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Israel's red card and own goal

June 7, 2018 at 6:38 pm

The decision by Netanyahu to switch the game from Haifa to the Teddy Kollek Stadium built on the site of an ethnically-cleansed Palestinian village, Al-Malha, clearly backfired.

Rotem Kamer, the vice president of the Israeli Football Association, has accused Palestinians of waging “football terror” after Argentina called off a friendly match in Jerusalem. Argentina’s move came after global protests fuelled by the killing and wounding of thousands of Palestinians taking part in the Gaza Strip’s Great Return March protests.

“We are seeing it as crossing a red line and we cannot accept it,” blustered Kamer, without a hint of irony. He and other key figures in the Zionist regime are outraged at the cancellation, especially after tickets for Saturday’s match against Israel sold out within 20 minutes. Criticising human rights and pro-Palestinian protesters, IFA Chairman Ofer Eini stormed, “The aim was to harm our country through soccer.” In fact, the aim of such civil action is to reverse Israeli apartheid and colonial oppression of the people of Palestine.

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin described the news as “a sad morning for fans” and added his concern about the “politicisation” of Argentina’s decision. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, tried in vain to salvage the game in a telephone call to Argentinian President Mauricio Macri. His appeal was unsuccessful. Far-right Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Argentina of folding to “Israeli-hating anti-Semitic terrorist supporters.”

Netanyahu’s government is fuming after being denied the chance to showcase Jerusalem as its “undivided capital”. The decision by Netanyahu to switch the game from Haifa to the Teddy Kollek Stadium built on the site of an ethnically-cleansed Palestinian village, Al-Malha, clearly backfired. It was the switching of venues that many believe prompted Argentina to step back and cancel the match. Culture and sports minister Miri Regev lashed out at critics by claiming ludicrously that, “This is the same terrorism that caused the Munich massacre.”

However, Hugo Moyano, Second Vice President of Argentina’s Football Association (AFA), called the cancellation positive: “It was the right thing to do, it was not worth it,” he told Argentina’s Radio 10. “What happens in these places where so many people are killed cannot be accepted by any human being.” The decision was also welcomed by Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain, one of the country’s highest-profile players, in an interview with the ESPN television network on Tuesday.

It must now be sinking in with Netanyahu, Rivlin, Eini, his sidekick Kamer and Regev that the Zionist State’s murderous policies have created this massive own goal. Furthermore, their self-righteous indignation and the absurd description of the cancellation as “terrorism” (Israel crying wolf again) conveniently overlooks the fact that Israel has itself crossed many red lines and introduced real terror on many levels when it comes to football, no matter whether it’s the professional game we are talking about, amateur matches or simply a knockabout among friends on the beach. Its murderous acts deserve much more than a paltry red card.

Here are just a few incidents to refresh Israeli memories of what real terror in football means:

13 January, 2009: Three Palestine national team players were killed in separate attacks during Israel’s military offensive against civilians in Gaza called Operation Cast Lead. Targeted within 72 hours of each other, Ayman Alkurd, who also played for his club Falasteen Al-Ryadi, was the first to be killed. Like his team-mates, his home was hit in an air strike. Fellow footballers Wajeh Moshtahe and Shadi Sbakhe, were killed in later Israeli strikes.

30 January 2013: Dzhabrail Aslanbekovich Kadiyev and Zaur Umarovich Sadayev were signed by the notorious Israeli club Beitar Jerusalem. Angry racist fans who regularly chant “Death to all Arabs” torched the club’s offices in protest at the Muslim signings. The club’s fans boast loudly that it has no Arab players. It has also changed its name to “Beitar Trump Jerusalem” in recognition of the US President’s controversial decision to move the US Embassy to the city and recognise it as the capital of Israel.

31 January 2014: Adam Jamous and Jawahar Halbiyeh live in Abu Dis in occupied Jerusalem. As they headed home after football practice they were shot in the legs without warning. Jawahar was shot seven times in his left leg, three times in his right leg, and once in the hand, while Adam was shot three times: twice in his left thigh, and another in his right. Doctors confirmed that neither of them will ever play football again.

