Israel has refused to allow the Gaza champion soccer team to leave the Strip for the final of the Palestine Cup match in the West Bank “for security reasons.”
The chairman of the Palestine Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, told Haaretz that the security reason was “one big lie,” and has asked FIFA, the world soccer federation, to intervene. So far Israel has refused to reverse its decision, and a new date for the match has not been set.
The second match of the final between the Balata refugee camp’s team and Khadamat Rafah from the Gaza Strip was to take place on July 3, but it was postponed after Israel denied exit permits to most of the players and team personnel.
The Palestine Football Association, which has experience with delays and security checks by Israel, applied for exit permits for 22 players and 13 trainers and managers. The association said that three days before the original date of the match, the management was informed that 31 applications were turned down “for security reasons,” and only four were approved, out of which only one was for a player.
“Israel is trying to prevent any connection between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, even in soccer, and always wraps everything in security reasons,” Rajoub said. “What security risk will there be when we’re talking about players wanting to go through the Erez crossing to a soccer match? The whole security matter is one big lie. We’ll continue to work with the relevant bodies to allow the players to enter and we won’t give in to Israel’s extremism and fascism,” he added.
The Shin Bet security service said in response: “There is information linking most of the team members’ with terror. In light of the information that emerged in the security check, and against the backdrop of terror threats from the Gaza Strip … the recommendation of the Shin Bet was conveyed to the authorized official that entry be denied most of the team to Israeli territory for security reasons.”
According to the system in place since 2015, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank hold separate league championships. The winners then compete in two matches to decide the winner of the Palestine Cup.
The first game was held about two months ago in the Gaza Strip, with a score of 1:1. Israel applies restrictions to Palestinians wishing to enter Gaza as well, and the Balata team was missing several personnel, its coach, as well as its goalkeeper – which had to be replaced by a Gazan goalkeeper from the local Khan Younis team.
The match between Rafah and Balata is part of the competition recognized by FIFA. The winner of the Palestine Cup represents Palestine in the Asia Cup tournament.
Banning entry by soccer players to Israel is not new, nor is the disruption of Palestinian soccer matches. In the summer of 2016, only 11 players from the Shabab Khan Yunis soccer team were allowed to leave the Gaza Strip for a match in Hebron; seven team members were stopped at the Erez crossing. The Palestinian Football Association decided at the time to postpone the match and turned to FIFA to intervene. Two days later Israel allowed the rest of the players in and the match took place.