Occupied: Headlines From Palestine

Blogging From Gaza, Palestine

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Palestine Football Association Denies Voting For Blatter

GAZA CITY – The Palestinian Football Association on Saturday denied reports that its head, Jibril Rajoub, had voted for Sepp Blatter in the election of the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) on Friday.

It said in a statement that Rajoub had officially announced his backing of Blatter’s rival in the election, Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, the head of the Jordanian Football Association.

“Rajoub proved this backing by voting for al-Hussein,” the association said.

It underlined the depth of relations between the Palestinian and Jordanian peoples, lashing out at what it described as campaigns aiming at sowing tension between Jordanians and Palestinians.

On Friday, Blatter was re-elected FIFA President amid corruption charges at the top of football’s world governing body.

The 79-year-old Swiss competed against al-Hussein, 39 and FIFA vice-president, in the presidential election at the 65th FIFA Congress held in Zurich, Switzerland.

Al-Hussein received 73 votes, while Blatter received 133 votes in the first round.

With neither candidate achieving a two-thirds majority, the election was to go into a second round. However, al-Hussein announced his withdrawal before the second round began, giving Blatter his fifth election victory as FIFA President.

Blatter, at the helm of FIFA for 17 years, will preside over the organization for four more years.

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/palestine-football-association-denies-voting-blatter-1463081327#sthash.TTwxWKGA.dpuf

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Palestinians Refuse To Back Down On Israel FIFA Vote

ZURICH (AFP) — Palestine’s football chief on Wednesday continued his refusal to back down on a threatened vote to suspend Israel from football’s governing body after talks with increasingly desperate FIFA president Sepp Blatter.”Nothing has changed, the vote is still on the agenda,” Palestinian Football Association president Jibril Rajoub told AFP after the meeting with Blatter and as the countdown to Friday’s vote gathered pace.

“The meeting lasted about one hour, there were no results,” Rajoub said.Palestine, which has been a FIFA member since 1998, wants the governing body to suspend Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players, and opposes the participation in the Israeli championships of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, illegal under international law.

The vote is scheduled for Friday and needs a simple majority of over 50% of the 209 members to succeed.Blatter has been lobbying furiously to try to avoid the vote, travelling to the Middle East last week to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and president Mahmoud Abbas.Blatter strongly opposes the vote saying it brings politics into football and that Israel has not breached FIFA’s statutes.Israel Football Association President Ofer Eini was not in Wednesday’s meeting and his delegation did not say whether contacts with Blatter or Rajoub were planned.Arab delegations at a Confederation of African Football meeting walked out when Eini addressed the confederation in a Zurich hotel.Rajoub said he opposed the protest and the Arab delegations should have stayed.

Players a ‘security question’

Blatter’s main talks have been with Rajoub and Israel Football Association President Ofer Eini who says restrictions on Palestinian players are a security question.Eini appealed to UEFA president Michel Platini to speak against the Palestinian bid last week.”IFA is facing one of its most crucial situations since it was established in the year 1928, finding ourselves in the need to defend ourselves against a proposal which is totally political and has nothing to do with the objectives of FIFA and the spirit of football,” Eini wrote.While Eini fights for the separation of politics and football, the routine restrictions placed on Palestinian players by Israeli authorities under the pretext of security has long hindered the Palestinian National Football team’s abilities to play.Including rare instances for holding home games, players residing in the Gaza Strip are generally barred from traveling to the West Bank for practices, and others at times detained during football-related travel. Players have reported that shipments of sports equipment are often delayed at Israeli checkpoints, sometimes never making it onto the field.Member of the Palestinian National Football team Roberto Kettlun told Ma’an that restrictions on movement and racism against players are among the most pressing constraints facing him and his team members.The national team itself includes several who previously lived outside of occupied Palestine. Due to restrictions and difficulties in obtaining exit visas from Israel for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, players are often drawn from Palestinian diaspora to play for the national team.”I think for tomorrow we have a good chance to do something important…we hope FIFA will stick to their own statues and act according the international resolution passed by the UN in 1967, where it says clearly the territories which belong to the Palestinian Authority,” Kettlun told Ma’an, referring to the participation of teams from illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.Israel has faced international criticism for its policies in regards to PNF players previously, including a widespread boycott of a 2013 championship held in Israel, campaigned by the movement Red Card Israeli Racism and petitioned by human rights leaders such as Desmond Tutu.

UEFA President Michel Platini ignored the boycott however, and the championships were held anyway in June 2013.Despite difficulty, the national team has managed to play worldwide, most recently in the Asia Cup in 2014.The FIFA bid to take place Friday is one of several moves by Palestinian bodies to confront violations committed in ongoing Israeli occupation via international bodies.”Our requests are clear, just and fair: Freedom of movement, end of racism and expulsion of all teams from illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine competing in the Israeli league,” Rajoub said in statement Tuesday.Ma’an staff contributed to this report.

