Home Teams Are Israeli, but Turf Is in West Bank

“If Infantino is serious about bringing fair play back to FIFA, he should start by showing the red card to illegal Israeli settler teams in the West Bank,” Mr. Quran said.

Rotem Kamer, chief executive of the Israel Football Association, said he wanted nothing to do with the argument.

“We are trying to run as far away as we can from this and remind everyone that this is just sports, and sports should serve as a platform on which bridges are built, and certainly not divide people,” he told Israel’s Army Radio. “It is certainly no place for politics, and football is not the place where the border lines of a country should be determined.”

The issue has been percolating for several years and is expected to be addressed at FIFA’s next meeting, from Oct. 13 to 14 in Switzerland. In the past, Palestinians sought to have Israel suspended for a variety of reasons, including restricting the freedom of movement for Palestinian players. But the argument has focused increasingly on the Israeli clubs.

Tokyo Sexwale, a former anti-apartheid leader who was imprisoned in South Africa, leads the FIFA committee that has investigated the situation. He has said he plans to present recommendations for the group’s October meeting, but he has not said what they will be. Israel has been lobbying FIFA to at least postpone the decision so it would not take place the same week as Yom Kippur.

In a recent statement, FIFA gave no indication of what it would do next month. “FIFA will continue its efforts to promote friendly relations between our member associations in accordance with the FIFA statutes and identify feasible solutions for the benefit of the game and everyone involved,” the statement said.


Ben Hadad, 25, manages the soccer organization in Maale Adumim, which has a field used by about 400 players, he said.

Uriel Sinai for The New York Times

The six clubs identified by Human Rights Watch play in communities like Maale Adumim, which have been built up over time in territory occupied by Israel since its 1967 war with Arab states. The settlements are considered illegal by much of the world.

The clubs play in the lowest three of five leagues and tend to include multiple teams, from semiprofessional teams for adults to academic teams for children. The club in Ariel, for instance, has five teams with about 200 players.

“We are not any different from other clubs in Israel,” said Shay Bernthal, the chairman of the Ariel Football Club.

He noted that Arab citizens of Israel played on his teams. “We are against racism, we are against violence, we are against political mixing,” he said.

Those pressing the complaint against the soccer clubs said it was not personal. “These club organizers are doing really good community work,” said Sari Bashi, the Israel-Palestine director for Human Rights Watch. “But they’re doing it in the wrong place. They’re doing it on stolen land under conditions of discrimination, and they can’t fix it.”

Jibril Rajoub, the president of the Palestine Football Association, has been pressing FIFA for several years to take action against Israel and noted that Europe’s soccer association barred Russia from claiming teams from Crimea after annexing the peninsula.

“We want to play football,” he said by telephone from Zurich, where he was meeting with FIFA officials. “This is not a political issue. This is a fundamental right of all people.”


Fans at the youth soccer game on Friday. FIFA is scheduled to consider next month whether to force Israel to bar a half-dozen of its clubs from playing in the occupied West Bank.

Uriel Sinai for The New York Times

For Salah al-Din al-Qurt, 66, the issue is personal. His family is one of two Palestinian claimants to the land on which the Givat Zeev soccer club now plays. His father and uncles owned the land, he said, but lost it more than 35 years ago when Israelis took it over.

“This is our land,” he said. “This is the land we were using to grow our crops and make money. They took it over, and we can’t use it, and instead the settlers are playing on it.”

In Maale Adumim, the fall season has opened with uncertainty hanging overhead. The field, just three years old, is tidy and fresh, with lights for night games, but it sits in a somewhat bleak industrial area near a ceramics plant. Many of the approximately 40,000 settlers here work in local factories or commute to Jerusalem.

One of the largest and most established communities, Maale Adumim is expected by the Israeli government to be included within Israel’s lines under any eventual settlement with the Palestinians. But if it is, its location will make it harder to create a coherent and contiguous Palestinian state.

Mr. Hadad, the club manager, said about 400 players used the field, from small children to adults. Two of his 10 teams, he said, are for women and girls. Arabs also play on them, but not from Palestinian territory.

His grandparents helped build the community. “This is desert,” he said. “My grandfather, when he got here, he found desert and nothing else. We didn’t feel we took anything from anybody.”

As Mr. Hadad talked, he suddenly looked over at the field. His team was threatening to score. A player launched the ball but missed the goal. Mr. Hadad slapped his hands in frustration.

“Klum!” he shouted. “Klum!” (“Nothing! Nothing!”)

The team went on to lose 6-0.

Continue reading the main story

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: