Israel’s sports minister has written to FIFA President Sepp Blatter to defend her country’s travel restrictions on some Palestinian soccer players on security grounds.
The Palestine Football Association has urged the FIFA Congress, which is meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Tuesday and Wednesday ahead of the World Cup, to suspend Israel from FIFA unless it lifts restrictions on Palestinian players.
Blatter tried to mediate the grievances during a trip to Jerusalem and the West Bank in late May. He has repeatedly urged the parties to “separate politics and sports” and to find a way to ease the movement of Palestinian soccer players.
Israel has cited concerns about possible attacks by Palestinian militants as the main reason for sweeping restrictions on movement that affect most Palestinians, including athletes. Israel prevents virtually all travel between the West Bank and Gaza, two territories that lie on opposite sides of Israel and are sought by the Palestinians as part of a future state.
Israeli Sports Minister Limor Livnat wrote to Blatter to say that Israel would allow Palestinian athletes to “exit and enter for the purpose of sports, excluding occasions in which there are attempts to make use of sports in order to injure or threaten the security of our citizens.”
The minister said Israel detained a Palestinian national team player, Sameh Maraabeh, in late April on suspicion he met with a “military activist” of the Islamic militant group Hamas during the team’s training in Qatar. She alleged that the player received funds, a mobile phone and a written message from the Hamas activist. Maraabeh remains in detention.
“I am confident you will find this information worrisome and constituting clear evidence of the misuse of sports in a fashion that threatens the security of Israeli civilians,” Livnat wrote.
She also accused Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian FA, of inciting against Israel.
Rajoub has described Israel as the “bully of the neighborhood” and urged FIFA to impose sanctions to punish Israel for its policies toward the Palestinians.
This has included preventing or delaying the entry of visiting athletes and sports delegations to the Israeli-controlled West Bank, and preventing some Palestinian players from leaving Gaza, according to Palestinian officials.
The head coach of the Palestinian national team, Jamal Mahmoud, said he was not aware of a meeting between Maraabeh and Hamas members during the team’s time in Qatar. “If he did talk to a member of Hamas, it was his own individual decision,” Mahmoud said.
Meanwhile, Palestinian soccer officials are trying to secure a location for training ahead of next year’s Asian Cup.
A stadium is being considered in the West Bank town of Jericho, where the dry desert climate resembles that of Asian Cup host Australia. The final location will depend on permission from Israel for the movement of players in and between Palestinian territories.
“The hope from these discussions is that Israel treats our Palestinian players and those responsible for our Palestinian players by the national law and the charter per the agreement with FIFA,” said Ghassan Jaradat, media director for the Palestine Football Association.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.