official Israeli state institution, Maccabi Tel Aviv is thus a representative organisation of the Apartheid state and, as such, eminently deserving of a protest.
We believe that, following in the footsteps of the successful sporting boycott against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, Israeli apartheid should similarly be boycotted and Israeli teams excluded from international sporting arenas like UEFA and FIFA until Palestinians are free and enjoy justice, equality and self-determination.
As Mahmoud Sarsak, the Palestinian football star who was abducted on his way to training, imprisoned without charge or trial by Israel, and who only won his freedom after a career-ending 96 day long hunger strike, has said:
“There can be no place in football for segregation and oppression … I call on all those who spoke out for my release and the release of the Palestinian hunger strikers, to once again show their commitment to justice and equality by insisting that UEFA move their competitions away from Israel [and supporting] the cultural and sporting boycott and other forms of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). [These] were vital in the fall of the South African apartheid regime, and similar initiatives will be vital to ending Israeli apartheid.”
Israel’s attacks on Palestinian sport
The Palestinian people have suffered (and resisted) decades of colonial oppression, human rights violations, military occupation and war crimes at the hands of the Apartheid state of Israel. Since 2000 alone, over 9,000 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 2,000 children. Almost 10,000 Palestinians have been inured or maimed, and tens of thousands have been imprisoned, many of them tortured.
Palestinian culture, including sport, is a frequent target of this cruel, brutal and endless occupation. Sport represents the spirit of hope and freedom, something Israel desperately seeks to crush in pursuit of its goal – the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Here are just some of Israel’s outrageous attacks on Palestinian sport:
In 2005 the coach of the Palestinian women’s national team resigned after being detained and interrogated for hours at the border by Israeli authorities; he found the experience too traumatic to repeat.
In 2006, Israel bombed the Palestine football stadium in Gaza. Five major football grounds in Gaza were destroyed or largely damaged during the repeated Israeli attacks on Gaza between 2009 and 2014.
In 2009 three national team players, Ayman Alkurd, Shade Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtahe were murdered by Israeli bombs during the month-long ‘Cast Lead’ assault on Gaza that killed over 1,400 people.
In 2012 and again in 2014, the ground and clubhouse of Al Helal Football Academy in Gaza were bombed by Israel.
In 2012 the Israeli Air Force again bombed the 10,000-seat Palestine Stadium into ruins. The stadium was also headquarters to the center for youth sports programs throughout the Gaza Strip.
In 2009 Israel abducted Palestinian national team footballer Mahmoud Sarsak at the Erez Crossing while he was travelling from his home in Gaza to link up with his new club Balata Youth in the West Bank. Sarsak was interned without charge or trial for three years, where he was regularly subjected to physical and mental torture. Ultimately he only won his freedom after a gruelling, career-ending, 96-day hunger strike. There was also an international solidarity campaign with Amnesty International, and a formal protest from both FIFA and the 50,000-player soccer union FIFpro supporting him.
Israel killed at least 32 sports people and destroyed 40 sports facilities – playgrounds, clubs and halls – completely during the 2014 assault. Three million dollars were lost to Israel’s attacks on sports facilities during the attack. Among the buildings which were targeted in 2014, was the Palestinian Olympic Committee, the Football Union, Alyarmouk Playground, Rafah Playground, Alshujayea Union Club, Alshams Club, Deir Al-Balah Service Club, Jabaliya Youth Club, Rafah Youth Club, the Sports City, and Al-Helal Club.
In November 2011 the Israeli navy attacked the MV Saoirse, the Irish ship sailing as part of the Freedom Waves Flotilla to Gaza. They impounded the ship and stole every in it, including a large amount of sporting gear, mainly donated by Leinster Rugby for kids’ teams in Gaza.
In March 2012, hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem fans were caught on CCTV assaulting Palestinian cleaning staff in a shopping centre in Occupied East Jerusalem. The fans chanted “Death to Arabs,” before attacking several Palestinian workers and harassing three Palestinian women. Although Palestinian citizens of Israel make up 20% of the population, and almost 40% of Jerusalem’s residents are also Palestinian, Beitar has never fielded an Arab player. Indeed, its fans once unfurled a banner reading “Beitar – Pure Forever”. Ndala Ibrahim, a Nigerian mulism, was briefly signed but left fearing for his life after he was mobbed by racist fans. Not only does Beitar continue to play in the Israeli premier division, it counts many Israeli politicians among its fan-base, including Prime Minister and war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu.
In January 2014, Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17, were shot in their feet by Israeli soldiers as they were walking home from a training session in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium in al-Ram in the central West Bank. A month later, the two youngsters learnt that they would never play again as a result of their injuries.
In May 2015 Palestinian National Team player Sameh Maraabah was detained for approximately three hours at the Allenby crossing point by the Israeli border patrol for “security reasons,” when he was due to travel with the team to Jordan. This came mere hours after FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s visit with Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in advance of a resolution at FIFA Congress to suspend Israel for, among other allegations, restricting Palestinian player movement.
In August 2015 Israel banned several players from Gaza’s Ittihad Al-Shejaiya football team from crossing into the West Bank through the Erez border to play the final match of the Palestine Football Cup against Ahli Al-Khalil from Hebron. Only after FIFA intervened directly was the final able to take place.
In September 2015, Maccabi Tel Aviv fans unfurled a banner reading ‘Refugees Not Welcome’ at a game. Palestinian refugees are denied their right to return to the homeland by Israel, and the small number of non-Palestinian refugees living in Israel are ghettoised and widely discriminated against.
In March 2016, the Israeli authorities prevented the exit of 103 marathon runners from Gaza, who were supposed to participate in the International Palestine Marathon.
In March 2016 Israel arrested three Palestinian football players. On March 4th Fadi Nimr al-Sharif, 28, al-Hilal Football Club of Gaza City was arrested at the Erez crossing separating Gaza from present-day Israel. On 6 March, Israeli forces raided the home of Sami Fadil al-Daour, 27, in Hebron, a city in the occupied West Bank. Al-Daour is a member of al-Samou Youth Football Club. Another al-Samou player, Jerusalem resident Muhammad Abu Khwais, 25, was also arrested on 4 March.
In July 2016 Israel prevented a 13 year old child, Karam Zedan, who had been injured in the attack of 2009, from travelling to Ireland with the Al Helal Football Academy as part of the Gaza Kids to Ireland project organised by Gaza Action Ireland. They also prevented 5 adults from travelling with the group, two coaches, an administrator, a journalist and a specialist in children’s mental health.
In August 2016 Israel prevented a Palestinian Olympic official from attending the games in Rio and impounded all the Palestinian team’s equipment and uniforms, forcing them to buy new gear in Brazil.
In August 2016, during the final of the Abu Ammar Trophy, Israeli occupation forces fired tear gas into the Faisal Husseini stadium in al-Ram, near Jerusalem.
The Israeli Football Association continues to allow teams based in illegal colonial settlements in occupied Palestine to take part in their competitions. All Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories are violations of the Geneva Conventions.
In September 2016 Israel arrested and indefinitely interned without charge or trial Mohammed Mousa, a Palestinian Ju Jutsu martial artist en route to compete in Jordan.