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Zirin challenges sportswriters to report Israeli violence against Palestinian soccer players

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Jordan's Baha'aldeen Alja'afreh, right, runs past Palestine's Oday Dabbagh at the Faysal al-Husseini stadium, in the West Bank town of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Jordan’s Baha’aldeen Alja’afreh, right, runs past Palestine’s Oday Dabbagh at the Faysal al-Husseini stadium, in the West Bank town of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

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)

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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31 Responses

  1. Citizen
    March 11, 2014, 3:51 pm

    Thanks, Annie for keeping us up to speed on this sports arena angle. Good job!

  2. David Doppler
    David Doppler
    March 11, 2014, 4:57 pm

    This is an important story, but the need for hard facts cannot be understated. What was reported about the two recent shootings, and the implication that there is deliberate targeting, are explosive and could go viral, if some critical social exchange threshold in a process that I don’t understand, is reached. But one of the most amazing tactics of the spin artists is to take a huge negative story that has been covered up, such as George W. Bush’s being AWOL for the Air National Guard, and destroying the story and the story-teller by setting up the reporter – remember Dan Rather? – with forgeries of the real documents. Zirin mentions a lot of players, and I agree they need to be looked into closely, and I find the possibility plausible given all else we know about Israel-Palestine. But we need ten different reporters digging out real facts and reporting them, not just the horrible implication (which without facts are indistinguishable from an Anti-Israeli slur), to where they become immovable. Who shot these two? What are their names? What do they say to the allegations? What does their commander say? What do five eye-witnesses say? Who killed or arrested the others? How are they connected? That’s a lot of players killed or injured, but it’s not very plausible that there’s a widespread program to destroy Palestinian national soccer by targeting their best players, without more evidence linking the perpetrators to each other or to a common leader or program, or initiative. It’s shocking, but it will be even more so if it’s true, but discredited through a “Karl Rove special.”

    One could start by interviewing one of the coaches or long-time team member, or someone else who’s intelligent and been closely involved deeply, all along, who knows everybody, is perceptive, can sort his own knowledge between what he saw, what he hears, where, when and from whom.

    • Bumblebye
      March 11, 2014, 7:55 pm

      Shows the document presented to FIFA by the Palestinian Football Association.

      Scroll down to section 5 dealing with human rights abuses for some detail of deaths, arrests and imprisonment – specifically for *being* involved in sports!

      And with these two teens, had there been a scintilla of evidence that they’d had *any* kind of weapon, let alone a “bomb” they’d have been treated (if at all) for their injuries under armed guard then swiftly removed to prison and would certainly not be free at this moment.

      rcir stands for Red Card Israeli Racism.

      • The JillyBeans
        The JillyBeans
        March 11, 2014, 11:52 pm

        Ultimately unless someone else not Israeli or Palestinian can attest to it as having seen the behavior with their own eyes it will never land. As the criticism against Zirin indicates people have been so indoctrinated against anything Palestinian, that they are unwilling to believe it if it comes from that source. If only the Palestinians gained the same level of obsessiveness the Russians have for dashboard cams, so they could capture fully all these interactions and altercations.

        It’s such a shame that people being productive is being met with brute force and barbarism. Particularly when it comes to young men, as they are the most at risk in societies.

  3. March 11, 2014, 5:24 pm

    Jason Stallman
    sports editor
    [email protected]

  4. Ellen
    March 11, 2014, 6:22 pm

    zircon is onto a Very Big story. The political implications are huge and it may be relatively easy to spin this single recent horrible incident away. But the pattern of targeting athletes may be more difficult to lie away if the sports media dares to open this door of the abuse of a people and conduct honest investigative journalism.

    I am afraid that the sports industry will not go there. Too many entrenched interests to protect.

    • kalithea
      March 12, 2014, 10:22 am

      His name is Dave Zirin not “zircon”.

      And I am afraid the sports industry will definitely have to go there. This systematic targetting of atheletes has “hate crime” written all over it. They just can’t look the other way and pretend it isn’t happening because the victims happen to be Palestinian.

