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Posts

Kick Israel in to touch

footballAn Open letter from Besieged Gaza to Michel Platini and UEFA

Besieged Gaza, Palestine, 20 November 2010


We are writing as Palestinian footballers, coaches and athletes in the besieged Gaza Strip to commend your statement highlighting the impossible conditions imposed on our sports, echoing the general consequences for all aspects of our life caused by the Israeli occupation and hermetic siege.

You recently said that, “Israel must respect the letter of the laws and international regulations otherwise there is no justification for them to remain in Europe…Israel must choose between allowing Palestinian sport to continue and prosper or be forced to face the consequences for their behaviour.”[1]

We would be very interested, Mr. Platini, in knowing if there are any laws and international regulations to which  Israeli policies against Palestinians adhere! There are inevitable consequences for our sporting life while we suffer shortages of all kinds due to the 4-year long illegal and medieval Israeli siege on the Gazan population, in violation of article 33 of the Geneva Conventions barring collective punishment.[2][3] Like all residents of Gaza, footballers are continually deprived entry or exit from what many mainstream human rights organizations call the world’s largest open-air prison. You must know that we are still grieving the loss of over 430 of our children, who were among the 1443 people killed during Israel’s 3 week bombing of Gaza in winter 2009. Two of our national football team heroes, Ayman Alkurd and Wajeh Moshate were among those 1443. 5300 more people were injured. Many had their legs amputated. They will never have the chance to play football.

Despite the grief and the injustice, alongside the denial of so many of the most basic human freedoms on a day-to-day basis, football will always continue, one way or another, within the Gaza Strip. The majority of us in Gaza are United Nations-registered refugees, ethnically cleansed by the Israeli army in 1948. United Nations Resolution 194 articulated our legal right to return to our homes, a right we still defend. Had we had the right to return to our homes as still demanded by United Nations Resolution 194 we may have seen our national football team, ‘Palestine’ participating in a World Cup since then. The current national team made up of those who have escaped forced expulsion from our land is usually not allowed to leave Gaza.

You must be aware of the recent events, just this August, when Israel refused to allow six members of the Palestinian national team to travel from Gaza to a match against Mauritania. [4] Like everyone stranded in Gaza, Israeli spokesmen said the players were denied access for “security reasons”, claiming they did not have the correct permit, reminiscent of the notorious and racist “pass law” in Apartheid South Africa. This is a continuous systematic policy for all of us which has sharply diminished our involvement in international sport. The uncertainties stemming from refused permissions to leave and enter the Strip and the changing severity of the Israeli Siege and Occupation are the major impediments. As a result, the West Asian Union Federation does not always schedule games involving our teams.

In 2007 the national team was prevented from travelling to play a World Cup Qualifier in Singapore and thus eliminated, and in May 2008 was not able to attend the AFC Challenge Cup, denying them qualification for the 2011 Asia Cup. In July 2009 just one of the 30 best Gazan players, Mahmoud Sersik, was granted permission to enter the West Bank. As he crossed the Erez checkpoint to enter Israel he was immediately arrested and has been in an Israeli prison ever since. Four months ago the football league winners of Gaza and West Bank had to postpone their cup final because the Gazan team was refused permissions. It is now scheduled to be played in Algeria in January 2011 with no home-based fans present. Until now the Olympic players from Gaza have been barred from entry to the West Bank and the youth teams have frequently been denied exit and reentry.

If it is not the restrictions on movement it is the direct destruction of our sporting equipment and stadiums. Leisure facilities used by Palestinian youths have for decades been bombed by the Israeli Occupation Forces and there are no adequate facilities in Gaza.

During Israel’s criminal attacks on Gaza in 2009 our national stadium was targeted and destroyed, as was the Palestinian Football Association building. Planning for a new stadium planned to be built in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza was stopped because of the continuing Israeli siege, which still bars concrete from entering the Gaza Strip along with other sports equipment. When concrete finally arrives, the priority will undoubtedly be to rebuild the 17,000 houses, schools, hospitals and mosques destroyed or damaged by Israel. The one grass pitch in Gaza had previously been blown up by an Israeli missile forcing the national team to play matches in a virtually empty stadium in Qatar.

Of course the effects are not limited to football. The lower profile of other sports means that participation internationally is a distant dream. For the last seven years the Israelis have refused to let the Gazan basketball team play in the West Bank. Their last invitation refused was a few weeks ago.

Numerous campaigns such as “Unite against Racism” have helped to stamp out racism in European football with some success, and football has always been a beacon of multi-ethnicity given the huge array of countries, races and religions represented, participating on a level playing field in the most global of sports. Clubs are punished and banned for racist behaviour and UEFA recently gave backing to referees to stop games for racist behaviour.

Sadly, racism is at the heart of why our national team cannot play abroad. It is the core reason why our sporting equipment does not arrive. It is the reason why our stadiums do not get built and why our football season ends prematurely through resource shortages or violent attacks. We, the Palestinian people, are the undesired “ethnic group” for the Israeli authorities who control our lives, shown by the unequal treatment and dehumanisation which pervades our every living day under their military occupation and siege, and in forced exile as refugees.

Mr. Platini,

Decades ago, many sportswomen and men around the world were aware of their connection to the wider world and the influence they could have on it. Muhammed Ali, Arthur Ashe and Jackie Robinson were all world champions who spoke out against Apartheid South Africa when it was not fashionable to do so. Ruud Gullit of AC Milan and Holland spoke out and acted by dedicating his ballon d’or award in 1987 to Nelson Mandela when he was still in prison, when he and the African National Congress were branded terrorists by the American and many European governments.  The sports boycott of Israel has identical goals to those against apartheid South Africa–for international sports authorities and civil society including sports lovers around the world to hold to account another apartheid regime for carrying out such a racist enclosure of an entire population simply by virtue of their ethnic and religious affiliation.

The right to enjoy ourselves, the right to sport, is a right denied by the Israeli Occupation Forces. We demand boycotts and sporting exclusion of Israel until it complies with international law, and until justice and accountability are reached. Like the Blacks of South Africa and African Americans, we can never compromise on basic human rights.

Ruud Gullit stood on the right side of history when it was easy not to do so. He was a friend to Nelson Mandela and now Nelson Mandela is a friend of Palestine. We urge you and UEFA to reverse Israel’s participation in European competition until they end their racist policies and abide by international law, as stated in the boycott divestment and sanctions call by over 170 Palestinian organizations in 2005. [5]

Besieged Gaza

Signed by:

Gaza Sporting Club, Shejaiya Union, Rafah Youth, Rafah Services, Khan Younis Union, Nuseirat Services, Al Hilal Club, Palestine Club, Majdal Club, Attoffah Club, Eddurraj Club, Khan Younis Club, Khan Younis Services, Nuseirat Services, Bureij Services, Ahli Bureij, Gaza City Services, Zuwayda Club, Deir El Balah Services, Jabalia Youth, Jabalia Services, Nadi Club Sdaqa, Ashams Club, Ahli Beit Hanoun, Nadi Beit Lahya, Deir El Balah Union, Nadi El Musadar Gaza, Tarabut Union, Beach Camp Services, Ahli Palestine Club, Arredwan Club

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