Gaza Championship Football Team Urges Argentina and Uruguay National Teams to Cancel "Friendly" Match in Apartheid Israel
Dear Argentina and Uruguay National Football Teams,
We are writing from the Khadamat Rafah Football Club in Gaza Strip, in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory. As fellow football players, we urge you to refrain from playing a friendly match or engaging in any other activity in Israel as long as it continues to deny our basic human rights.
Our team won the finals of the Gaza Strip Premier League this year. As two of football’s top teams, you know well what winning a championship means to the players as well as the fans. For us, achieving this victory despite enduring the brutally harsh conditions imposed by the Israeli occupation made it all the more extraordinary.
We are part of a community of two million Palestinians in Gaza, living under Israel’s merciless blockade for 12 long years. Israel’s severe restrictions make it nearly impossible for both commercial goods and people to get in or out of Gaza. This means medical supplies are in critically short supply, and patients needing treatment are unable to travel. It means living with just a few hours of electricity per day. Unemployment stands at 50 per cent, 70 per cent among young people. Most of our water is contaminated, 96 per cent is undrinkable.
We have survived three violent Israeli military assaults over the past 10 years, but we lost so many of those dear to our hearts. Israeli shelling of our besieged territory has killed thousands, including hundreds of children, and flattened entire neighborhoods, which cannot be rebuilt due to the ongoing siege.
Our city of Rafah was the site of “Black Friday,” one of the bloodiest attacks during Israel’s 2014 military assault on Gaza. Over just four days, intensive Israeli artillery, tank and aerial shelling killed 255 Palestinians, including 85 children. An Israeli missile struck a United Nations school where over 3,000 Palestinians who had fled their homes sought shelter and safety. The Israeli military absolved itself of any wrongdoing.
For years, the United Nations has predicted that Gaza will be “unlivable” by the year 2020, now just a few months away. But we ask you, what kind of life have we had over the past 12 years?
When tens of thousands in Gaza, led by our young people, decided to rise up against these unbearable conditions in weekly peaceful protests, Israeli snipers took their lives. Israeli army fire has killed over 200 Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza and injured tens of thousands. Among them were athletes with promising careers, including 23-year-old football player Mohammad Khalil Obeid, who filmed himself being shot in both knees by an Israeli sniper. We have a football team of amputees who insist on playing despite their life-changing injuries.
A United Nations Commission of Inquiry found that Israeli soldiers intentionally targeted Palestinians participating in the demonstrations, actions amounting to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
Despite, or perhaps because of, these inhumane conditions, we trained hard, we played hard, and we won the finals in Gaza and our place in the Palestine Cup.
Israel’s ruthless siege has, however, snatched that possibility from our hands. Israel denied travel permits, which are required by its regime of occupation and apartheid, for almost every single player on our team to travel to the occupied Palestinian West Bank for the Palestine Cup.
As championship football players, you can imagine how heartbroken we were. The Cup was delayed indefinitely. We refused to give up. Our team applied once again for permits. After months of waiting, Israel denied permits for all but five players. The 2019 Palestine Cup was canceled. Throughout it all, FIFA remained silent.
And now Israel is working diligently to host a match between two beloved teams in order to help keep its dreadful human rights record on the sidelines. Israel wants to use your worldwide standing to help sports-wash its crimes and bolster its failing image.
We are asking you not to allow that to happen. We are asking you not to allow the beautiful game to be used as cover for gross human rights violations. We are asking you to stand with Palestinian footballers in our struggle for the right to live and play. At the very least, we are asking you to do no harm. Playing in Israel would significantly harm us and our struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
Last year, Argentina canceled a friendly match in Jerusalem, giving hope to all Palestinians. You’ve done this before, please do it again.
Please don’t play this match. Just as in the case of apartheid South Africa, there is nothing friendly about Israeli apartheid.
Alkhadamat Club Rafah