My word: Palestinians, football, fair play and fouls

Being born and raised in Britain doesn’t make me an expert on football, but it gives me a good idea of what is right and wrong on the sports field.

Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub (L) and FIFA President Sepp Blatter (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub (L) and FIFA President Sepp Blatter
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Being born and raised in Britain doesn’t make me an expert on football, but it gives me a good idea of what is right and wrong on the sports field. And what’s going on in this particular part of the world “is not cricket,” as the Brits say. It’s far from fair play.
Proving that whatever they are, they are not good sports, members of the Palestinian Football Association continue to press for Israel’s removal from FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association).
Crying foul is Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian Football Association.
Rajoub, who served time in Israeli prisons for terrorism, is fixed on one goal: getting Israel kicked out of FIFA. A vote to suspend Israel would require a two-thirds majority in the 209-member body at its congress in Zurich on May 29.
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This is not the first time the Palestinians have tried to mix politics and sports, of course. More than 40 years have passed, but Israelis are still traumatized by the hostage- taking and deaths of 11 members of its Olympic team in Munich in 1972.
Maybe I should feel relieved that Rajoub, who is also the chairman of the Palestinian Olympic Committee and refuses to condemn the Munich massacre, is now concentrating his efforts on character assassination and delegitimization of Israel.
“Armed resistance” is still part of his lexicon, however.
Rajoub has a way of playing with minds and words: “We don’t need any more promises, committees or postponements that only serve to prolong our footballers’ suffering. We need actions in order to foster what football should be: a vehicle of peace, not a tool to whitewash occupation and apartheid,” he wrote in an op-ed that appeared on the Guardian website on May 19. Read that last sentence again and weep.
Rajoub clearly understands that football could be a tool for creating peace and goodwill, but that’s not his aim. Any cooperation with Israel – and there is a lot, including the use of Israeli sports facilities for training – is “a tool to whitewash occupation and apartheid,” in his world.
Rajoub’s allegations against Israel, which he has been circulating for the last two years, include the restriction of movement of Palestinian players; preventing the transfer of soccer equipment from Israeli seaports to the Palestinian Authority; the destruction of Palestinian stadiums; preventing Arab teams from countries without formal diplomatic relations with Israel – such as Iraq – from entering the West Bank to play against Palestinian teams; and – the European flavor of the year – the recognition of Jewish teams located in Judea and Samaria, which play under the auspices of the Israel Football Association.
Well, security measures do entail annoying delays, as anyone who has traveled by air in the last 15 years or so is aware. Believe me, Mr. Former Security Prisoner Rajoub, we’d all be happier if we didn’t have to worry about terrorism.
Palestinian soccer stadiums in Gaza would not be destroyed by Israel if they were being used as a place to play football rather than as launching pads for missile attacks and other terrorist activity.
Only in Israel-bashing “civil society” are attempts at security measures considered apartheid while the demand that every last Jew be banned from living in Palestinian- controlled territory is considered conducive to peace.
I don’t know whether to congratulate Rajoub on trying to improve ties with Hamas in Gaza (whose charter still calls for the elimination of Israel, and not just wiping it off the football-playing world map) or to wonder whether this is just a tactical maneuver.
We can assume that playing a dirty game with football is part of a wider strategy of acting against Israel in the UN and discussions about putting Israeli leaders in the dock at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
As The Jerusalem Post’s sports commentator Allon Sinai notes, “Rajoub’s approach to FIFA... has everything to do with his own personal and national political aspirations and very little to do with helping those who in many cases are truly in need.”
The Post’s London correspondent Jerry Lewis this week revealed that one of English soccer’s former top executives, Simon Johnson, is campaigning against the suspension move.
“Even putting this matter to a vote risks bringing a complex and emotive international political conflict on to the floor of the FIFA Congress and to the heart of the international football family. It will doubtless overshadow the Election Congress. Any debate on the matter would be controversial, and, even if the vote to suspend were not to be approved, the unity of the football family at the time of a Congress would be shattered, in a public and controversial manner,” Johnson pointed out.
“During the Balkan conflict, the Afghan and Iraq wars, the Somalia conflict, the civil wars in Sudan and in the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, FIFA has kept itself above politics and has not taken steps that might favor one side or another in a political conflict,” he noted.
The only countries that have been suspended by FIFA are South Africa under the apartheid regime and Yugoslavia under Slobodan Milosevic.
THIS IS not exactly football’s finest hour: Among FIFA President Sepp (Joseph) Blatter’s biggest headaches ahead of his own attempts at being reelected at the FIFA congress in Zurich is the controversy surrounding the decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar (in the heat of summer) in 2022 and the uproar over the conditions of the foreign workers slaving on completing the stadiums and facilities in time.
Talk about human rights infringements: This week the International Federation of Journalists complained that a BBC team invited by the Qatari government to tour the new accommodations for the construction workers was arrested by the authorities and held for two days without charges.
Blatter, visiting the region to try to avert Israel’s suspension coming to a vote, told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday: “Football is nowadays such a strong, strong organization that we should go into a peace situation and not into a fighting situation, and football shall connect people and not divide people... Yes, football is stronger than all the problems there could be. I’m sure we will find a solution.”
But Rajoub was having none of that. “I don’t trust the Israelis,” he told reporters after his meeting with Blatter the next day and hearing details of a series of moves aimed at easing the situation: These would reportedly include giving Palestinian players special identity cards and placing special liaison officials at crossings with Palestinian areas to facilitate movement; and exempting donated equipment from taxation.
I agree with Rajoub on one issue: Some of the fans of Jerusalem’s Beitar FC have crossed the redline with racist rhetoric and acts. It has cost the club many former diehard fans and many points as the Israel Football Association has taken increasingly tougher measures against it.
I wish Rajoub would take similar action.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority continues to sponsor sporting events and venues dedicated to terrorists, including Salah Khalaf, who was behind the Olympic massacre. According to the Palestinian Media Watch NGO, several schools, summer camps and sporting tournaments have been named after Dalal Mughrabi, who participated in the 1978 Coastal Road massacre in which 37 Israelis, 12 of them children, were killed after Mughrabi and her partners hijacked the bus they were traveling in. Abu Jihad, a founder of Fatah whose terrorist credentials include planning the Coastal Road massacre, has a football tournament named in his memory. There was also a football tournament named for Wafa Idris, the first Palestinian female suicide bomber. Not so much a reminder of the sporting spirit as the omnipresent promotion of terrorism.
Israel Football Association Chairman Ofer Eini remained optimistic regarding the FIFA vote, citing the principle that guides many different games (and politicking): It ain’t over till it’s over.
Blatter, desperately seeking a way to prevent the matter from being raised at the May 29 congress, has reportedly proposed holding a friendly match between the Israeli and Palestinian national teams at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
I doubt that his concept of a “friendly match” is the same as Rajoub’s.
Rajoub said he “likes the idea” but it can’t take place without preparing the environment.
Judging by the photos of Palestinian youths holding symbolic red cards to “apartheid Israel” to protest the meeting between Rajoub and Blatter, his idea of preparing the ground consists of educating another generation in hatred.
Rajoub is playing a dangerous double game: On the field, he pretends to be a sportsman and dribbles the ball; off the field, he pretends to be a man of peace while frothing at the mouth.