      Those “entrenched interests” – can you be more specific?

  5. ritzl
    March 11, 2014, 6:29 pm

    This is such egregious behavior and Zirin shows enough of a pattern that doubting reporters should pool/spend a couple $K and a week and go to Palestine and start asking questions themselves. See the scars. Judge the veracity of the victims for themselves.

    Or even more mundanely, just travel with PNT members as they navigate the Occupation to routinely get to/from practices and games. Even those daily difficulties would be cause to question Israel’s commitment to free and open competition – and their own hypocritical claim to same.

    Talent for this level is rare and even then it takes 20 years to develop a player to this level. Even if skeptics say that a player a year over the last decade (where my math takes me) is not enough of a pattern in the specific, as a program/team it’s half the team and a whole generation of development destroyed. That destroys any aspirations Palestine has to be competitive.

    This story is so potentially explosive (i.e. career building) that the only way those reporters do not do that is because they don’t want to know and/or are afraid of the answers.

  6. Marshall
    March 11, 2014, 6:57 pm

    Yeah I have to agree with the posters above who said this is a huge blockbuster of a story but it needs better reporting. Can the brilliant Mondoweiss folks team up with Zirin and report this stuff out: look into the details of each of these shootings and determine whether there’s a discernible pattern, distinct from the general horror of the occupation? Is FIFA really investigating this, and if so, what are they going on?

    I linked to Zirin’s earlier story on my Facebook wall and the response was huge, from a population that generally doesn’t care at all about I/P issues.

    • Ellen
      March 11, 2014, 8:07 pm

      FIFA has little interest in investigating this. It is not capable of investigating the rot and corruption in its own house.

      Apologies for the cynicism.

      • just
        March 11, 2014, 8:14 pm

        Well, since Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in the WORLD, it is incumbent upon the footballers and the team owners and the sports media and the FANS to demand it.

        But in order for that to happen, the media must report it. All the more reason to applaud & support Zirin and The Nation. Spread this horrible story around.

    • kalithea
      March 12, 2014, 10:27 am

      Would anyone be investigating if Israeli athletes were being imprisoned and shot in the feet? What’s to investigate? These are ALTHLETES you don’t imprison athletes and shoot at their feet! The decision to ban Israel from FIFA and the IOC should have been taken the moment the last incident occurred.

  7. Sycamores
    March 11, 2014, 7:12 pm

    thanks Annie,

    you might find this hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic.

    Feb. 3, 2014 | 8:01 AM Haaretz

    Wounded Palestinian teens dispute Border Police claims

    Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17

    Note: this piece by Amira Hass didn’t mention the soccer link

    and then a 11 hours later………….

    Feb. 3, 2014 | 7:02pm Haaretz

    Israel and Palestinians find peace on the soccer pitch

    Both the Israel Football Association and the Palestinian Football Association agreed that a new mechanism implemented since they last met in September has improved the “facilitation of movement of soccer players, coaches, referees, officials and equipment into, out of and within Palestine,” according to FIFA, the international governing body of soccer. Moreover, “the new mechanism had improved communication between them while accelerating the decision-making process concerning the movement of football representatives.”

    FIFA said it would continue to monitor the overall process. The governing body announced its goal is to sign a Memorandum of Understanding ahead of its upcoming congress.

    • just
      March 11, 2014, 8:04 pm

      A most fragrant manure……..mmmmmm.

      Thanks, Sycamores.

      • Sycamores
        March 11, 2014, 10:19 pm

        Hi Just

        to be fair to Amira Hass she mightn’t had all the relevant information at the time of publication.

        yet could you imagine if the Haaretz heading was

        Palestinian footballers shot by Israeli forces never to play again as in

        how would the FIFA israel/Palestine task force respond to that? which President Blatter of FIFA on the same day a few hours later stated:

        “I’m pleased by the progress made by both associations in the past months. I remain confident that further important steps will be taken in the near future in order to reach a good solution for the development of football in Israel and Palestine.”

        an letter to President Blatter wouldn’t go astray, asking him if he is monitoring the situation in Israel-Palestine, he most be aware of the two Palestinian soccer players that were shot multiple times in the feet by israeli soldiers. the said players will never play soccer again. with this information you should reaccessed your views of the progress being made and ban israel from FIFA until a full investigation is done.

