Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused FIFA, the worldwide football association, of "holding games on stolen land", in a new report on Israeli football clubs based in illegal West Bank settlements.
According to HRW, by "sponsoring matches in Israeli settlements in the West Bank on land unlawfully taken from Palestinians", FIFA is failing to "fulfil its human rights responsibilities."
HRW urged FIFA to force the Israel Football Association, "which is conducting business in unlawful settlements that are off-limits to Palestinians", to move all FIFA-sanctioned games and activities out of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine country director at Human Rights Watch, said FIFA "should step up now to give settlement clubs a red card and insist the Israel Football Association play by the rules."
HRW investigated the situation of football clubs that play in the Israel Football Association (IFA) but hold their official matches outside Israel on fields located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
"By allowing the IFA to hold matches inside settlements," HRW said, "FIFA is engaging in business activity that supports Israeli settlements, contrary to the human rights commitments it recently affirmed."
The HRW makes three key points regarding the IFA, FIFA and the settlements. First, "the settlement playing grounds, including one indoor (futsal) hall, are built on land that has been unlawfully taken from Palestinians, mostly by seizing land belonging to Palestinian individuals or Palestinian villages, declaring it state land, and then designating it for exclusive Israeli civilian use."
Military law in the West Bank limits entry to settlements to Israeli citizens and residents, holders of Israeli visas, or individuals of Jewish ancestry. The West Bank's 2.5 million Palestinian residents, excluding East Jerusalem residents, are not allowed to enter settlements, except for approximately 26,000 labourers bearing special permits.
Second, "financial documents that Human Rights Watch has reviewed show that the IFA is engaging in business activity that supports the settlements", thus "propping up a system that exists through serious human rights violations." Third, "the clubs provide services to Israelis but do not and cannot provide them to Palestinians, who are not allowed to enter settlements except as labourers bearing special permits."
In summary, HRW "does not dispute that the settlement clubs provide a service to their communities. However, by offering these settlement activities to Israelis but not Palestinians, and on land that the Israeli authorities unlawfully took from Palestinians, these clubs, however good the intentions of their organisers may be, are contributing to serious rights violations."
HRW also dismissed the claim made by some that since some settlements will be annexed to Israel in the future, they should "therefore, be allowed to flourish". The human rights group described this claim as "not only speculative but also ignores the serious human rights violations that the settlements are and cause today."