2 June 2005 Edition
Support Palestine and Ireland this Saturday
BY Feilim O hAdhmaill
This Saturday the 26-County soccer team play Israel in Dublin for what many Irish supporters hope will be a much needed three points in the World Cup Soccer competition. I, like many others, will be watching the match and cheering on the Irish. However, I will also be thinking about why it is that Israel plays its matches with the European teams and not with the other teams from the Middle East. I will also be thinking about the Palestinian national team and how they are regularly prevented from training together, from travelling to matches, from living a normal life in general, while under Israeli occupation.
While Israeli sportsmen and women travel freely around the world, the Palestinian team has to negotiate checkpoints and border crossings just to play their "home" matches overseas. With no decent pitches on which to train and a suspended national league, their success in getting to the preliminary qualifiers cannot be overstated. Furthermore, Israeli authorities regularly prevent Palestinian players from attending international games. In September 2004, five players were prevented from travelling to the World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan. Unable to play in Palestine, the team travels to Doha, Qatar, for "home" games and trains in Ismailia, Egypt, more than 100 miles from the local Gaza players' homes.
In order to train, players from the West Bank have to circumvent Israel's Apartheid Wall, take a bus to Amman (Jordan) and then fly to Cairo to meet up with their Gazan teammates. Travelling can take hours too because of delays at checkpoints, closure of crossings, and denial of travel documents by the Israeli authorities.
Palestine's sporting talent is being prevented from developing by the illegal Israeli occupation, restrictions on movement and collective punishment. Since September 2000, Israeli forces have killed over 3,565 Palestinians — 80% of them civilians, 22% of whom were children. In the past year alone, Israeli soldiers have killed 176 Palestinian children. Many more have been left seriously injured by snipers and tank shells — unable to kick a football again. Although youths under 17 make up more than 50% of the population of Palestine, there are few resources available to them under the occupation. Youth centres have been destroyed by the Israeli army. For instance, prior to the April 2002 re-invasion of West Bank towns and cities, the Old City of Nablus had 13 youth institutions. Now only five of these are operating.
Outside the sporting arena, life for the Palestinian people is getting daily more unbearable. Ghettoised and isolated from each other behind checkpoints, settlements, Jewish-only roads and the Apartheid Wall, the Palestinian people are deprived of their land and livelihood or uprooted as refugees.
Despite the restrictions imposed on them, Palestinian children continue to defy Israeli curfews just to play soccer in the streets. Their steadfast resistance to occupation is mirrored in the determination of the Palestinian team to one day hear their national anthem played to tens of thousands of cheering supporters in a home ground in a Free Palestine.
But why is this of importance to Irish supporters or people living in the West generally? While much of the Middle East and the developing world in general have supported the call of Palestinians to boycott Israel to make it clear that her treatment of the Palestinians is wrong, the governments and sporting/cultural institutions of the West treat Israel as a modern democratic European state.
Despite over 70 UN Security Council Resolutions, hundreds of UN Assembly resolutions, announcements by the International Court at the Hague, Amnesty International, and countless others condemning the Israeli Occupation and practices, the European Community still provides Israel with a preferential trading status denied, by Israeli Occupation, to the Palestinians.
The West also allows Israel to take part in major European competitions like the Eurovision Song Contest and The Champions' League.
Without Western support and subsidies, Israel would not be able to portray to the world and its own citizens an image of normality and acceptance of its practices against the Palestinians. In fact, without Western support and subsidies Israel would not be able to remain in existence. The support of the West for Israel is thus very important to that state. But what message does this sent to the Palestinians and the rest of the developing world about the West and its attitude towards them?
This Saturday, Irish people can support Ireland in football but we can also show the Israeli population watching on their TVs at home that the actions of their government are not acceptable to Irish people and that we will not be complicit in portraying such actions as acceptable. Several hours before the match there will be a march and rally in Dublin, starting at 3pm at the Central Bank, Dame Street. This will give an opportunity to Irish people to voice their opposition to the continuing denial of the rights of Palestinian footballers to train, play, and travel as a result of the Israeli Occupation. If you are going to the match, you could also consider bringing a flag or banner demonstrating support for the rights of Palestinian soccer players and the Palestinian people in general.