    • kalithea
      March 12, 2014, 10:32 am

      Israel has been signing Memoranda and Treaties with disappearing ink for decades.

      So punish this pariah already and kick them out of FIFA. They destroyed the lives of Athletes. NUFF SAID.

  8. just
    March 11, 2014, 7:49 pm

    Look, if the amazing stories of athletes who can perform so well in so many difficult places can make the headlines, why not these Palestinians butchered by Israel?

    Can anyone imagine surviving and excelling within the brutal confines of Occupation? Isn’t it worthy of reporting? Is the deliberate targeting of these fine young athletes a- ok with the wide world of sports and their obscene $$$$$$$$$$? Can anyone imagine if an Israeli athlete in his/her prime was targeted and/or murdered? Goodness, they can’t even accept it if a soldier is slapped (deservedly) by a foreign diplomat on a mission of mercy.

    Israel should be banished from FIFA, and it should make headlines all over the world.

    (PS — My condolences to the families of these footballers. I still worry for the great Assaf. I do not trust the Israelis to allow the Palestinians ANY hope. I remain in awe of the resilience of Palestinians; they succeed despite the seemingly insurmountable barriers and trials that they are faced with, every moment of every day!)

  9. The JillyBeans
    The JillyBeans
    March 11, 2014, 9:54 pm

    This is just so sad. Sports used to be where everything was left outside the stadium and a match was had. This isn’t just poor sportsmanship, it’s heinous.

    • just
      March 11, 2014, 10:06 pm

      It used to be that way. In America, we have Congressional hearings on the use of steroids in US pro sports. That same Congress votes to make laws that benefit and celebrate the citizens of the apartheid state of Israel, and by doing so enable the actions of the government of said state and their IOF/police.

      It’s hardly a “level playing field”. Please call/write all of those all- American congress critters who are parents and grandparents of offspring who say that they believe and teach that all sports should be fair.

      What the Israelis are doing to the Palestinian soccer players is reminiscent of that other great sport– you know, the one ‘played’ in the colosseum.

  10. DICKERSON3870
    March 11, 2014, 9:56 pm

    RE: “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.” ~ Annie Robbins

    MY COMMENT: Israel’s own version of the Blackshirts* is also in on the action!**

    * FROM WIKIPEDIA AS OF 1/25/14 [La Familia (Beitar supporters’ group)]:

    La Familia are an Association football supporters’ group of Israeli Premier League club Beitar Jerusalem.[1] They are known for their opposition to Arab and Muslim players.

    • Organization
    The organization began in 2005 and occupy the eastern sections of Teddy Stadium. Estimates of the group’s numbers vary. A reporter put the number at a few hundred[2] while a leader of the group said that it encompassed a network of 3,000 supporters.[3] At a home match in 2008, a correspondent for the BBC said that the group was about 20% of the crowd. They are the most vocal in the stadium and some local fans follow their chants.[2][3]
    La Familia is proud of its Jewish identity. The group is notorious for chants that insult Arab and black players, and for displaying the flag of the banned Kach party.[2] Cheers with lines such as “death to the Arabs”[4] and “Muhammad is a homosexual”[5] are common. Unlike other top clubs in the country, no Arabs have ever played for Beitar. La Familia has continuously raised strong objections to any Arab transfers.[6] The group was adamantly against the signing of Nigerian Muslim (who lasted half a season in 2005) and the 2013 transfer of two Chechnyan Muslims.[7]
    The team has roots in the Betar Zionist youth movement and has been supported by several Israeli politicians on the political right throughout its history. La Familia has similarly been labeled far-right and is openly against those they view as being on the left.[4][8] The club has publicly condemned the group and has gone as far as barring it from a match.[7] Some Beitar fans have expressed embarrassment over the organization and openly oppose their ideals.[9][7]