9 July 2014: Avid football fans gathered at a beachside cafe in the Al-‘Izbeh area of Khan Younis to watch a FIFA World Cup qualifier between Argentina and the Netherlands. Israel had launched yet another war on Gaza two days earlier, blitzing 750 targets, but this area was not classed as a military zone and the young Palestinians settled down to watch the match in the belief that they were safe. Half an hour later, at 11.30pm, the cafe was shelled. Those killed were: Ahmed Astal, 18; Suleiman Astal, 16; Musa, 16, a cousin of the Astals; Mohammed Ganan, 24; Ibrahim Ganan, 25; Hamdi Sawalli, 20; Ibrahim Sawalli, 28; Salim Sawalli; 23 and Mohammed Fawana, 18.

16 July 2014: Just after 4pm and in the space of 40 seconds, four boys who had been playing football on the beach in Gaza City were killed after an Israeli gunboat fired two shells at them. Aged between seven and 11, two were named Mohammad, one was Zakaria and the youngest was Ahed. All were members of the extended Bakr family. Three others were also injured and given first aid by international journalists who witnessed the atrocity. Hamad Bakr, aged 13, had shrapnel in his chest; his cousin Motasem, 11, suffered head and leg injuries; and Mohammad Abu Watfah, 21, was hit by shrapnel in his stomach.

31 March 2018: This was the day when Israeli snipers killed 17 peaceful protesters at the Great Return March in the Gaza Strip and injured hundreds more. Those wounded included Palestinian footballer Mohammad Khalil whose career was ended after he was shot by an Israeli soldier in both legs. A player for Al-Salah FC, he was shot in his knee by a so-called butterfly bullet which exited one leg and hit his other knee, breaking the bone. He will never play another game of football again and is likely to be bedridden for months.

13 April 2018: Young footballer Attallah Fayoumi, 17, suffered a devastating leg injury after being shot. The wounds  required urgent surgery but Israeli forces refused him permission to leave Gaza for a West Bank or Israeli hospital. As the seriousness of his condition worsened doctors were forced to amputate his leg, shattering his dreams of ever becoming a professional footballer.

There are those who believe that Israel deliberately targets Palestinian footballers and other athletes who draw favourable, international attention to Palestine as ambassadors of their sport. Whether traveling abroad from Gaza or moving across the West Bank they are subjected to Israeli interrogations at checkpoints and boundary crossings. In addition to movement restrictions, Israeli forces are suspected of deliberately targeting Palestinian footballers with live ammunition; the evidence is, indeed, mounting.

The Israel Defense Forces boasted during the Great Return March that, “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.” The army then quickly deleted its incriminating tweet as more evidence of war crimes by its soldiers came to light, but not before a copy was made by the human rights group B’Tselem.

According to Sami Abu Sneima, head of surgery at the European Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip, footballer Attallah Fayoumi is not the only case of a leg amputation since the peaceful protests began at the end of March. “Many people who were shot with live ammunition have had to have their upper or lower limbs amputated,” he explained.

The Ministry of Health in Gaza says the majority of injuries being attended to are in the lower limbs, and while most of the wounds are considered serious, hospitals run on a case-by-case basis. So far, 123 protesters have been killed, with more than 14,000 wounded, according to Palestinian hospital staff. At least 32 people, many of them below 25 years old, have had limbs amputated.

So while Israeli FA chief Ofer Eini claims that the move to get the Argentinian match cancelled was a deliberate attempt to harm the Zionist State he should reflect that no one was killed or injured in the process, unlike the heroic Palestinians taking part in the peaceful resistance of the Great Return March. If he and the thousands of Israeli football fans who’ve lost out really want to vent their anger and frustration at anyone at all, it should be Benjamin Netanyahu and his government’s inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.