Op-Ed by the head of the Palestine Football Association (PFA) Gen. Jibril Rajoub published on May 19, 2015 in The Guardian.
Just over a year ago, the world watched as AC Milan footballer Mario Balotelli shed tears during a match, following repeated racist insults. The photographs were published by newspapers worldwide and Fifa was caught between club rivalry and race relations. Balotelli’s experience, however, sparked Fifa into delving deeper into sanctions regarding racism in football – but even such willingness to tackle one of the core issues facing Fifa today has been exclusionary in and of itself.
Not long ago, Fifa president Sepp Blatter – who is on a visit to Israel/Palestine today and tomorrow – called for tougher sanctions in regard to racism within football. “We have to use our rules to suspend teams, to take away their points or even to relegate them if racism continues,” he said. He added that individual sanctions weren’t enough – that it is necessary to ban football clubs in violation of racism and discrimination from competitions altogether, as a way to ensure their adherence to Fifa standards.
We need actions in order to foster what football should be: a vehicle of peace, not a tool to whitewash occupation
One Fifa statute specifically comes to mind: “Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”
While Israel continues to participate in Fifa matches internationally with impunity, Palestinian football players have been shot and arrested, our football association raided by Israeli army forces, our clubs more often than not forbidden from bringing players, coaches or even materials from abroad, just as the restriction of movement imposed on our players and technical staff, within, from and to Palestine have turned the game into a real act of resistance.
Participation of a Palestinian or Muslim during a match against Beitar Jerusalem has been met with chants of “Death to Arabs” from the stands, the crowd encouraged by the failure of the IFA to properly sanction the club for its fans’ behaviour. This failure has enabled Beitar to remain a sanctuary for racism in Israel. Its fans raise banners such as “Beitar forever pure” against the hiring of any Arab players (20% of Israel’s citizens are Palestinians), and beat up Palestinians, including women and children, with neither the Israel FA or Uefa taking adequate steps to end racism in the Israeli league. On the contrary, Uefa rewarded Israel with the U21 European championship– a move Palestinians believe is a political tool to whitewash the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
If Fifa is willing to follow its own norms, there can be no question that Palestinians have the right to play. When the Israel FA could no longer exclude us from joining Fifa, they simply continued their policy to fully align with their government’s position against the right of the Palestinian people of self-determination. “[T]he Palestine Football Association must operate through the formal channels of the state of Israel,” a letter from the Israel FA to Fifa stated in 2013. Palestine’s response: “Each member shall manage its affairs independently and with no influence from third parties [article 17-1, Fifa statute].”
The Israel FA not only remains silent when attacks against Palestinian sports are committed, but is complicit with the occupation, having accepted five teams from Israeli settlements internationally recognised as illegal under international law. This is also illegal under the Fifa charter, though Israel continues to be treated differently.
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.
As head of the Palestine FA, I have faced my share of restrictions and attacks at the hands of Israel, the settler-colonial occupying power determined to strip Palestinians of even our basic right to play. Everyone involved knows full well that, despite everything, we have been willing to resolve this issue without having to go to Fifa’s general assembly. We have asked other confederations to interfere just as we gave a chance to the Israeli federation to solve the matter bilaterally, but nothing was solved. The Israeli federation has chosen to be a vehicle to legitimise racism and colonisation rather than one representing Fifa values.
In response to President Blatter’s recent remarks to the Confederation of African Football Congress, we ask Fifa to act accordingly by suspending Israel’s membership from Fifa until it respects the values and principles that Fifa promotes and stands for.