‘Why is FIFA silent?’: Outraged Palestinians call for Israel football ban

Palestinian football players, officials and fans have censured FIFA for failing to sanction and ban Israel amid its continuing war on Gaza, where more than 31,000 people, including 13,000 children, have been killed according to health officials.

The calls from Palestinians and their supporters for the sport’s world governing body to take actoin against Israel have grown in the past months, with comparisons being drawn with its instant and firm stance to ban Russia and Russian football clubs from all international football activities when Russia invaded Ukraine nearly two years ago.

Russia were strong candidates in the playoffs for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, but were directly eliminated by FIFA after the invasion, a decision upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

However, nearly six months into the war in Gaza, FIFA has remained tight-lipped and Israel is set to play Iceland in the first leg of their Euro 2024 qualifier. Because of the conflict, Israel’s home leg of the tie has been permitted to be played on neutral ground in Budapest, Hungary.

FIFA has acknowledged receiving Al Jazeera’s requests for comment but has failed to respond to the queries.

The fact that the game is going ahead has also drawn questions from Iceland’s coach, Age Hareide, who fears repercussions for Iceland should they refuse to partake.

“I would hesitate to play Israel because of what is going on in Gaza and because of what they have done to women, children and other innocent citizens. It shouldn’t be done, and we shouldn’t be playing this game if you ask me,” Hareide, a Norwegian, told PressTV.

“It’s very, very difficult, and it’s difficult for me to have to stop thinking about these images that we see every day.

“If we don’t play, we will be banned and risk further punishment by not playing another member nation.”

INTERACTIVE - Scale of destruction across Gaza-1707213623
[Al Jazeera]

‘Appalled, disappointed and outraged’

Palestinian international footballer Mohammed Balah questioned FIFA’s fairness in its “humanitarian and equality campaigns” while continuing to side-step the war in Gaza.

“These campaigns are exposing FIFA’s hypocrisy,” Balah told Al Jazeera in Gaza, where he continues to seek safety amid the Israeli attacks on the enclave.

Balah has relocated on several occasions, remains malnourished and has no means to leave the war-stricken strip to join his football club in Jordan.

“FIFA swiftly banned Russia, but why is FIFA still silent [on Israel]? I wish all players and officials would support us during this genocide,” he said.

Many Palestinian players, fans and managers have been killed and injured in Israeli air raids, including Palestinian national team and Beit Hanoon Club star Rasheed Daboor, who was killed in his home.

Zwayda Youth club’s goalkeeper Basel Meshmesh also was killed in an Israeli air raid along with 58 members of his family. Most recently, celebrated forward Mohammed Barakat was killed when Israeli bombs destroyed in his house in Rafah, in Gaza’s south.

Sobhi Mabrook, manager of Palestinian football club Al-Salah, lost his brother during the war and fears for his own safety, but he did not expect world football officials to speak up for Gaza.

“I am sure they will remain silent, so all I can hope for is a swift end to this war.”

Balah said his heart aches to see players and sports staff being killed, sports facilities being destroyed and football clubs being wiped out.

“Israel destroyed my [Palestinian] club Al-Sadaqa, where I spent 20 years,” he added.

“I am appalled, disappointed and outraged. It’s so heartbreaking.”

‘The world has to look with both eyes to see the truth’

The current war began on October 7, when Hamas carried out attacks on southern Israel, killing 1,139 people. However, Palestinian footballers have long faced trouble in leaving the beseiged strip to be part of the national team.

Israel has continued to operate football clubs in the occupied West Bank and its illegal settlements, but FIFA has previously ruled against sanctioning Israel, citing “exceptional complexity and sensitivity” and “political” nature of the subject.

Six Israeli football clubs, based in the occupied territory, have continued to operate while football stadiums and sports facilities across Gaza have either been razed to the ground or used as makeshift internment camps for Palestinians detained by Israeli forces during the current war.

Like Balah, Houssam Wadi has also been unable to join the national team from Gaza.

“It is not the first time we’re being killed, oppressed and subjugated,” he said.

“We have been denied entry at [Israeli] military checkpoints several times.

“Not only that, but we are unable to travel to the occupied West Bank and play the Palestinian Super Cup. Even within our homeland, we are restricted and deprived of our rights.”

Wadi lamented the fact that several Gaza-based footballers cannot leave the war-torn strip but Israel is free to play international football “despite committing countless war crimes”.

For Mohammad Abed, a Palestinian Premier League fan, the reason why his homeland has “always been treated differently” is simple.

“FIFA is a racist and hypocritical body,” he said.

“The world has to look with both eyes to see the truth, not one.”

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