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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 Press For FIFA Ban On Israel

JERUSALEM (AFP) — The Palestinian Football Association vowed Sunday to push ahead with efforts to have Israel suspended from FIFA following joint talks with the world football body’s president Sepp Blatter in Zurich.

But both sides agreed to continue talking with Blatter, who announced plans to visit the region for top-level talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas on the issue ahead of the upcoming FIFA Congress, in Zurich on May 29.

News of the visit was announced by Blatter on Sunday as he met with Israel Football Association chief Ofer Eini and his Palestinian counterpart Jibril Rajoub.FIFA said the main purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Palestinian FA’s request to suspend their Israeli counterparts at the upcoming FIFA congress which starts on May 28.But the Palestinians said there had been no progress at the meeting, adding they would not be deterred from efforts to have Israel suspended.

“It is clear that the Israeli Football Association is not willing to recognize the PFA as a federation with equal rights and obligations, just as they continue to violate their commitments made before FIFA,” Rajoub said in a statement.”We are therefore determined to continue our path to suspend the Israeli Football Association during the next FIFA Congress.”

Palestine, which has been a member of FIFA since 1998, is currently pressuring world football’s governing body to bar Israel from international competition over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players.It is also protesting the participation in the Israeli national championships of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The clubs play in the third and fourth divisions.The Palestinians want the matter put to a vote at the annual FIFA Congress where it will only pass if it gets the support three-quarters of the 209 member federations. In a statement, the IFA said the parties discussed “various possibilities for cancelling the Palestinian request to hold a vote on Israel’s suspension at the upcoming congress,” with Eini saying he was “a little more optimistic” after the talks.

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Israeli Football Club Ordered To Retract Racist Ban On Arab (And Palestinian) Players

Beitar soccer club ordered to retract coach’s ban on Arab players

Coach Guy Levi said Arab players would ‘create unnecessary tension’ in team.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has demanded that the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team retract statements the team’s coach made against Arab players joining the team. In a letter this week to the team’s owner, Eli Tabib, National Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Tziona Koenig-Yair spoke out against remarks made by Beitar coach Guy Levi on Radio 102.

Levi said: “It doesn’t matter that this is the right time; it would create tension and cause much greater damage. I won’t find any player from the Arab sector who would want to. Even if there was a player who suited me professionally, I wouldn’t bring him, because it would create unnecessary tension.”

Levi’s remarks constituted “suspicion of racism in contravention of the law prohibiting discrimination based on nationality, among other things in acceptance to employment,” Koenig-Yair wrote.

The commissioner also noted that after the last time the commission approached Beitar Jerusalem, following similar remarks two years ago by its coach at the time, Haim Revivo, the soccer club called a press conference in which it called on its fans to fight racism and stated that if a suitable Arab player is found, he would be hired for the team. Yet Beitar Jerusalem remains the only top-tier soccer team in Israel never to have fielded an Arab player.

“The remarks of the current coach show that the ways of the team go completely against its declaration at that press conference and that ostensibly it maintains a policy of discrimination in a context of nationality and religion,” Koenig-Yair wrote.

The letter from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to Beitar followed a letter to the commission from the Coalition Against Racism in Israel, an umbrella group of Jewish and Arab organizations. The commission wrote that because of the attention in the media to the Beitar coach’s remarks, “it is of the greatest importance that the club be judged to the full extent of the law, because refraining from doing so could turn a statement and policy of this type into the norm in Israel.”


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Israeli Occupation Football Body to Discipline Only Palestinian Team Playing in Israel

JERUSALEM (AFP) — The Israel Football Association said Monday it is to take disciplinary measures against an Arab club in the Premier League over a tribute it paid to a fugitive former MP.

The IFA said it had “decided to take disciplinary action against Bnei Sakhnin” after the club paid tribute to those who had helped secure a Qatari donation to build its home ground, Doha Stadium.

Bnei Sakhnin is the Premier League’s only Arab-Israeli club and its state-of-the-art football stadium and sports complex was built with millions of dollars in donations from Qatar in 2005.

