This letter was sent to the England U 19 squad which will be playing in the UEFA competition finals in July in Israel.
“I am writing to you because you have been involved in recent Under 19 matches and, therefore, may be in the English Women’s U-19 football squad which will play in the finals in Israel in July 2015. Firstly we would like to congratulate you and fellow players in reaching the finals and wish you every success in the tournament.
Although there have recently been encouraging signs, generally the development, funding and profile of women’s sport in this country has not matched that of men’s. You will be more than aware that this is particularly true of women’s football. However the opportunities available to women footballers in this country are considerable when compared with all footballers in Palestine. Imagine what it would be like if several members of your club squad were prevented from travelling to a match in another part of the country or the playing and training facilities available to you were bombed and not restored. This is the situation facing footballers in Palestine and is caused by Israel’s ruthlessly oppressive occupation during that last fifty years. This causes immense suffering to the Palestinian people and is judged illegal by the United Nations.
This situation has had a severe impact on Palestinian footballers. The Palestinian Football Association has highlighted five specific abuses by Israelis affecting players in Palestine, otherwise known as the Occupied Palestinian Territories, comprising the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem:-
- Restriction on movement of officials, players and officials. For example, several players were prevented from travelling abroad with their team mates when Palestine played in the Peace cup in September 2014 in the Philippines as well as the finals of the Asian Cup in January 2015 in Australia. Domestically, delays at road blocks mean travel to away games can take two days. Visitors also suffer: a Jordanian referee was humiliated by being blindfolded and force to kneel in the road at the border.
- Restrictions on the development of infrastructure including stadiums and practice facilities. One of FIFA’s Goal projects involving the building of a new stadium was stopped.
- Restrictions on shipments into the country of equipment. High import taxes are also imposed.
- Severe human rights abuses including the killing, detention and imprisonment of footballers without trial. For example, star player Mahmoud Sarsak was imprisoned for three years without charge and was only released when his hunger strike generated support by FIFA, UEFA and international stars.
You can find more information about Palestinian football and the issues it faces by logging on to the Palestinian website; http://xssportpal.blogspot.co.uk/
Palestinians also make up 20% of Israel’s population. In Israel racist abuse is often directed at Palestinian and Muslim footballers. This type of abuse would probably result in legal action in Britain but the Israeli Football Association has failed to act. Examples of this racism include:-
- The racist fans at Beitar Jerusalem FC shout “death to Arabs” and once set fire to club facilities when two Chechen Muslims were signed. Team coach Guy Levi recently restated the club current ban on hiring Arabs, drawing censure from Israel’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.
- the Israeli FA has racially segregated Israel’s national children’s league in the Al Shomoron region of the country – legal proceedings are ongoing
In 2013 there was outrage when the finals of the UEFA Men’s U-21 tournament were held in Israel. Many people felt that, by rewarding the Israeli government’s openly racist policies towards the Palestinians, UEFA compromised its commitment to end racism in football. It is, therefore, very disappointing that Israel was been awarded the finals of another international tournament- the Women’s Under 19 finals.
We would be grateful if you could discuss this issue with your team mates and coaches, highlighting UEFA’s inconsistency, and consider what assistance the England U19 team could give to Palestinian football. Could you, for instance, visit Bethlehem or Hebron and offer to play a friendly match and provide some coaching opportunities, or take a one or two day tour of the West Bank and see the truth of the repressive occupation that Palestinians suffer? We can advise on such a trip and put you in touch with local football organisations.
Once again we wish you loads of luck with the tournament. If you would like more information about football in Palestine or further advice how you can support Palestinian football please use the contact capability at http://rcir.org.uk