Britain refuses visas to Palestinian soccer team

Players of U-19 squad told decision made out of fear that they might not return home to Gaza.

karni crossing 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
karni crossing 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Britain this week refused entry visas to a team of Palestinian soccer players who were scheduled to play exhibition games across the UK. The decision came days before the Palestinian Under-19 team was due to arrive for a three-week tournament, with the opening game against Chester City set for next Thursday. Other games were scheduled against Tranmere Rovers on September 4 and Blackburn Rovers on September 8. The players were told the visas were blocked because of a perceived risk they would not return home to Gaza, the BBC reported. According to the British Consulate in Jerusalem, the team's visa applications were rejected "after every member failed to meet entry criteria," the report stated. The ban has been criticized by War On Want, a charity based in London that is under investigation by the UK Charity Commission for allegedly violating its charity status for political campaigning. It was "hypocrisy" for the UK to deny entry to the Palestinian team but to allow the Israeli national squad entry to play England in London on September 8 in a Euro 2008 qualifier, War on Want said. "The refusal stands in marked contrast to the welcome given the Israeli national team, due to play England at Wembley on 8 September. This is despite calls for that match to be canceled in protest of continuing Israeli assaults on Palestinian towns, including the bombing of the national football stadium," said the charity. On March 31, 2006, IDF artillery shells left a large crater in the center of the field at Gaza's National Stadium, in response to Kassam rocket attacks. Those attacks included one rocket that landed on a soccer field at Kibbutz Karmiya, south of Ashkelon, the day before. The IDF acknowledged that the stadium was targeted to "send a strong message to the Palestinian people against terrorism. Knowing the stadium was unpopulated, artillery fire from Israel was fired directly at it," the IDF Spokesman said. The tour's organizer, Rod Cox, who works for an organization based in Chester that arranges such exchange visits, also said the ruling was unfair. "Here's a bunch of kids who've worked their entire life to be selected to be the 22 best players and to play for their national team. What is the point of all that work if you're told: 'Yes, everybody else can go and compete in England, but you can't,'" Cox said.