The Palestine Cup final has been postponed after Israel refused travel permits to the Gaza football team set to play their West Bank rivals.
The match had been slated to take place yesterday in the West Bank between Khadamat Rafah – the team which won the league in the besieged Gaza Strip – and Balata FC, the winners of the league in the occupied West Bank.
The game was intended to be the second leg of the cup final, the first leg having been played in Gaza on Sunday and ending 1-1.
However, the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) announced yesterday that it had been forced to postpone the match after only one player from Khadamat Rafah was granted a permit to travel to the West Bank for the match. Three other permits were granted to officials from the club, according to PFA Vice President Susan Shalabi.
The PFA had applied for 35 permits in total, the overwhelming majority of which were rejected.
In a statement explaining its decision, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) – a unit of Israel's Ministry of Defence responsible for Palestinian civil affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) – claimed that "although the application was untimely and therefore made appropriate processing pursuant to the clear guidelines impossible, COGAT went beyond that which was required of it, and, by means of all of the relevant parties, carefully reviewed the application".
Shalabi emphasised, however, that "the Israelis are very adamant in their refusal," adding that COGAT had cited unspecified security concerns for their rejection.
Israel regularly denies travel permits to Palestinians from Gaza. In May, details emerged of a Palestinian mother separated from her new-born baby for six months because Israel refused to grant her a permit to return to hospital to collect her daughter.
The mother – whose name was not released – was rushed to Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem's Al-Tur neighbourhood from Gaza in January. She was heavily pregnant with triplets and had been transferred to the hospital for surgery after the besieged Strip's collapsing healthcare system could not provide her adequate treatment.
Although the woman gave birth to all three babies, two died just a few days later. The mother then had to travel back to Gaza to bury her two children, leaving the remaining child – baby girl Shahad – in the East Jerusalem hospital to be taken care of by hospital staff.
Despite numerous appeals, COGAT refused to grant the mother a permit to travel to Jerusalem, only conceding several months later and allowing the pair to be reunited.
Israel also denies permits for Gazans wishing to travel for other reasons. In April, hundreds of Palestinian Christians from the coastal enclave were denied permission to travel to Easter celebrations in Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem, which are home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Church of the Nativity respectively.
Of the 800 or 900 requests submitted to travel to the two cities, none were granted, with Israel instead allowing 200 Palestinian Christians over the age of 55 to travel to Jordan. Under pressure from human rights organisations and Israeli media, 300 permits were eventually granted for travel to Jerusalem or Bethlehem for the religious holiday.