In a few days, the chairman of the Palestinian Football association will head off to a regional meeting of Arab states to organize an effort to expel Israel from FIFA as well as the International Olympic Committee due to treatment of Palestinian footballers under occupation. Meantime, Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, has followed up on his first damning expose with another riveting article on Israel’s targeting of Palestinian soccer players.
“A Red Line for FIFA? Israel, Violence and What’s Left of Palestinian Soccer” is a full throttle appeal for investigation. First advising US spokesperson Jen Psaki to follow up on the situation (as we noted here), Zirin then directs his focus on his own profession, sports journalists.
He reveals that the response to his last article was “overwhelmingly hostile”. Some of Zirin’s professional colleagues made accusations against him, doubting not only his reporting of the attacks, but the very concept that Palestinian athletes were ever targeted. And that doubt stemmed from the assumption his sources were (merely?) Palestinian. This is some radical racism:
The part of the response that was truly jarring however was the numerous private queries I received from prominent members of the media. I am choosing to keep their identities private because their correspondence to me was private and I will respect that. The queries contained no curiosity about Israel’s possible expulsion from FIFA. They all instead openly doubted that the shooting of the two young men had even taken place. Was I sure this really happened? When I pointed to my initial sources, the response by numerous people was, “Do you have any sources that are not Palestinian?” One person, writing for a major sports website, sent me numerous queries that I did not respond to, and then when the facts of the shooting appeared in the Israeli paper Haaretz, said to me, “Forget previous queries. I see news of the shooting on Haaretz. Never mind.” The assumption of mendacity affixed to Palestinian sources spoke volumes.
The other part of my story that people accused of being untrue was my theory that members of the Palestinian soccer community are being targeted for violence by the Israeli state. This was described to me as “laughable,” “ridiculous,” and one even said that they would reach out to The Nation directly to agitate for dismissal.
Yes it is certainly true that I don’t have a document signed by Benjamin Netanyahu calling for a systematic attack on the Palestinian national team. What I do have are names: real people, with real families, whose lives and deaths are testament to a story that needs to be told.
Heartbreakingly Zirin then lists, with description, individual members of Palestine’s national team killed by Israel; Ayman Alkurd, Wajeh Moshtahe, Shadi Sbakhe, all targeted in their homes over the course of seventy-two hours. Then the imprisoned; Omar Abu Rios, Muhammad Nimr, Zakaria Issa, Mahmoud Sarsak. He states that three were jailed in Israeli prisons without trial “over the last decade”.
Zirin reiterates a point he made earlier about the “international media outrage” that would ensue if these attacks were on members of other national teams, and pushes other sports journalists to start asking tough questions. It’s “our job” to do that, he says, and “Israel’s future in FIFA should depend on its answering.”
Personally, I’m not waiting on Israel’s answers. I’ve seen plenty of “comprehensive investigations” exonerating Israeli occupiers time and again. Whether it be war crimes in Gaza, a military sniper’s shooting children in the back like hunted birds, or just yesterday, the gunning down of Raed Zeiter, a 38-year-old Palestinian Jordanian magistrate court judge at the Allenby Bridge. Nothing ever comes of it!
Zirin is right, the press should be all over this, and attacks on athletes should be “a red line no country should be allowed to cross.” It’s going to take the international community mobilizing, pressuring FIFA and demanding action over this pattern of violence.
We should be thankful to Dave Zirin and The Nation for sticking with this in such a big way with such clarity. Hopefully other sports writers will follow. But we can make a difference too. Some are signing petitions (like this one to FIFA), others are mobilizing. Stay tuned.
(Hat tip Susie Kneedler)