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Israel court upholds travel ban for Gaza footballers, preventing Palestine Cup final

Palestinian players of Shabab Khan Younis football club celebrate after scoring a goal during the final football match of the Palestine Cup for the southern governorates with Shabab Rafah football club at Palestine stadium in Gaza city on 30 April, 2018 [Mahmoud Ajour/Apaimages]
Palestinian players celebrate after scoring a goal during the final football match of the Palestine Cup in Gaza city on 30 April 2018 [Mahmoud Ajour/Apaimages]

An Israeli court yesterday upheld a travel ban for Palestinian footballers from the occupied Gaza Strip, accepting the position of military and security officials who made the original decision.

According to human rights group Gisha, the Jerusalem District Court backed the denial of permit applications for 23 club members of Gaza-based team Khadamat Rafah, who are meant to be playing the West Bank-based FC Balata in a Palestine Cup final rematch.

The refusal to issue the travel permits was a decision taken by the Israeli Defence Ministry in coordination with the Shin Bet (or Israel Security Agency).

For more than two months, Israel has prevented Khadamat Rafah from traveling to the West Bank for a final rematch against its West Bank competitors, after June’s first game in Gaza ended in a 1-1 draw. The winning club represents Palestine in the Asian Champions League.

Rights group: FIFA ignoring Israel’s ban on Palestinian football

Just three days before the rematch, Israeli occupation authorities informed the Rafah club that only four applications out of 35 submissions had been approved – and only one of them was a player.

Ahead of a rescheduled fixture, Israeli authorities increases the number of travel permits to 12 members of the club, including only five players.

According to Gisha, the case “is another illustration of the extraordinary effort Israel exerts to prevent Palestinian travel between the parts of the Palestinian territory as part of what it calls the ‘separation policy’, which systematically violates Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement and undermines the functioning of Palestinian society as a whole.”

In remarks quoted by AP, Palestinian Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub said: “We think that this is clear evidence that this Israeli occupation is cruel but from our side we keep raising it at all the levels of FIFA. We insist that this is our right and we’ll continue exerting every effort to allow this team to do this match.”

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