How the World Cup will highlight Israel’s blockade of Gaza

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Palestinian soccer player, Gazan, led a 15-year-long blockade of Israel, which has limited freedom of movement.

Gaza City Palestinian footballer Fadi Jaber was overjoyed when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

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A 32-year-old professional footballer at a local club in the besieged Gaza Strip, Jaber began his playing career at a young age before becoming a member of the Palestinian national team.

“It was a wonderful moment, the first time an Arab country would host the World Cup,” Fadi told Al Jazeera.


“At the time, my fellow footballers and I were thrilled. We were hoping that we would be there and take part in the World Cup or even be able to take part in it. ,

But Jaber and his colleagues knew it would be difficult, not because of football but because of Israel’s travel ban.

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Israel’s 15-year-old blockade, which restricts the right of Palestinians to travel freely in the Gaza Strip, has made the idea of ​​going anywhere unattainable.

Enforced in 2007, the Israeli blockade has been a major obstacle for more than two million Gazans facing strict restrictions on their movement, with human rights organizations describing the poor enclave as the world’s largest open-air prison. .

“People in Gaza have difficulty traveling, whether via Rafa crossing” [run by Egypt] or erez crossing [run by Israel].” added Fadi. Erez is the Israeli name for the crossing otherwise known to Palestinians as Beit Hanun.

“Travelling to attend the World Cup is a luxury here. People in Gaza consider travel to be something of an urgent necessity and it is not as common as in other countries. ,

Jaber was keen to participate in the World Cup in Qatar since the tournament was awarded to the Gulf nation in 2010. [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Qatar World Cup will start from November 20. As the first football World Cup to be held in the Middle East, it has become an eagerly awaited event for most Arabs in the region, including Gaza.

Israel’s restrictions on travel movement from Gaza also cast a shadow on the sporting world, including football players who face difficulties moving between the occupied West Bank and Gaza while traveling to participate in football tournaments. You need to travel outside Gaza.

Due to the blockade, Jaber and his national team colleagues have been unable to participate in local, regional and continental championships. “As a footballer in the Palestinian national team, I cannot go to the West Bank to participate in local and Arab tournaments,” Jaber said.

“My teammates and I always lament the missed opportunities that could have changed our lives as footballers.

“Palestinian footballers from Gaza are oppressed. We are part of the Palestinian people, and we are subject to the sanctions that Israel imposes against us. ,

Although football’s world governing body, FIFA, has always insisted that a safe environment should be provided for its international fans and players to move and travel, the Palestinians say that it is not the case for their national team. was not.

Jaber believes that FIFA has not done enough to encourage Palestinian footballers from Gaza to facilitate their careers and travel to Qatar for the World Cup.

“Israel does not comply with any human rights or international organizations including FIFA,” he said.

‘Global defiance’

Footballer Ala Attiya, 32, told Al Jazeera that there is a “global disregard” for the condition of Palestinian football players and fans of the Gaza Strip.

“Israeli footballers can easily travel all over the world. They have complete freedom of travel whereas Palestinian players are completely deprived.

Last June, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Sports Minister Chile Tropper announced that Israel would be able to participate in World Cup matches in Qatar.

Atti.  start over
Ala Attiya says there is ‘global defiance’ for Palestinian cause [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

The ministers said the deal came after months of talks with FIFA, saying it would open “a new door” to a country with which Israel does not currently have formal diplomatic relations.

“It is sad that we have been denied easy travel to an Arab country, while those who are occupying our land have been given a free chance,” Attiya said.

“As football players, we do not mix politics with sport, but the case is different for Palestinian players.

“What is our fault that we cannot attend the World Cup in Qatar? We hope that this matter will be reviewed and people in Gaza will be facilitated for their right to travel. ,

Attia agreed with Jaber that FIFA had put pressure on Israel more than once but to no avail. He said the governing body did not make enough efforts to pressure Israel to allow Palestinians to travel freely.

“I do not understand why FIFA disregarded the right of Palestinian players from Gaza to travel and participate in international tournaments. Why does it disregard our right to facilitate travel to Qatar?

“This is completely unfair and contrary to the principles that FIFA claims. It is a daunting feeling to watch the whole world march towards the World Cup in Qatar, and because of the restrictions imposed on us in Gaza, we find ourselves deprived of this opportunity. ,

‘Excellent exception’

With a notable exception, Ahmed Owais, 60, a retired school principal, is planning to travel to Qatar for the World Cup.

“I decided I would go to the Qatar World Cup after winning the bid in 2010,” Owais told Al Jazeera.

“I never thought before participating in the World Cup in other countries and was more encouraged that I would be retired and without work commitments.”

Owais says he wants to visit Qatar because it is an Arab country with a strong international, global and sporting presence, and supports the Palestinian cause.

“It is true that attending the World Cup is a luxury, but the difference in the Gaza Strip is that even those who have the financial possibility to leave and travel cannot do so because of the many restrictions placed on crossings.

“It is exciting to be close to the players you love and in the midst of the crowd. For the first time, I’m seeing things the camera doesn’t show. It’s totally different.

“I hope there will be an opportunity for professional athletes in the Gaza Strip, like in the West Bank, and football teams can move between the two locations easily.”

Ahmed Owaisi
Retired school principal Ahmed Owais to travel to Qatar for World Cup [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Owais recalled the difficulties faced by the national teams moving between the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

“If the Rafa team, for example, goes to the West Bank, some of them are denied a permit, and if the Hebron team comes to Gaza, some of them are also denied a permit.”

In the past, FIFA has stated that it will “continue to facilitate the movement of players, officials and football equipment within, outside and within Palestine”.

However, following a complaint by the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), FIFA President Gianni Infantino said: “These areas are a matter of concern to international public law authorities and FIFA has to remain neutral”.

The PFA complained that Israel’s blockade disrupted its activities, including restricting players’ movements and banning some international travel.

According to the Reuters news agency, Israel has cited security concerns for its actions and the Israeli FA says it is not responsible for its government’s actions.

FIFA turns a blind eye

But Euro-Mediterranean Observer regional director Rami Abdu told Al Jazeera that FIFA has “put great pressure on many governments to always urge them to adhere to human rights standards”.

“FIFA put pressure on Iran to allow women to participate in football matches, and the recent suspension of Russian clubs,” he said.

Yet he says FIFA has “turned a blind eye” to Israel’s violations, which are not only limited to the political and humanitarian realm but to the sports arena as well.

“Israel has repeatedly hindered the conduct of Palestine’s final matches by blocking the movement of Palestinian footballers between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“Now, residents of the Gaza Strip will be unable to travel through the Israel-controlled Erez Crossing to attend World Cup matches in Qatar, reinforcing the fact that the 15-year-old Israeli blockade is affecting all aspects of Palestinians’ daily lives. suffocates. That bandage.”

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