    • Incidents
    During a December 2007 Toto Cup semifinal game between Beitar Jerusalem and the Israeli-Arab team Bnei Sakhnin, Beitar Jerusalem fans took up provocative chants that insulted Muhammed. The Israel Football Association (IFA) punished Beitar by forcing them to play their next game against Sakhnin with no fans present. Vandals set fire to the IFA’s offices and left graffiti threatening the life of the IFA chairman. The graffiti included the initials “LF” for La Familia, but the group denied involvement.[10][11]
    Beitar was disciplined in 2008 after fans disrupted a minute of silence to mark the death of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Later that year La Familia led a pitch invasion in what would have been a title-clinching win against Bnei Herziliya. The IFA deducted two points from Beitar and ordered that the next game be played behind closed doors.[12] In December 2011, fans yelled “Give Toto a banana”[2] towards Nigerian-born Toto Tamuz. The IFA again punished Beitar with a two-point deduction and another game in an empty stadium.
    Supporters stormed the Malha Mall after a match in March 2012 while chanting racist slurs. It was reported that Arab workers were harassed and beaten.[6]
    The club’s 2013 signing of two Chechnyan Muslims, Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev, raised anger from the supporters. Members of La Familia set a team office blaze after the announcement.[7] Fans walked out of a match in March that saw Sadayev score his fist goal for Beitar.[13]

    SOURCE –

    ** ALSO SEE: “Suspicion and Hate: Racist Attacks On Arabs Increase in Israel”, By Julia Amalia Heyer, Spiegel Online, 6/05/13

    [EXCERPT] . . . Football fan Asi, 23, says that he isn’t a racist, just a nationalist. “I have no problem with Arabs, as long as they raise the Israeli flag and sing along when our national anthem is played.” Lieberman used the same logic to justify a bill he introduced calling for new citizens to deliver an oath of allegiance.
    Asi, who lives in a small village [in Israel] near Caesarea, supports the Beitar Jerusalem football club. On a Thursday evening, he and other Beitar fans are standing at an intersection in Herzliya. Asi has a friendly face and a neatly trimmed beard. Like his fellow fans, he is here to demonstrate against the club’s owner.
    When it was revealed in January that the Club planned to sign two Muslim Chechen players, the stands in the stadium became filled with hateful signs, with words like “Beitar — Pure Forever.” The fans chanted: “We are chosen, we are holy, but the Arabs are not.”
    Beitar Jerusalem, says Asi, that’s the holy menorah on a yellow background. The team, he says, can only win as a Jewish team, which is why Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to play in the club.
    Beitar’s management has since cancelled the contracts with the Chechens and sent the two men back home. There were simply too many problems [most especially, Israeli racism – J.L.D.], the club wrote in a statement.


    • DICKERSON3870
      March 11, 2014, 10:05 pm

      P.S. FROM WIKIPEDIA AS OF 1/25/14 [Betar]:

      (EXCERPT) The Betar Movement (בית”ר, also spelled Beitar) is a Revisionist Zionist youth movement founded in 1923 in Riga, Latvia, by Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky. Betar has been traditionally linked to the original Herut and then Likud political parties of Israel, and was closely affiliated with the pre-Israel Revisionist Zionist splinter group Irgun Zevai Leumi. It was one of many right-wing movements and youth groups arising at that time out of a worldwide emergence of fascism.[1] Some of the most prominent politicians of Israel were Betarim in their youth, most notably Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, the latter of whom idolized Jabotinsky.[2]. . .
      . . . The group initially praised Mussolini for his anti-communism and fascist principles, leading it to adopt the black uniform shirt of Italian fascism for a short period. Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, however, was seen as “cowardly” by Betar and led them to break with him shortly after.[12] . . .

