No Fair Play in Apartheid Israel. Palestinian Clubs Urge International Teams to Cancel Matches.
Balata Youth Center, whose 16-year-old player Saeed Odeh was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers last year, and the Palestine Amputee Football Association, made up of players who lost limbs to Israeli snipers and military assaults on Gaza, urge international teams not to play in apartheid Israel.
Dear Spanish Football Federation, Uruguayan Football Association, Paris Saint-Germain F.C., FC Nantes, AS Roma, Tottenham Hotspur F.C., Juventus F.C., and Club Atlético de Madrid, S. A. D. players, management and staff,
We write to you as Palestinian football clubs from the occupied Palestinian West Bank and besieged Gaza. We understand that you are planning “friendly” or other matches or World Cup training in apartheid Israel in the coming months. We urge you, in the spirit of the values that underlie the beautiful game, not to play or train in apartheid Israel.
There is nothing quite like the sense of freedom that we feel while racing down the pitch or the sense of euphoria when we win a match.
These moments of pure joy are far too brief and interrupted when we are forced to face the reality of our lives under what we know as, and what Amnesty International has documented as, Israeli apartheid and a “cruel system of domination.”
Our players are shot and killed by Israeli soldiers, including, 16-year-old Saeed Odeh, 19-year-old Mohammad Ghneim, 18-year-old Thaer Yazouri, and 14-year old Zaid Ghneim, in the past year alone. Our athletes’ careers are ended after being maimed by Israeli soldiers, such as 23-year-old Mohammed Khalil from Gaza who was shot in both knees. Gaza has several teams made up of amputees who have lost limbs to Israeli sniper bullets and military assaults. Our stadiums are destroyed by Israeli bombs. Our players are arrested and held in Israeli prisons without charge. Armed Israeli soldiers raid our pitches and fire tear gas during matches, even of youth leagues. Israel hinders our import of sports equipment.
It is important to note that while the Israel Football Association includes within its leagues teams in illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land, we are prevented by Israeli military checkpoints from traveling for training or for matches on our land.
Even our beloved Palestine Cup has been repeatedly delayed and even blocked altogether because Israel wouldn’t allow footballers from the two winning clubs to travel within our own land to play the match. Just think about that for a moment. These teams overcame the seemingly insurmountable challenges posed by Israel’s regime of military occupation and apartheid to rise to the top of their leagues, only to be prevented from playing the final championship by the same regime that oppresses them.
We speak from a football perspective, but what we experience is also the reality of millions of Palestinians who live under the brutal violence of Israel’s apartheid regime.
The same day that Israeli soldiers shot footballer Thaer Yazouri, they also shot and killed renowned Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The soldiers then brutally attacked pallbearers and mourners at her funeral, an act of brutality condemned by Catholic and other Christian leaders in Palestine.
Israel, just like other oppressive regimes, proposes these friendly matches and invites teams for World Cup training because it knows they are a golden opportunity to sportswash its apartheid regime. Apartheid South Africa had also done a lot of sportswashing in its days. Sporting events with celebrated teams such as yours help provide apartheid Israel with the cover it needs to continue its prolonged brutal oppression of all Palestinians, including footballers, with impunity.
In a recent interview, AS Roma coach José Mourinho responded to a question about Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and measures taken to protest it by recalling other wars taking place across the globe, including Israel’s attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. He said one of the main questions on his mind is what we can do about it.
Here’s one thing all of you can do, including any teams considering invitations to Israel. Your clubs are in a unique position to help us isolate apartheid Israel until it respects our fundamental rights, just as was done in the case of apartheid South Africa, by refusing to play or train in apartheid Israel.
We urge you to join the unprecedented number of active footballers, teams and athletes who are standing on the right side of history and refusing to sportswash Israeli apartheid.
Our fellow players who have been killed, maimed, arrested, and denied even the right to play by Israel are forever in our hearts. It is for them, and Palestinians young and old who continue to dream, that we can’t and won’t stay silent.
There’s absolutely nothing “friendly” about Israel killing young footballers and oppressing millions. Please don’t play or train in apartheid Israel.
Balata Youth Center
Palestine Amputee Football Association