A call by 62 top football players, many from English Premier League and first division teams in Europe, condemned Israel’s recent attack on Gaza and the decision by UEFA, the European football federation, to hold its 2013 Under 21 tournament in Israel.
The call has received wide and favourable coverage. This takes the Palestinian campaign for the boycott of Israel, especially the sporting boycott, to new levels of international mainstream prominence and legitimacy.
The statement, posted on the website of Frederic Kanoute, former striker for Spanish team Saville who now plays for Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan, says: “We, as European football players, express our solidarity with the people of Gaza who are living under siege and denied basic human dignity and freedom. The latest Israeli bombardment of Gaza, resulting in the death of over a hundred civilians, was yet another stain on the world’s conscience.
“We are informed that on 10 November 2012 the Israeli army bombed a sports stadium in Gaza, resulting in the death of four young people playing football, Mohamed Harara and Ahmed Harara, 16 and 17 years old; Matar Rahman and Ahmed Al Dirdissawi, 18 years old.
“We are also informed that since February 2012 two footballers with the club Al Amari, Omar Rowis, 23, and Mohammed Nemer, 22, have been detained in Israel without charge or trial.
“It is unacceptable that children are killed while they play football. Israel hosting the UEFA Under-21 European Championship, in these circumstances, will be seen as a reward for actions that are contrary to sporting values.
“Despite the recent ceasefire, Palestinians are still forced to endure a desperate existence under occupation, they must be protected by the international community. All people have the right to a life of dignity, freedom and security. We hope that a just settlement will finally emerge.”
Among the signatories are Demba Ba and four other players from Newcastle United, Eden Hazard of Chelsea as well as players from Arsenal, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United, all Premier League clubs.
There are also 10 players from French Ligue 1 team Olympique de Marseille, Moussa Sow of Turkey’s frequent champions Fenerbahçe SK, and Djamal Mahamat and Florent Hanin of Portugal’s Sporting Braga.
Signatory Didier Drogba, one of the top goal scorers in the history of Chelsea, where he played until moving to China earlier this year, is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador.
Jonathan Bru and Adama Traore of the Melbourne Victory, a club in Australia’s A-League, and Jires Kembo Ekoko of Al Ain Football Club in United Arab Emirates, also signatories, representing players outside Europe.
The footballers’ statement and the wide exposure it received is a significant boost to Palestinian calls on UEFA to pull forthcoming tournaments from Israel.
In a June letter to UEFA president Michel Platini, dozens of Palestinian football clubs, managers, players and other Palestinian sporting figures based in Gaza urged UEFA not to “reward Israel for its violent repression of Palestinian rights”.
In October, Palestinian footballer and ex-prisoner Mahmoud Sarsak urged UEFA to withdraw from Israel the men’s under-21 European Championship and the women’s under-19 European Championship that are due to take place there in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
So far, Platini has rejected such calls, but there is no doubt that pressure is mounting, and even if the tournaments in Israel go ahead, they will take place under the spotlight of a growing campaign to hold Israel accountable for its crimes.
[Reprinted from Electronic Intifada.]