On Jan 31st, without warning, Israeli forces attacked two young Palestinian athletes on their return home from football training in al-Ram in the central West Bank. They shot them repeatedly in the feet, unleashed attack dogs that mauled their arms and legs and dragged them hundreds of feet on the ground, beat them and broke their knees (video). The youths, cousins Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17, will never play competitive sports again.
Dave Zirin, Sports Editor for The Nation, writes a damning article After Latest Incident, Israel’s Future in FIFA Is Uncertain, detailing the event and calling attention to the ongoing atrocities perpetrated against Palestinian athletes that have thus far escaped the attention they deserve.
Whether it was the particularly horrific nature of this attack against young Palestinian athletes as they neared a checkpoint– (“Ten bullets were put into Jawhar’s feet. Adam took one bullet in each foot”)– or the exposure afforded by The Nation article coming right after Amnesty International’s 87-page report (pdf) landmark report “‘Trigger-happy’ Israeli army and police use reckless force in the West Bank”– but look what popped up at today’s State Dept Daily Press Briefing:
QUESTION: I know you had addressed the excessive use of force in the occupied territories by Israeli soldiers in your Human Rights Report.
MS. [Jen] PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But there was a report that Israeli soldiers at checkpoints are targeting Palestinian soccer players, that they shoot them in the legs and so on. A number of them have been sent to hospitals. Do you have any comment on that or are you aware?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that. Obviously, we spoke to our concerns, again, in the same Human Rights Report about certain actions and behavior.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. (Inaudible) because FIFA – I think FIFA has warned Israel that it might —
MS. PSAKI: I will check that out. Thanks, everyone.
We do hope Psaki ‘checks it out’ and doubly hope reporters keep dogging her til something breaks this through to the mainstream. Zirin asks, “Just imagine”:
This is only the latest instance of the targeting of Palestinian soccer players by the Israeli army and security forces. Death, injury or imprisonment has been a reality for several members of the Palestinian national team over the last five years. Just imagine if members of Spain’s top-flight World Cup team had been jailed, shot or killed by another country and imagine the international media outrage that would ensue. Imagine if prospective youth players for Brazil were shot in the feet by the military of another nation. But, tragically, these events along the checkpoints have received little attention on the sports page or beyond.
The vicious attack was condemned by Jibril al-Rajoub, Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association: “Israeli brutality against them emphasizes the occupation’s insistence on destroying Palestinian sport.”
Al-Rajoub is demanding the expulsion of Israel from FIFA and the International Olympic Committee. As reported in Inside World Football and other sports related media outlets, this demand is not new. But it’s long overdue.
The Nation agrees. Zirin:
The shooting into the feet of Jawhar and Adam has taken a delicate situation and made it an impossible one. Sporting institutions like FIFA and the IOC are always wary about drawing lines in the sand when it comes to the conduct of member nations. But the deliberate targeting of players is seen, even in the corridors of power, as impossible to ignore. As long as Israel subjects Palestinian athletes to detention and violence, their seat at the table of international sports will be never be short of precarious.
At a regional meeting of Arab states set for March 14, Al-Rajoub plans to organize support for his demand to become a formal resolution when all the member nations of FIFA meet in Brazil this June. It’s about time. Maybe, like South Africa, it will be sports that breaks the will of Israeli apartheid.
Meanwhile, doctors said it may take six months to evaluate if Jawhar or Halabiya will ever be able to walk again.