A top Palestinian official condemned a recent soccer match between Israeli and Palestinian youths on a southern kibbutz, calling the coexistence event “a crime against humanity.”
Jibril Rajoub, the deputy secretary of the Fatah Central Committee and the head of the Palestinian Supreme Council for Sport and Youth Affairs, said the match represented “an Israeli attempt to cover up their crimes against [Palestinian] athletes,” according to a Palestinian Media Watch report released Monday.
“Any activity of normalization in sports with the Zionist enemy is a crime against humanity,” Rajoub said in a September 6 Facebook post.
The match, the first of a planned series, was hosted by the Peres Center for Peace on September 1 as an effort to build bridges between Israeli and Palestinian youths after a fraught summer of war with Gaza and West Bank tensions.
More than 600 children from Israel and the Palestinian territories will take part throughout the year in the Twinned Peace Soccer Schools events. The program creates “twinned” relationships between Israeli and Palestinian cities. Sderot and the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, both down south close to the border with Gaza, are twinned with the Palestinian town of Yatta, which is located south of Hebron in the West Bank.
“I love it when we play together like this. I hope that one day there will be peace between Arabs and Jews and that there will be no more wars and death,” a Palestinian boy told AFP after the first event.
Other members of Fatah also echoed Rajoub’s sentiments and criticized attempts to normalize relations with Israelis in the wake of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s name for the 50-day military campaign waged against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“The [Palestinian] organizers of this match betrayed the blood of the children of Gaza and of the martyrs, which has yet to dry a week after the end of the barbaric Israeli aggression,” said Palestinian Olympic Committee member Abd al-Salam Haniyeh in an article published last Thursday by Palestinian news agency Sama, according to PMW, an Israel-based watchdog.
Haniyeh went on to demand that Rajoub punish the Palestinian organizers associated with the match, who hail from Yatta. “Immediately interrogate the organizers of the match, settle the account with them and prosecute them on charges of serious treason against the blood of the martyrs [who died in the Gaza conflict] and violating the decisions made by the Palestinian sports community’s leadership,” Haniyeh urged.
Last year, in an interview with Palestinian TV, Rajoub stated his opposition to participating in sporting events with Israelis and threatened to remove anyone accused of doing so from the Palestinian Football Association.
Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.