Israel bans entry for most players on Gaza football team

In this Sept. 8, 2015 file photo, Palestinian fans cheer during a World Cup football qualifying match between the Palestinian and the UAE teams at the Faisal Al-Husseini stadium in the West Bank town of Al-Ram. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2019

Israel bans entry for most players on Gaza football team

  • The soccer team’s predicament highlights the daily difficulties Gazans face under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007

GAZA CITY: Israel has denied travel permits to most players on a Gazan football team which had hoped to cross through Israel and into the West Bank to play a local championship final against a rival Palestinian club.

Khadamat Rafah is set to play Balata FC in the West Bank on Wednesday. But without the hard-to-obtain Israeli travel permits, the game is unlikely to take place as scheduled.

“We think that this is clear evidence that this Israeli occupation is cruel but from our side we keep raising it at all the levels of FIFA. We insist that this is our right and we’ll continue exerting every effort to allow this team to do this match,” said the head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub.

The football team’s predicament highlights the daily difficulties Gazans face under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. 

Citing security grounds, Israel has greatly restricted movement of Gazans and requires travelers such as students and medical patients to obtain permits to leave.

Critics say these are increasingly harder to come by and are withheld arbitrarily. Israel disputes this and says it grants tens of thousands of permits for Gazans with no militant ties.

Rajoub said his association has long lobbied FIFA to sanction Israel for what it says are its efforts to restrict the movement of Palestinian players. 

He slammed the withholding of permits and pledged to hold the game. Under the Palestinian Football Association’s terms, the winners of the Gaza league play the West Bank champions in a two-leg final, one in the Gaza Strip and one in the West Bank. 

The Gaza game took place earlier this year and this week’s game, which had already been delayed for two months over access to permits, was to take place near the West Bank city of Nablus.

The winner of the final game goes on to compete in the Asian Champions League.

Following the Gaza game, Khadamat Rafah had attempted for two months to obtain permits but its two requests were denied, except for a handful of club members.

“We are a club carrying messages of love and peace and have no security activities as the occupation (Israel) claims,” said Hozayfa Lafi, Khadamat Rafah’s spokesman.

Gisha, an Israeli rights group that had challenged the move in court, criticized Israel’s permit system.

“The ease with which the state labels Palestinians as a security threat turns out to be time and again an arbitrary and sweeping act, while in the best case ignoring the serious harm that is dealt to the fabric of civilian life in the Palestinian territory,” said Gisha, an Israeli rights group that had challenged the state’s decision along with the players.

A court in Jerusalem upheld the state’s decision on Monday.

In a statement, Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency, which screens permit requests, said a security check turned up information pointing to “most” of the team’s “links to terrorism.” That, coupled with heightened security threats from the Gaza Strip, prompted the agency to recommend the players be prevented entry.

Cogat, an Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said every permit request is examined “individually and thoroughly.”

The Palestine Cup had been suspended for years until 2016 when FIFA reached understandings between Israel and the Palestinians over the movement of athletes.

Tournaments in 2017 and 2018 took place as planned.


Tunisians emerge from lockdown into mosques and cafes

Updated 1 min 5 sec ago

Tunisians emerge from lockdown into mosques and cafes

  • Schools will stay closed to most students until the start of the new academic year in September
  • The government still restricts social gatherings at homes and urges the wearing of masks

TUNIS: Tunisians returned to mosques and cafes on Thursday as the country ended most lockdown restrictions after largely containing the spread of the novel coronavirus for now.
Sitting with friends at the Brazil coffeeshop in the Ibn Khaldoun district of Tunis, schoolteacher Nizar Jamal said he was glad to resume his daily chats with friends.
“We are again breathing the air of life. We missed the smell of coffee a lot,” he said.
Tunisia in March closed its international borders, stopped all movement between towns and cities, shuttered mosques, shops, schools, cafes and restaurants, imposed a nightly curfew and stopped people leaving homes at day for most reasons.
It has recorded 1,048 cases of the coronavirus and 48 deaths, compared with nearly 10,000 cases in neighboring Algeria. The only recent cases came from people arriving into quarantine from abroad.
Schools will stay closed to most students until the start of the new academic year in September and the government still restricts social gatherings at homes and urges the wearing of masks. International borders will reopen fully in late June.
In another Tunis district, Menzah 9, a cafe owner who gave only his first name, Mahmoud, said he was relieved to have reopened.
“This cafe provides work for 20 families. We have suffered a lot from stopping work for three months and we hope to make up for it soon,” he said.
Tunisia’s government has announced compensation measures to help businesses and needy families with the economic effects of the lockdown and has agreed a package of financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund.