New York Times on settlement clubs: Home Teams Are Israeli, but Turf Is in West Bank

New York Times on settlement clubs:  Home Teams Are Israeli, but Turf Is in West Bank

The New York Times has been the first newspaper to send a reporter to the settlement clubs and has published an article which gives good detail correctly highlights the challenge.    Interestingly it quotes an Israel club leader that there are Palestinian players in the clubs.  This can only be the occasional Palestinian citizen of Israel as West Bankers are banned from entry to settlements unless they’re working there.

The text of the article is below.  The picture above of two Maale Adumim teams is by Uriel Sinai for The New York Times.

MAALE ADUMIM, West Bank — The latest battleground in the age-old struggle between Israelis and Palestinians is a remote patch of green artificial turf surrounded by barren desert hills in a place where dust gathers in the mouth before the afternoon sun begins to set. The home team is down 2-0 in the day’s soccer matchup, straining to mount a sustained offensive. But should it be playing here at all? The question will soon to be taken up thousands of miles away by the international body that governs soccer clubs like the one based in this Jewish community in the West Bank.

Ben Hadad, 25, manages the soccer organization in Maale Adumim, in the Judean Desert east of Jerusalem. Between shouting encouragement to the players and lamenting their setbacks the other day, he complained that politics was crossing the line into sports.  “This disturbs the peace process?” he said, gesturing toward the teenagers racing around the field. “The children?”  But the Palestinians have children, too, and theirs are barred from playing on the field in Maale Adumim and others built on land they consider theirs. And thus a conflict over where Israel officially begins and ends has hit a raw nerve on both sides of the murky line, intensified by athletic fervor and community pride. After all, if nothing else, one thing Israelis and Palestinians share is a passion for soccer.

“Thousands of Palestinian children are being robbed of the chance to play the game they love on the land that’s theirs,” said Fadi Quran, an activist with Avaaz, an advocacy organization that has collected 150,000 petition signatures on the issue.

Fans watched the match on Friday. Credit Uriel Sinai for The New York Times

Given FIFA’s recent scandals, Mr. Quran said, this is an opportunity for its new president, Gianni Infantino, to make a statement.   “If Infantino is serious about bringing fair play back to FIFA, he should start by showing the red card to illegal Israeli settler teams in the West Bank,” Mr. Quran said.

Rotem Kamer, chief executive of the Israel Football Association, said he wanted nothing to do with the argument.  “We are trying to run as far away as we can from this and remind everyone that this is just sports, and sports should serve as a platform on which bridges are built, and certainly not divide people,” he told Israel’s Army Radio. “It is certainly no place for politics, and football is not the place where the border lines of a country should be determined.”  The issue has been percolating for several years and is expected to be addressed at FIFA’s next meeting, from Oct. 13 to 14 in Switzerland. In the past, Palestinians sought to have Israel suspended for a variety of reasons, including restricting the freedom of movement for Palestinian players. But the argument has focused increasingly on the Israeli clubs.

Tokyo Sexwale, a former anti-apartheid leader who was imprisoned in South Africa, leads the FIFA committee that has investigated the situation. He has said he plans to present recommendations for the group’s October meeting, but he has not said what they will be. Israel has been lobbying FIFA to at least postpone the decision so it would not take place the same week as Yom Kippur.  In a recent statement, FIFA gave no indication of what it would do next month. “FIFA will continue its efforts to promote friendly relations between our member associations in accordance with the FIFA statutes and identify feasible solutions for the benefit of the game and everyone involved,” the statement said.  The six clubs identified by Human Rights Watch play in communities like Maale Adumim, which have been built up over time in territory occupied by Israel since its 1967 war with Arab states. The settlements are considered illegal by much of the world.




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