      SOURCE –

      P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “The Hidden History of Zionism”, Chapter 6, by Ralph Schoenman

      [EXCERPT] . . . Mussolini set up squadrons of the Revisionist Zionist youth movement, Betar, in black shirts in emulation of his own Fascist bands.
      When Menachem Begin became chief of Betar, he preferred the brown shirts of the Hitler gangs, a uniform Begin and Betar members wore to all meetings and rallies – at which they greeted each other and opened and closed meetings with the fascist salute. . .

      SOURCE –

  11. Susan A
    Susan A
    March 11, 2014, 10:05 pm As can be seen from this, in 2002 Palestine, who topped their group for World Cup Qualifiers, were unable to travel since nearly half of the team were unable to obtain exit visas; in 2007/8 it was even worse, when virtually the entire team were unable to travel and FIFA gave Singapore a ‘walkover’. Obviously, Israel should have been penalised at the time, but did any of us hear about this? Of course not. It’s about time something was done about this and all this information be pulled together. There is ample evidence and FIFA knows it!

    • kalithea
      March 12, 2014, 10:54 am

      Of course there is ample evidence of racist systematic targetting of Palestinian athletes! And of course FIFA knows this, and now it’s up to FIFA to prove to us that Zionists haven’t connived the system and aren’t in an exclusive club that gets away with just about everything.

      Any other country would have been kicked out already for targetting athletes this way. So FIFA, prove to us that your code is for everyone without exception and Zionists don’t have you by the cajones!

  12. Susan A
    Susan A
    March 11, 2014, 10:09 pm

    And just in case people don’t believe wikipedia (and why should they?) here’s something from the Singapore FA website:

  13. Susan A
    Susan A
    March 11, 2014, 10:44 pm

    Finally, here’s an AP link, confirming the travel restrictions.
    The main reason FIFA are showing signs of acting is because of European activists, who tried to stop the under-nineteens EUFA tournament in Israel and were putting pressure on Michel Platini, the EUFA president. What helped with the release of Mahmoud Sarsak, apart from his incredibly brave and life-threatening hunger strike, was the fact that the European Championships were taking place towards the end of his strike, and people were demonstrating in solidarity with him and others in various European countries, such as Holland, France and the UK and pressurising UEFA with demonstrations at their offices whilst handing in letters. There was also a big demonstration outside the hotel where EUFA held their AGM in London, which, miraculously, Sarsak managed to attend having obtained his visa just in time! Because of all this, Sep Blatter was ‘encouraged’ to point out to Israel that they ought to release him if they were to hold the under-nineteen cup. I think it was also because of the guilt of all this that caused Blatter to invite Assaf to the opening of the World Cup in Brazil, albeit now ‘relegated’ to the opening of the Congress and not the World Cup Ceremony itself. But doubtless, as noted above, Blatter will come to some kind of ‘understanding’ (lip-service) with Israel so as not to have to accommodate the calls for its expulsion from FIFA. But dear friends, onwards and upwards!

    • kalithea
      March 12, 2014, 11:25 am

      “I think it was also because of the guilt of all this that caused Blatter to invite Assaf to the opening of the World Cup in Brazil, albeit now ‘relegated’ to the opening of the Congress and not the World Cup Ceremony itself.”

      So the world should be comforted by the fact that a Palestinian singer gets a consolation prize to sing at the FIFA Congress even though the offer was originally meant for the World Cup Ceremony? But then that’s too high profile. FIFA wouldn’t want to risk enraging Zionists by putting a Palestinian on a stage with an audience of billions of people and bringing awareness of the plight of Palestinians to such a staggering number of people.

      Blatter can’t possibly imagine that by patronizing Assaf, he can give Israel a pass on shooting athletes in the feet permanently destroying their athletic potential, imprisoning them and withholding visas for Palestinian athletes to compete?

      FIFA’s in a jam only because it appears to be exercising a double standard by hesitating to ban Israel for hateful racist acts that would get any other country banned in a NY minute.

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