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Israeli Occupation Detains Palestine National Team At Border..Again. #FIFA #RedCard Israel

Vice News

Palestinian National Team player Sameh Maraabah was detained for approximately three hours at the Allenby crossing point by the Israeli border patrol for “security reasons,” according to multiple sources familiar with the matter, before being released at approximately 11 p.m. local time. The Allenby crossing point is the only international border for Palestinians living in the West Bank. The team was on its way to Jordan where they would stay the night before flying to Tunisia for training. Palestine is scheduled to play Saudi Arabia on June 11.

This incident comes mere hours after FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in advance of a resolution at next week’s FIFA Congress to suspend Israel for, among other allegations, restricting Palestinian player movement.

Two days prior, Blatter met with Netanyahu and assured the press he “remain[s] confident that we will find a solution for the benefit of football development ahead of the FIFA Congress.” According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, Blatter informed the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) that Netanyahu promised to ease travel restrictions for Palestinian players and officials, and one source tells VICE Sports that Netanyahu offered everything except for the disbanding of the five settlement teams playing in the Israeli leagues.

Multiple sources confirmed to VICE Sports that PFA President Jibril Rajoub turned down the offer and insisted the resolution go to vote at next week’s FIFA Congress. Maraabah’s detention late Thursday night only reinforces that decision, and, in the eyes of the PFA, undermines Netanyahu’s proposed compromise.

Sameh Maraabah (left). Image via WikiMedia Commons

Israeli-Arab Knesset member Esawi Frej, who belongs to the leftist Meretz party and has served as an intermediary between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority, told VICE Sports: “I am happy that the Israeli authorities made the right decision and let the mind decide, not the heart, to let the international Palestinian team continue on their journey to Jordan. I call on both Palestinians and Israelis in this time to use wisdom and let the sports win, not politics.”

Esawi Frej. Image courtesy of Esawi Frej

This is not the first time Maraabah has been held by Israeli border forces. Maraabah was detained in April of 2014 under suspicion of being a “military activist” after allegedly meeting with members of Hamas’s military wing in Qatar.

According to a Palestinian Football Association spokesman, the PFA has already sent a letter to Blatter informing him of the incident. The letter, obtained by VICE Sports, is re-printed here in full:

Dear President,

Dear Brother

I hope you had the time to rest after your trip to our region and the busy schedule of meetings with both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the Israeli Government’s promise to facilitate the movement of our players is having its first test as I am writing this letter. Our National team, which is heading for Tunisia for a training camp, has been delayed at the Allenby crossing point by the Israeli authorities.

Player Sameh Maraabah has been detained by the Israeli authorities for two hours now, and the team has decided it will not leave without him.

The implications of this incident can only confirm the PFA’s position on the promises given by the Israeli Government; that they are only words unless they are included in solution that can only come through, and be guaranteed by the FIFA congress.

Sincerely Yours

Jibril Rajoub


Palestine Football Association

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Palestine To Ask FIFA To Suspend Israel

The Palestinian Football Association will ask the FIFA Congress in May to suspend Israel, accusing it of continuing to hamper its soccer activities.
Despite efforts by FIFA president Sepp Blatter to ease tensions, the Palestinians remain frustrated at restrictions they say Israel imposes on the movement of their athletes between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Palestinian Football Association also cited curbs Israel places on the import into Palestinian territories of sports equipment and on visits by foreign teams and individuals.
In 2013, Blatter established a task force which included himself, the Israeli and Palestinian soccer chiefs and the heads of the European and Asian soccer confederations to examine the Palestinian complaints and to try to resolve them.
But Palestine Football Association president Jibril Rajoub said he has lost patience, and he has called on FIFA to show Israel “the red card”.
Israel cites security concerns for restrictions it imposes in the West Bank, where the Western-backed Palestinian Authority exercises limited self rule, and along the border with the Hamas Islamist-run Gaza Strip.
But it says it has eased travel for Palestinian athletes between the two territories, which requires passage via Israel.
In December, Rajoub called on FIFA to sanction Israel after Israeli troops entered the offices of the Palestine Football Association. An army spokesman said at the time soldiers were seeking a wanted individual and were not targeting the premises because of its links to soccer.
The Palestinian draft resolution calls for Israel’s suspension because its actions “inhibit our ability to develop the game”.
It also complains about racist behaviour towards Arab players by some Israeli fans. Many Israeli soccer teams from predominantly Jewish towns have Arab players on their books. There are also many teams from Arab communities.
The Palestinian Football Association said Israel was violating international law by including five clubs from Jewish settlements in the West Bank in domestic league play.
Most countries regard settlements Israel has built on land it captured in a 1967 war as illegal.
Reports in the Israeli media this month said UEFA President Michel Platini had urged former Israel Football Association chief Avi Luzon, a member of the UEFA executive committee, to enlist Western diplomatic help to avert possible sanctions.

