Israel bans entry for players on Gaza football team, preventing cup final

The club that wins the two-legged final will represent Palestine in the Asian Champions League

Israel has rejected the majority of travel permits for a Gazan football team who were to play a cup final in the occupied West Bank against another Palestinian team.

Israel denied permit applications for 23 players from the Gaza-based club Khadamat Rafah for their Palestine Cup final rematch against West Bank-based FC Balata. Only four permits were initially approved by Israel, three for the club's coaching staff, and one for a single player. After the fixture was rescheduled, the club submitted new documents. Israeli authorities told them that only 12 members of the club could travel. Of the 12, just five were players.

The club that wins the two-legged final will represent Palestine in the Asian Champions League. The first leg, played in Gaza, ended 1-1.

The rematch was set to take place on July 3, meaning that it has now been delayed for almost three months.

“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,” said Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian Football Association.

Israel has maintained a crippling economic siege on the Gaza Strip since 2007 when Hamas took over the territory. Living conditions in the enclave have deteriorated to a level that the United Nations says could make it unliveable by next year.

It severely restricts the movement of Gaza's two million inhabitants, claiming security concerns. That includes its sporting teams.

Israeli NGO Gisha said the case was another example of Israeli attempts to hurt the Palestinian national identity through hindering its sporting events.

"This 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," it said.

Palestinians accuse world football body Fifa of not doing enough to prevent Israeli breaches against Palestinian sports teams.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008. The two sides continue to trade fire across their shared border, risking another escalation.

Meanwhile, an Israeli military court on Monday sentenced a Palestinian to life imprisonment for a 2015 shooting in the occupied West Bank that killed an Israeli and wounded three others, the army said. The military accused Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, of orchestrating the attack.

Updated: September 24, 2019 05:30 PM

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