How the Qatar World Cup will highlight Israel’s blockade of Gaza | Football News

Gaza City – Palestinian football player Fadi Jaber is overjoyed when Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

A 32-year-old professional soccer player at a local club in the besieged Gaza Strip, Jaber began his sports career as a child before becoming a member of the Palestinian national team.

“It was a great moment, the first time an Arab country hosted the World Cup,” Fadi told Al Jazeera.

“At that time, my colleagues and I were very excited. We were hoping we would be there and go to the World Cup or maybe even take part in it. “

But Jaber and his colleagues know it will be difficult, not because of the football but the restrictions Israel places on travel.

Israel’s 15-year blockade restricting Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the Gaza Strip has made the thought of going anywhere unattainable.

Implemented in 2007, Israel’s blockade has been a major obstacle for more than two million Gazans who are facing severe restrictions on their movement, with human rights organizations describing This impoverished area is described as the largest open-air prison in the world.

“People in Gaza have difficulty traveling, even through the Rafah junction [run by Egypt] or cross Erez [run by Israel]. Fadi added. Erez is the Israeli name for the sea crossing also known as Beit Hanoon to the Palestinians.

“Traveling for the World Cup is a luxury here. People in Gaza see traveling as something of a necessity and it’s not normal like other countries.”

Fadi Jaber
Jaber has been looking forward to the World Cup in Qatar since the tournament was awarded to the Gulf nation in 2010 [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

The Qatar FIFA World Cup will open on November 20. As the first soccer World Cup to be held in the Middle East, it has become an event that is popular with most Arabs in the region, including including those in Gaza, eagerly waiting.

Israel’s restrictions on movement from Gaza also cast a shadow over the sports world, including players who have difficulty traveling between the West Bank and occupied Gaza while also needing to get out. from Gaza to participate in football tournaments.

Due to the blockade, Jaber and his colleagues on the national team were unable to participate in local, regional and continental tournaments. “As a player on the Palestinian national team, I cannot go to the West Bank to attend local and Arab tournaments,” Jaber said.

“My fellow players and I always lament about the missed opportunities that could have changed our lives as footballers.

“Palestinian players from Gaza are oppressed. We are part of the Palestinian people, and we are subject to the restrictions that Israel imposes on us.”

Although FIFA, world football’s governing body, has always insisted that a safe environment must be provided for international fans and players to move and travel, Palestinians argue that this is not the case for the team. their national team.

Jaber believes that FIFA has not done enough to support Palestinian players from Gaza to have a smooth career and go to Qatar for the World Cup.

“Israel does not comply with any human rights or international organizations, including FIFA,” he said.

‘Global contempt’

Alaa Attia, a 32-year-old footballer, told Al Jazeera there was a “global disregard” for the situation of Palestinian footballers and fans from the Gaza Strip.

“Israeli players can easily travel all over the world. They are entitled to absolute freedom of movement while the Palestinian players are completely deprived of their rights.”

Last June, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Sports Minister Chili Tropper announced that Israelis would be able to attend World Cup matches in Qatar.

Alaa Attia
Alaa Attia says there is ‘global disregard’ for Palestinian cause [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

The ministers said the deal came after months of negotiations with FIFA, saying it would open “a new door” for a country with which Israel currently has no formal diplomatic relations.

Attia said: “It is sad that we are denied easy travel to an Arab country, while the people who are occupying our land are allowed to have that opportunity freely.

“As football people, we do not mix politics with sport, but the problem is different with Palestinian players.

“What’s wrong with us not being able to attend the World Cup in Qatar? We hope this issue will be reviewed and facilitated for the people of Gaza regarding their right to travel.”

Attia agrees with Jaber that FIFA has put pressure on Israel several times but to no avail. He added that the governing body had not made enough effort to pressure Israel to allow Palestinians to move freely.

“I don’t understand why FIFA would ignore the right of Palestinian players to travel and participate in international tournaments from Gaza. Why does it ignore our right to facilitate travel to Qatar?

“This is completely unfair and contrary to the principles that FIFA claims to have. It is a difficult feeling to watch the whole world head towards the World Cup in Qatar, and because of the restrictions imposed on us in Gaza, we find ourselves deprived of this opportunity.”

‘Reliable exception’

As an enviable exception, 60-year-old Ahmed Owais, a retired school principal, plans to travel to Qatar for the World Cup.

Owais told Al Jazeera: “I made the decision to participate in the Qatar World Cup by the time this team won the right to host in 2010.

“I’ve never thought about going to World Cups in other countries before and I’m more encouraged that I’m going to retire and have no work commitments.”

Owais said he wanted to go to Qatar because it is an Arab country with a strong global and sporting presence, while supporting the Palestinian cause.

“It is true that attending the World Cup is a luxury, but what is different in the Gaza Strip is that even those who are financially able cannot leave, travel cannot do so because of many restrictions. for border crossings.

“Being close to the players you love and being in the crowd is exciting. For the first time, I will see things that the camera does not show. It’s completely different.

“I hope that the Gaza Strip will have the same opportunities for professional athletes as the West Bank, and football teams can move easily between the two places.”

Ahmed Owais
Retired school principal Ahmed Owais will go to Qatar for the World Cup [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Owais recounted the difficulties national teams faced when traveling between the West Bank and occupied Gaza.

“For example, if the Rafah team goes to the West Bank, some of them are denied permits, and similarly if the Hebron team goes to Gaza, some of them are also denied permits.”

In the past, FIFA has said it will “continue to facilitate the movement of football players, officials and equipment within, outside and within Palestinian territory”.

However, following a complaint by the Palestine Football Federation (PFA), FIFA President Gianni Infantino said: “These territories are of interest to international legal authorities and FIFA must remain neutral. “.

The PFA complains that Israel’s blockade hinders their activities, including restricting the movement of players and also banning some international travel.

According to Reuters news agency, Israel has cited security concerns for its actions and the Israeli FA has said it is not responsible for the actions of the Israeli government.

FIFA has ‘ignored’

But Ramy Abdu, Euro-Mediterranean regional director, told Al Jazeera that FIFA “always puts great pressure on some governments to urge them to comply with human rights standards”.

“FIFA has been pressuring Iran to allow women to attend football matches and more recently the suspension of Russian clubs,” he said.

However, he said FIFA had “turned a blind eye” to Israel’s violations, which were not limited to the political and humanitarian spheres but also the sports sector.

“Israel has repeatedly hindered the organization of the final Palestinian matches by preventing the movement of Palestinian players between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“Now, residents of the Gaza Strip will not be able to cross the Israeli-controlled Erez River to attend World Cup matches in Qatar, reinforcing the fact that the 15-year-old Israeli blockade has strangled every aspect of life. daily life of Palestinians in the strip.”

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