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Palestine Football Team the Best in Asia for 2014

MANILA, November 30, 2014 (WAFA) – The Palestinian national football team was on Sunday awarded the Best National Team prize in Asia for the year 2014.

The honoring ceremony came on the sideline of the FIFA 60th anniversary celebrations that were held in the Pilipino capital, Manila.

Head of the Palestine Football Federation, Jibril Rajoub, received the prize after Palestine won the Challenge Cup over North Korea’s Football Team for Juniors and Qatar National Team for Youth. The Palestinian national team also qualified for AFC Asian Cup for the first time in history.

The ceremony was attended by President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, as well as other international football figures.


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‘Cinderella’ Palestinian Soccer Team Still Hoping For Fairy-Tale Ending

The Israel-Gaza war may be over for now, but its effects are still being felt, even on a soccer field in the faraway Philippines.

By Dan Goldberg


MANILA, Philippines The Palestinian soccer team was the Cinderella story of the sporting world following its against-the-odds victory in the Asian Football Confederation’s Challenge Cup in May. It wasn’t just that it won its first ever international piece of silverware. Or that it did so without conceding a goal in all five matches in The Maldives.

No, the victory on May 31 earned the Palestinians the 16th and final berth to compete in the Asian Cup – the continent’s biggest soccer tournament – in Australia next January.

The team returned home as national heroes, first to Amman, then Jericho, and finally to Ramallah, where tens of thousands thronged the streets before President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed them to the Muqata to celebrate the historic moment.

As a result, the team – led by veteran goalkeeper and captain Ramzi Saleh – jumped to 85th in the FIFA rankings, its highest in history, above rivals Iraq and Qatar, which controversially won the rights to host the 2022 World Cup. (Israel is ranked 68th, but plays internationals in the European federation to separate the warring sides.)

Fast forward three months and one deadly war, when among the dead was Gaza’s Ahed Zaqout, 49, a Palestinian soccer legend.

Palestine’s first match since that victory was in Manila last Wednesday, as part of the Philippine Peace Cup, which also featured Myanmar, Chinese Taipei and the host nation.

On paper, Palestine should have been favorite to win the Peace Cup, having defeated Myanmar 2-0 in The Maldives and The Philippines 1-0 in the May final.

Except only 14 Palestinian players traveled to The Philippines, instead of the usual 23-man squad. Six were trapped in Gaza, along with assistant coach Saeb Jundiyeh. A Facebook photo from August 2 shows him standing in his bombed-out Gaza apartment, his hands in the air. At his feet was a football alongside the words, “Among the remains of the vindictive rocket. We will achieve miracles in Asian Cup 2015, inshallah.”

The head coach, Jamal Mahmoud – a Palestinian-Jordanian living in Amman – was denied a visa to cross into the West Bank for the pretournament training camp. With no coach or assistant coach, the players arrived in Manila without any preparation.

Most of the players who travelled to The Philippines hail from the West Bank, with one from Sakhnin and another from Umm al-Fahm, both Arab cities within Israel.

From Ramallah, the makeshift team crossed by bus to Jordan, delayed – according to Palestinian officials – because some of the players were held at the Allenby Bridge. From Amman they flew to Dubai, where two other players were held overnight by authorities, while the rest arrived in Manila last Monday, 24 hours after they set off.

The opening match against Myanmar was a disaster, the Palestinians taking a 4-0 hiding before a late consolation goal made the final score 4-1.

“We didn’t play well because we didn’t prepare very well,” Jamal Mahmoud said after the match. “The war can be the reason. You see today the players’ fitness was very low.”

On Saturday, it played Chinese Taipei in the bronze-medal match and came within a whisker of another devastating defeat, having thrown away a two-goal lead – the first goal coming from Javier Mereles, a Palestinian born in Paraguay who was making his debut.

At 3-2 down and with the final whistle seconds away, Abdulhamid Abu Habib, who was born in Gaza, scored a last-gasp equalizer to send the match into extra time.

Even then, Chinese Taipei seemed odds-on to power home, with more substitutes and more stamina.

But the Palestinian team has a track record of defying the odds. Even so, no one expected the final score: 7-3 to Palestine, with a four-goal haul by Hebron-based Ahmed Mahir, earning it the bronze shield.

“We were missing many players. Some in Gaza – because of the war they could not travel,” said team manager Abdallah Alfara after the match.

“This is the first step for Palestine to prepare for the Asian Cup. We are going now to India, Thailand, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, China to play many international friendlies.”

In Australia, it will face Japan (the reigning Asian Cup champion), Iraq (the 2007 champion) and Jordan, in what will be a virtual derby given that many of the Jordanian players and fans have Palestinian heritage.

On the face of it, Palestine is the underdog, the only one of the final 16 to make its debut in the quadrennial tournament.

So long as another conflict does not erupt in Gaza, and assuming it can take a full-strength squad to Australia, its Cinderella story may yet have a sequel.