The world football governing body FIFA stated on Friday that it would not sanction or take other measures against clubs located in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Today the FIFA Council shredded the organization’s statutes and declared itself a complicit organization that welcomes Israel’s illegal settlement clubs,” Stephanie Adam of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel stated.
“FIFA is intent on providing material support for Israel’s violations of international law amounting to war crimes against one of its own member associations,” Adam added, referring to the Palestinian Football Association.
In its statement the FIFA Council did not address Israeli rights violations and instead referred to a “current situation … characterized by an exceptional complexity and sensitivity and by certain de facto circumstances that can neither be ignored nor changed unilaterally by nongovernmental organizations such as FIFA.”
The organization added that the “final status of the West Bank territories is the concern of the competent international public law authorities” and that FIFA “must remain neutral with regard to political matters.”
Settlements are war crimes
In contrast to FIFA’s incoherent description of the situation, international law makes it quite clear that all Israeli settlements built in occupied territory are war crimes.
FIFA’s own rules bar national associations from holding matches on the territory of another member without permission, as Israel does in the West Bank without Palestinian blessing.
Human Rights Watch has warned that settlement football clubs contribute to human rights violations.
“Settlements are built on land seized from Palestinians,” the group stated.
“By allowing the [Israel Football Association] to hold matches inside settlements, FIFA is engaging in business activity that supports Israeli settlements,” Human Rights Watch added.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the group’s Middle East division, stated on Friday: “With today’s decision, FIFA has continued to sponsor games in illegal Israeli settlements, in contempt of international law and contrary to its professed commitment to human rights.”
The FIFA Council position announced Friday was based on a long-awaited report concerning settlement clubs by an internal committee chaired by Tokyo Sexwale from South Africa.
South Africa was expelled from FIFA when it was run by an apartheid government in the 1960s. The body has taken a more lenient approach to apartheid as practiced by Israel.
Recent comments by Sexwale have caused uproar among supporters of Palestinian rights in South Africa, spurring demands for his resignation.
Sexwale reportedly stated in a pre-recorded interview for a World Jewish Congress gala dinner in Cape Town that FIFA is “trying to use football to try and bring people together, so football is not used as a political football but as an instrument to unify people.”
Concerning the two-year delay of his committee’s report, Sexwale said, “We have to give the process ample time for people to find each other – you’re dealing not with football, but with sensitivities.”
The veteran anti-apartheid freedom fighter long imprisoned on Robben Island for his role in armed struggle misconstrued Israel’s belligerent occupation of Palestinian land, now in its sixth decade, as religious strife between Muslims and Jews.
He also stated that “It’s not acceptable that the Palestinian people should be digging tunnels to murder others but it’s also not acceptable that in retaliation there’s such a lot of collateral damage.”
That claim echoes Israel’s propaganda that Palestinians have used tunnels to attack civilians, and that the massive violence perpetrated by Israel is merely a response to Palestinian actions.
There is no record of tunnels being used to attack civilians, and an independent UN-commissioned inquiry into Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza concluded that “the tunnels were only used to conduct attacks directed at IDF [Israeli army] positions … which are legitimate military targets.”
Sexwale further whitewashed Israel’s routine, lethal violence against Palestinians, stating, “At the checkpoints, I see kids in uniforms of the Israeli Defence Forces who feel that they’re surrounded and indeed they’ve got a small state there. Sometimes it’s easy to make a mistake and to overreact.”
Sexwale did not respond to a request for comment from The Electronic Intifada.
Call for resignation
Nearly 20 human rights, sport and Palestine solidarity groups in South Africa called for Sexwale’s resignation in recent days.
“This decision comes after serious deliberation within the activist community and after several failed attempts to meet with Sexwale,” the groups stated.
“For all the deceptive talk of keeping politics out of football, Sexwale and FIFA have done nothing but politicize something that could not be clearer,” Adam from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel stated.
Adam added that campaign groups will not drop the matter and will keep pressure on FIFA.
Campaigners have long sought to bring attention to how Israel directly impacts Palestinian football by curtailing athletes’ freedom of movement, detaining and permanently injuring players and destroying their sport infrastructure.
Thirty-two athletes including footballers were among the more than 2,250 Palestinians killed by Israel in Gaza during the summer 2014 offensive, according to the youth and sports ministry in the territory. An additional 27 athletes were seriously injured.
More than 30 sports facilities were destroyed, at an estimated financial loss of $3 million, according to the ministry.