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Three years after Israeli attack that ended their careers, ex-soccer players call on FIFA to protect Palestinian rights

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Adam Jamous and Jawahar Halbiyeh will never forget their last ever soccer practice, even if it was three years ago. It was nearing the end of winter on the last day of January — they were tired and it was late. Their hometown, in a section of occupied Jerusalem that lies on the West Bank side of the separation wall known as Abu Dis, is usually quiet by 10:30 when they were walking home. The sharp whiz of the first bullet cracking through the air came as a surprise.

Israel accused the boys of throwing stones, but Jawahar told Mondoweiss the teens did not even know there were soldiers out that night. “There were no clashes,” Jawahar told Mondoweiss. “We didn’t know there were soldiers out. The streets were quiet, they had put up a small checkpoint, but we had no warning, they just shot.”

Adam was hit, and fell to the ground, his soccer gear thumped down on the uneven road just a few blocks from home. Jawahar lifted his younger teammate and lifelong friend, following his instincts to get them out of the line of fire, only to hear more cracks of gunfire being shot toward them. Jawahar was hit several times, but fueled by adrenaline, he kept trying to drag himself and Adam to safety. Soldiers kept shooting and Jawahar kept moving. By the time Israeli forces released the dogs that eventually took the two teens down, Jawahar had been shot eleven times, and Adam three.

The gash left behind by the dog bites are still sharply visible on Jawahar’s right arm, though most people would first notice the lifted straight-lined scar that runs diagonally across his left hand.

Jawahar Halbiyeh holds up a photo of himself after surgery. (Photo: Mondoweiss/Sheren Khalel)

Jawahar was shot seven times in his left leg, three times in his right leg, and once in the hand. Adam was shot three times: twice in his left thigh, and another in his right. One of the bullets that hit his left thigh shattered his femur — that was the life-changing hit, he said. A week later doctors confirmed neither of them would ever play soccer again.

In November 2014, eleven months after the boys were shot, Israeli forces raided the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) headquarters, which is the facility attached to the stadium in al-Ram village where the two teens had been practicing before they were injured. Following the raid, the PFA made the first call for the Israeli association to be banned from FIFA.

Six months later, the PFA called for an investigation into Israel’s soccer teams based in illegal Israeli settlements.

According to the bylaws of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), no country is permitted to have soccer facilities on another country’s territory without permission. The Israeli federation currently has six teams facilitated in illegal Israeli settlements, against the wishes of the PFA and the Palestinian government in the occupied West Bank.

FIFA has implied that the settlement teams do not fall under the bylaw, as the settlements are “disputed territory.”

PFA Director of the International Department Susan Shalabi Molano told Mondoweiss that she finds the idea of protecting the settlement teams under such an argument ludicrous.

“We are not in the business of deciding borders,” she said. “That is not our prerogative, ever since the problem started we said we cannot decide the borders, so we said okay, let the UN and the international community decide, and the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 clearly does so, we didn’t define the borders, and neither did FIFA, the UN and international community did and we have to comply with that because we do not live on the moon — the borders are clear and the FIFA statutes are clear: No association is allowed to administer [soccer] on another association’s territory.”

For the past two years, the PFA has been trying to force Israel’s hand on the subject. Earlier this month, an investigation launched in May 2015 by a special monitoring committee tasked with analyzing the situation in order to “identify solutions to issues hindering the development of [soccer] in the region” came to an end.

A final decision is set to be made next month during the FIFA congress.

A Jerusalem team (blue), plays a Tulkarem team (red) at the PFA stadium in al-Ram. (Photo: Mondoweiss/Sheren Khalel)

While the Israeli Football Association insists that their Palestinian counterpart is unfairly making politics out of soccer, Jawahar and Adam will never play the sport they love ever again due to Israel’s military occupation, in other words: politics.

The teens say they don’t care about the Israeli teams playing in the settlements, they’d rather the settlement teams stay, and in return, Israel allow Palestinian teams through checkpoints in a timely manner and permit players to leave the country for matches.

“Teams are constantly late to matches which are sometimes canceled and often delayed because the whole bus — who are obviously players headed to a game — is stopped and checked and held for hours, intentionally” Adam said. “Let us build facilities for our teams. Let them keep the settlement teams, but stop Israel from holding our players for hours at checkpoints, imprisoning and shooting us. By the time we were 17, which is when a player is really preparing to go professional, at least 50 percent of our team had been arrested by Israeli forces.”

“It’s not just [soccer] players, all Palestinian youth deal with this,” he said. “When you arrest someone at 17 and send them to prison it destroys their entire life. We feel like the Israelis do it on purpose.”

Molano said Palestinian players live under circumstance unlike any other in the world.

Jerusalem fans celebrating after their teams scores. (Photo: Mondoweiss/Sheren Khalel)

“It’s like playing under fire all the time. Movement is restricted, the lives of our players are threatened, it’s very difficult to bring equipment into the country or to build new facilities,” she said. “During games, suddenly without prior notice, Israeli forces come into the stadium. Imagine how the youth feel seeing soldiers like that when they are trying to play a game, but in the end this is what we have, these are the circumstances we live under — whether you’re playing sports or at home with your family.

Today, Jawahar and Adam are just thankful to be alive and both have regained the ability to walk normally.

Jawahar is currently going to college for law, but his love still lies in the game.

“My dream is to coach kids [soccer], that is what I am working toward,” Jawahar told Mondoweiss from his family home. “I can’t stop my life because of what happened to us, but the restrictions are huge and it makes everything harder now.”

Adam studies business administration at the same university as Jawahar. He has given up any hopes of being involved in sports. Even coaching is too risky.

