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HRW: FIFA decides to continue 'sponsoring games on stolen (Palestinian) land'

May 11, 2017 9:11 P.M. (Updated: May 16, 2017 4:59 P.M.)
Ahli Al-Khalil football club's players take part in a training session on April 24, 2015 in the West Bank town of Hebron � AFP/File Hazem Bader
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the cancellation of a vote at FIFA’s conference in the Bahraini capital of Manama on Thursday, which was expected to decide on whether the participation of six Israeli football teams located on illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank would be permitted to hold games on Palestinian territory, saying that the international football association had decided to continue “sponsoring games on stolen land.”

The congress was scheduled to hold a final vote on a Palestinian resolution to prohibit FIFA games from being played on Israeli settlements -- constructed on occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law.

HRW, along with other organizations, called for FIFA to ban the Israeli Football Association (IFA) from “organizing football activities” on Palestinian land, and reiterated the illegality of Israel’s settlements scattered across the territory in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into the territory it occupies, and thus making such actions a war crime.

The issue has remained a central concern for the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) and in May 2015 the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine, headed by Tokyo Sexwale, was formed. The committee was responsible for addressing Israeli restrictions on movement experienced by Palestinian players and the legality of Israeli teams based in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

According to Al Jazeera, the committee’s mandate was only to be active until May. However, FIFA president Gianni Infantino intervened in the conference on Thursday and presented a proposal before the expected vote to extend the committee’s mandate until March 2018, reportedly to allow the IFA and PFA to work out an agreement. The proposal was passed with a 70 percent majority, according to HRW.

However, the PFA and several human rights organizations have consistently demanded FIFA take action on the issue, which involves prohibiting the Israeli teams from playing on Palestinian territory or suspending Israel’s membership in the association if Israeli authorities refuse to abide by international law.

The six teams are from the illegal Israeli settlements of Kiryat Arba, Givat Zeev, Maaleh Adumim, Ariel, Oranit and Tomer.

HRW said the six teams should not be allowed to hold football activities on land “unlawfully taken from and off-limits to West Bank Palestinians.”

“After four years, it’s not clear why FIFA needs yet another year to decide whether or not to follow its own rules,” HRW added, referencing Palestinian claims that FIFA is violating its own internal rules by not taking action on the issue, as FIFA members are reportedly not permitted to hold matches on another member’s territory without receiving official permission.

“By allowing the IFA to hold matches inside settlements, FIFA is engaging in business activity that supports Israeli settlements,” HRW stated in a 2016 report.

Meanwhile, Palestinian teams have faced severe restrictions on movement, including running into problems with Israeli authorities at checkpoints located inside the West Bank, at times preventing players from competing with other West Bank teams.

The PFA was also forced to postpone their final game last year when Israeli authorities prevented Palestinian players from the Gaza Strip from passing the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing to participate in a football competition held in the southern West Bank district of Hebron.

Palestinian football players also must deal with detention raids and the violence that characterizes the presence of Israeli soldiers on Palestinian lands, as dozens of Palestinian football players and fans suffered from tear gas inhalation last year, when Israeli forces shot tear gas at a crowd of 1,200 Palestinians who had gathered in the village of al-Ram in the Jerusalem district of the West Bank to watch a match.
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