At least three Palestinian football players have been arrested since the beginning of this month, the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights has stated. The arrests provide the latest examples of how Israel is harassing Palestinians involved in sports. On 3 March, Fadi Nimr al-Sharif, 28, a player with the al-Hilal Football Club of Gaza City was arrested at the Erez crossing separating Gaza from present-day Israel.
Al-Sharif had suffered a torn ligament during a match and had been given a permit by Israeli occupation authorities to receive treatment at al-Makassed hospital in occupied East Jerusalem.
After five days in Jerusalem, al-Sharif and his father tried to return to Gaza. Al-Sharif was arrested by Israeli authorities, while his father was allowed to return.
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. Al-Daour was arrested and his laptop was confiscated during the raid.
Another al-Samou player, Jerusalem resident Muhammad Abu Khwais, 25, was arrested on 4 March.
Al Mezan staff have not yet been able unable to confirm whether these athletes will be charged with any crime or instead be held under administrative detention.
Israel uses that practice to hold Palestinians without charge or trial for terms that can be renewed indefinitely.
Sports boycott kicking off?
Meanwhile, a recent commentary in The Nation magazine predicts that 2016 may be the year when a sporting boycott of Israel will make an impact.
The decision forced many who might have otherwise have ignored the situation to confront the issue of apartheid.
Palestinian football players face many travel restrictions.
Since imposing its siege on Gaza, Israel has been known to stop players going abroad for international matches. As a result, Israel has created divisions between Palestinian players living in the occupied West Bank and those living in Gaza.
In 2007, 18 members of the Palestinian national team were denied exit visas to play a World Cup qualifier in Singapore. The Palestinian team was forced to forfeit because of those restrictions.
The PFA cited systematic abuses of Palestinian athletes’ rights.
It also drew attention to how some Israeli football clubs are based in the settlements built in the occupied West Bank. All of those settlements are illegal under international law.
As negotiations on continued Israeli membership took place during a FIFA congress, the Gaza-based player Iyad Abu Gharqoud wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times demanding that FIFA exclude Israel from the World Cup and European championships.
Israel must realize that “the subjugation of the Palestinian people comes at a growing political and cultural cost,” he argued.
“Players, coaches and referees are blocked from moving between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and frequently are barred from tournaments,” Abu Gharqoud wrote.
“Israel has also violated FIFA rules by allowing teams from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank to play in Israel’s leagues,” he added. “In addition, the Israeli fans of the Beitar Jerusalem club are notorious for chanting ‘death to the Arabs’ at matches — racist abuse that the Israel Football Association’s token disciplinary measures have failed to deter.”
But an intense lobbying effort by Israeli officials, combined with pressure from FIFA’s then head Sepp Blatter and other international sources, led the Palestinian Football Association to back down at the last minute.
At the time, the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel had lobbied the sports ministries and football association leaders of more than 100 countries.
Blatter resigned amid an unrelated corruption scandal just days after the deal was announced.
He has since been banned from involvement in international football for the next six years.
While many Palestinians were disappointed by the PFA’s surrender, the story generated intense coverage of the issue in international sports media — a place where Palestinian rights are not frequently considered or discussed.
At the time, Zaid Shuaibi of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee predicted that the PFA’s failure to bring the motion forward was only a temporary setback.
“FIFA and its membership have delayed the suspension of Israel but they cannot delay the growth of the international boycott of Israel or prevent the continued isolation of Israel because of its human rights abuses and war crimes against the Palestinian people,” Shuaibi said.
One of the most vocal advocates of a sporting boycott against Israel is Mahmoud Sarsak, a former member of the Palestinian national football team.
Sarsak, a Gaza resident, was detained at Erez crossing in 2009, while traveling to the West Bank for a training session. He endured three years in Israeli prison without charge or trial. His family was not permitted to visit him throughout the time of his detention.
Sarsak was eventually released in July 2012 after he refused food for 90 days to protest his detention.
Since then, he has been campaigning to expose the impact of Israel’s policies on Palestinian sports.