“My leg is full of metal,” Adam explained. “I wanted to study sports in university, but to do that I have to be able to play all the sports, and I can’t. I have no way to be in touch with sports — if I trip or someone bumps into me lightly and I fall my leg could shatter all over again and I’ll end up in a wheelchair.”

Stacks of photos and medical papers sat on the coffee table between Jawahar and Adam, whose interactions express the familiarity of brothers. The photos show gruesome images of the two being treated at the hospital, some of blood-soaked medical sheets, their faces wretched with pain, while others show dejected expressions in the aftermath, with long lines of stitches stretching across their limbs.

While a member from the PFA from the boys’ hometown told Mondoweiss that Jawahar specifically had a bright future in soccer, with a likelihood of playing professionally, when asked if they had dreamed of going professional before the shooting, both boys grin and shrug.

“Sometimes, as Palestinians, we cannot dream a lot,” Jawahar said. “It’s hard enough to coordinate matches and games inside the West Bank with all the checkpoints and obstacles the occupation creates.”

“We don’t want to make [soccer] political, everyone should have the right play, but unfortunately we always relay life to politics here,” he continued. “We have to if we want our rights, even our right to play [soccer].”

Sheren Khalel

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

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5 Responses

  1. Marnie on April 20, 2017, 12:22 pm

    These gorgeous young men cut down in their prime and denied ever to play again – the zionists are scared s%@less of what you represent – strength, honor and pride.

  2. Ossinev on April 20, 2017, 1:26 pm

    Just as well Goliath did not have a standard issue assault rifle. David would have been Donald Ducked.

    And as for the most moral they must really get a kick out of this freebie live practice ( fourteen live rounds in this case). Unfortunately no live kill but even the IDF can have off days. And of course the dogs got some live flesh to chew on as a reward instead of those boring same old same old tennis balls. If they are criticised they can always say “Mummy , Mummy it`s not fair I only shot those nasty Palestinian boys because they were throwing live stones at me”

    Sooner or later the sporting world will wake up to the oppression and atrocities being visited on a daily basis to fellow Palestinian sportsmen and a growing world wide sporting boycott will start to unravel the Zionist myth and as with South Africa it will be the end game for Israel.

    The only downside is that as with South Africa decent truly moral Jewish Israeli sportsmen who abhor their country`s treatment of the Palestinians will suffer as well.

  3. HarryLaw on April 21, 2017, 4:52 pm

    Israel ‘lobbying FIFA’ to prevent settlement teams’ ban
    FIFA to discuss in May sanctions call over six teams based in Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

    FIFA statutes.

    The Confederations, Members and Leagues shall agree to recognise CAS as
    an independent judicial authority and to ensure that their members, affiliated
    Players and Officials comply with the decisions passed by CAS. The same
    obligation shall apply to intermediaries and licensed match agents.
    Recourse to ordinary courts of law is prohibited unless specifically provided
    for in the FIFA regulations. Recourse to ordinary courts of law for all types of
    provisional measures is also prohibited.
    The Associations shall insert a clause in their statutes or regulations, stipulating
    that it is prohibited to take disputes in the Association or disputes affecting
    Leagues, members of Leagues, Clubs, members of Clubs, Players, Officials and
    other Association Officials to ordinary courts of law, unless the FIFA regulations
    or binding legal provisions specifically provide for or stipulate recourse to
    ordinary courts of law. Instead of recourse to ordinary courts of law, provision
    shall be made for arbitration. Such disputes shall be taken to an independent
    and duly constituted arbitration tribunal recognised under the rules of the
    Association or Confederation or to CAS

    Players and teams affiliated to Members or provisional members of the
    Confederations may not play matches or make sporting contacts with Players
    or teams that are not affiliated to Members or provisional members of the
    Confederations without the approval of FIFA.
    Members and their Clubs may not play on the territory of another Member
    without the latter’s approval.
    Associations, Leagues or Clubs that are affiliated to a Member may only join
    another Member or take part in competitions on that Member’s territory
    under exceptional circumstances. In each case, authorisation must be given by
    both Members, the respective Confederation(s) and by FIFA.

    Notice the statute 68[2 and 3] Recourse to ordinary courts of law is forbidden.
    I know what FIFA will do.

  4. HarryLaw on April 22, 2017, 3:27 am

    FIFA cannot fudge this decision, on the one hand Israel argues that the territory is disputed, that is 100% correct. Unfortunately only Israel of all the member states of the UN say it is their territory. On the other hand the Palestinian Football Association [PFA] can claim it is their territory and quote a list of evidence proving that fact. Here are several…
    1/ UNSC Resolution 2334 [2016] which does not recognize Israeli settlements on Palestinian Land.
    2/ Recognition by a majority of UN members of Palestinian Statehood.
    3/ Recognition by the European Court of Justice [the Brita case] that the West Bank is Palestinian Territory for the purposes of the Association Agreements concluded by both governments with the European Union.
    4/ The highest Court in the World the International Court of Justice [ICJ] gave its opinion in 2004 [the Wall case] that all the settlements in the West Bank where illegal, all 15 Judges including the American one reached this unanimous conclusion.
    5/ The International Criminal Court [ICC] having agreed that Palestine is a recognized state at the UN, have now initiated a preliminary investigation of ‘war crimes’ in Palestinian territory.
    All the FIFA procedures will have to be followed including arbitration, The PFA have said “We can’t accept Israeli football association running its activities on our territory. If we accept a compromise, we will be part of the crime.” If FIFA opt for the status quo and do not tell Israel to abide by FIFA statutes and since there is no provision to go outside FIFA statutes and appeal to ordinary courts of law, however it is possible for the PFA to go to an ordinary court of law and risk being thrown out themselves, since they signed an agreement to abide by FIFA statutes not to do so [statute 68, 2 and 3] now amended FIFA statutes 59 2 and 3 here If they do not want to be part of the crime, they must opt for the latter.

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