Among those honored at the ceremony, which took place before a match against HaPoel Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, was Azmi Bishara, a former MP who fled Israel in 2007 after being accused of collaborating with Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Bishara, who comes from the northern Arab city of Nazareth and now lives in Qatar, has repeatedly denied the allegations which accused him of advising Hezbollah during its 34-day war with Israel in 2006.

The ceremony triggered a furious response from several Israeli cabinet ministers who called for the team to be punished.

Premier League chief Oren Hasson also wrote a letter of complaint to the IFA, a copy of which was seen by AFP, saying the club had failed to inform the league about the nature of the ceremony.

The IFA said the club had violated two of its regulations, and was guilty of “unbecoming conduct” and of taking a stance, while on the pitch, on disputed political and public issues.

The allegations will be examined at a hearing on Wednesday, the association said in a statement.

Disciplinary offences can result in measures ranging from a warning to a monetary fine, losing points or even demotion from the league, IFA regulations state.

There was no immediate response from the club.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, known for his virulent anti-Arab diatribes and who, in 2006, called for Bishara to face the death penalty over the Hezbollah allegations, lashed out at the club.

“When a football team in the Israeli league thanks Azmi Bishara, who is suspected of spying and aiding Hezbollah … strong measures should be taken against it,” he wrote on Facebook.

Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat also slammed the tribute as “crossing a red line,” saying the IFA should take “strict measures against the team,” the top-selling Yedioth Aharonoth reported on Sunday.

But Bnei Sakhnin chairman Mohammed Abu Yunes played down the incident.

“A big fuss is being made out of nothing,” he told the paper.

“We just wanted to thank the people who helped us raise money to support the team. What do they want from us? The establishment doesn’t give us money so why shouldn’t we raise money overseas?”

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Headlines From Palestine: October 7, 2014

Action Alert:

Caliber 3 uses images of Palestinians as target practice Al Jazeera

Caliber 3 uses images of Palestinians as target practice Al Jazeera

Remove listing for Caliber 3 located in an illegal settlement in the West Bank.

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Ma'an Images

Ma’an Images

Palestinian Government Approves Proposal To Reconstruct Gaza

The Palestinian Authority has approved a proposal presented by the Gaza reconstruction committee, the deputy prime minister and head of the committee said Monday.

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Hamas calls on Palestinians to welcome PM Hamdallah to Gaza

Senior Hamas leader Ahmed Yousef late Monday called on Palestinians in Gaza to welcome Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and the unity government cabinet to the Strip on Thursday.

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West Bank and Occupied Lands

Ma'an Images

Ma’an Images

Settlers Chop Down Dozens of Olive Trees Near Nablus

Israeli settlers on Monday chopped down dozens of olive trees on Palestinian agricultural lands in the Nablus district, an official said.

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Israeli Occupation Police Announce Extensive Road Closure in Jerusalem ahead of Formula 1 Racing

Israeli police announced Monday that there would be extensive road closures in Jerusalem ahead of Formula 1 Racing.

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Bulgaria Condemns Israeli Settlement Plans, Confirms Attending Gaza Reconstruction Conference

A high-ranking Bulgarian official condemned Monday new Israeli settlement plans and confirmed that his country would attend the Gaza reconstruction conference.

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French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Says Paris May Recognize Palestine ‘At Some Point’

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal has indicated that Paris may “at some point” recognize the Palestinian state, local media reported Monday.

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UK Deplores Israeli Government Settlement Decision

UK deplores Israeli government decision to advance plans for settlement units in Givat Hamatos and urges them to reverse decision.

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White House Jabs Netanyahu Over ‘American Values’ Critique

The White House delivered a public rebuke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, after he said US criticism of Israeli settlement building ran counter to “American values.”

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Israeli Occupation Buses Will Once Again Feature Women’s Photos

Israel’s biggest public bus service provider, Egged, will reinstate ads featuring pictures of women on its Jerusalem buses, after taking them down under pressure from ultra-religious Jews

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Football: Palestine Beats India  3-2

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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.