Today the European football organization (UEFA) opens its biennial “Under 21” youth tournament of eight teams in Israel. As an Israeli football host, Avraham Luzon, states:
“We are anxious to show the world our warm, modern and great country while hosting this prestigious tournament… Organising this tournament will reap a lot of fruit for Israel and a lot of our guests will go away and speak about a country which can host sport at the highest level.”
UEFA says it stands for fair play both on and off the pitch. But the tournament will take place to the west side of the separation wall. Palestinians won’t be able to attend (surely with some minimal exception).
There is no better way to understand what Israel is doing to Palestinians on a daily basis– and in our name as America’s closest ally– than to watch the video above in which the courtly Hugh Tisdale, from an English football association, goes to Palestine to examine conditions in which football-loving Palestinians undertake to play the great game.
Tisdale concludes his tour with these poetic remarks:
We came here as football fans at a particular time and to a particular place. The time was dictated by the opening of the UEFA under 21 European championships in neighboring Israel. The place drew us because in extreme contrast to this tournament and hidden by the mainstream media the difficulties faced by the Palestinian people in expressing themselves in the international language of football symbolize a wider yearning for acceptance and recognition for a stateless nation which stretches now for 65 years. We cannot stop this tournament but nor can we stop our support through football for the people of Palestine.
I’d ask all lovers of fair play to watch Tisdale’s tour. Here are some of the highlights:
First Tisdale goes to Palestine and laments their isolation from the glossy spectacle a few miles away. “It’s as if the wall is dividing them from the sport. We want to see over the wall and tell Palestinians what’s on the other side.”
Palestinians love playing soccer, he finds. A friend notes that Palestinian Football was recognized by FIFA in 1924–before Israel, of course.
Rami Rani, a former footballer, says that women’s teams from Myanmar and Taiwan were lately prevented from entering Palestine to play, by Israeli authorities.
“What’s actually happening is that there is a third party that doesn’t want us to succeed,” Rani says.
Deema Yousef at 7:30 explains how important it is to her and her teammates for the international community to come and show solidarity with women’s struggle to play football, when the media block out their side of the wall.
At 10:00 Tisdale goes into Israel to visit the spanking glossy venue for the UEFA match.
“Once you get beyond the wall, there’s an enormous change in the environment.” Big new buildings, clean modern streets, flowers everywhere. He shows us the Al Aqsa mosque from Mt Scopus. “It’s a view most Palestinians don’t get to see.”
Then back to Palestine, to Am’ari refugee camp– “It’s only five miles away [from Jerusalem]. It might as well be a million miles away.” Kids play football in the street with a crumpled soda can.
Footballer Abdallah Alfara: “We love the football and we would love going to a game. But we need permits… it’s bad. It’s very bad…. It’s not allowed our players to go from city to city in Palestine…”
There are photographs of Israeli soldiers on a soccer pitch, preventing a game from getting underway till they are satisfied about the Palestinians’ motives.
The wonder of this video is that it is completely removed from politics, putatively, in the realm of sport. Folks who just live to play soccer. And see how their lives are constrained, how they are humiliated. This is what occupation and apartheid mean.
Tisdale is selling a Palestinian football tshirt here. Nice.
(Hat tip Mondoweiss commenter Bumblebye)