Friday, November 15, 2019

European Under-21 championship held in Israel while Palestinian players are imprisoned

By Tadas Blinda - June 15, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [attacks on Palestinians]

Michel Platini, the president of the UEFA and legendary French football player, presenting the trophy of the tournament.
The European Under-21 championship is currently being held in Israel despite calls to strip Israel of it’s right to host the annual international tournament by the Palestinian Football Association, international football players, various human rights organizations and prominent activists such as Desmond Tutu. Calls to bar Israel from hosting the event were based on the State’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands, human rights abuse, records of racism in the Israeli Football League as well as it’s detainment of Palestinian football players for years without charge.
The Under-21 Euro championship finals in Israel started Wednesday, 5 June, and are set to end on 18 June. The games are broadcasted to 140 countries and have gathered an audience of thousands of local and international football fans at four stadiums across Israel. The UEFA  (Union of European Football Associations) disregarded calls to move the championship to another country while it’s general secretary, Gianni Infantino, stated in a press conference after the UEFA congress in London on 24 May that the “UEFA and the Israeli FA is responsible for football, it cannot be held responsible for the politics of a national government... And we have no plans to move the tournament, which is being held legitimately in a UEFA member association."
Desmond Tutu’s support
The UEFA agreed on new strict guidelines for dealing with racism in football during it’s recent May 2013 conference in London. Following the conference, South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, issued an open letter on 28 May regarding the UEFA’s allowance of Israel to host this year’s championship. Other human rights activists and football players from around the world also added their names to Tutu’s message. 
UEFA should not allow Israel to use a prestigious football occasion to whitewash its racist denial of Palestinian rights and its illegal occupation of Palestinian land
“We find it shocking that this same organisation shows total insensitivity to the blatant and entrenched discrimination inflicted on Palestinian sportsmen and women by Israel,” says Tutu in the letter, published on The Guardian.
“Despite direct appeals from representatives of the sport in Palestine and from anti-racist human rights campaigners across Europe, UEFA is rewarding Israel's cruel and lawless behaviour by granting it the honour of hosting the European Under-21 finals next month.”
“UEFA should not allow Israel to use a prestigious football occasion to whitewash its racist denial of Palestinian rights and its illegal occupation of Palestinian land,” Desmond Tutu added.
European football players support Palestine
After Israel’s eight-day war on Gaza, entitled operation Pillar of Defense, in November 2012 more than fifty European football players declared their support for Palestine. During the war, Israel bombed the only sports stadium in Gaza, one that had just finished being repaired after being bombed in 2008 December – 2009 January war on Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead. During the bombing, four 16-18 yea-old kids were killed while paying football at the stadium.
“It is unacceptable that children are killed while they play football. Israel hosting the UEFA Under-21 European Championship, in these circumstances, will be seen as a reward for actions that are contrary to sporting values.”
“Despite the recent ceasefire, Palestinians are still forced to endure a desperate existence under occupation, they must be protected by the international community. All people have the right to a life of dignity, freedom and security. We hope that a just settlement will finally emerge,” the international footballers’ statement said in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
Palestinian Football Association appeals to UEFA
 The Palestinian Football Association (PFA) asked the UEFA to withdraw Israel’s right to host the Under-21 championship the on 12 June 2012 in a letter addressed to UEFA President, Michel Platini. PFA President, Jibril Rajoub, expressed his concerns about Palestinian football players held in Israeli prisons without charge.  
“For athletes in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement and the risks of being detained or even killed are always looming before their eyes," Rajoub said in a letter published by AFP on 14 June 2012.
"We ask your excellency [Michel Platini] not to give Israel the honour of hosting the next UEFA U21 Championship in 2013," he added.
Palestinian football players in Israeli prisons
Mahmoud Sarsak’s, now 26, detention spurred international attention after he underwent a long-term hunger strike in protest of his three-year detention without charge. The 22 year-old midfielder was arrested on 22 July 2012 while crossing from Gaza to the West Bank through Erez Crossing in order to play in a match for the Balata Youth team in the Balata Refugee Camp near Nablus. Mahmoud was accused of being a member of Islamic Jihad and held in prison without charge under administrative detention, a procedure which allows Israel to hold suspects indefinitely in detention for renewable six-month periods without charge or trial. Detainees held under administrative detention, as well as their lawyers, are barred from accessing the “secret evidence” on which the arrest was based, making such detentions almost impossible to defend against. 
Mahmoud went on hunger strike when his six-month term was renewed for sixth time in late March 2012. He was released from jail last summer after 92 consecutive days of hunger strike and a total of three years behind bars without ever going to court or being charged with a crime.
"Israel works endlessly to repress Palestinian football, just like it does many other forms of Palestinian culture. UEFA is legitimizing Israel's continued occupation, oppression and apartheid policies," he said to Al Jazeera on 4 June 2013.
Two more Palestinian football players were arrested by Israel in February 2012. Goalkeeper, Omar Abu Rois, was arrested while working in the Red Crescent office in Ramallah and accused of shooting at an Israeli army patrol in al-Amari refugee camp. The Al-Amari team’s striker, Muhammad Nimr, was arrested for unknown reasons the same month. Both of them have not been charged with any crime and are currently being held in administrative detention.

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