Category Archives: Football – Soccer

Day #39 – August 14, 2014 – Bombing IUG “a merry sport”?

"Nation Building for Palestine - A Way Forward"  Keynote Address at the 7th Technological Engineering Days Conference "Inspired Engineering for a Sustainable Environment." Islamic University of Gaza -- March 10, 2013 — ‎at ‎غزة

“Nation Building for Palestine – A Way Forward”
Keynote Address at the 7th Technological Engineering Days Conference “Inspired Engineering for a Sustainable Environment.”
Islamic University of Gaza — March 10, 2013 — ‎at ‎غزة

Some of my fondest memories of Gaza are at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG). The pride and joy among the students and faculty was palpable. Walking across campus, whether on the men’s side or the women’s side, I observed their intensity to excel and achieve their goals.  A university degree might be their ticket . . . to a good job, to graduate studies abroad . . . to having some measure of control over their future.

A student at IUG successfully defends his thesis about the impacts of climate change on the aquifer and is awarded his Masters Degree. — ‎at ‎غزة‎.‎

A student at IUG successfully defends his thesis about the impacts of climate change on the aquifer and is awarded his Masters Degree. — ‎at ‎غزة‎.‎

Why did Israel target IUG and other schools in the Gaza Strip?

Brookings reported in early August 2014 about “Israeli forces bombing the Jabalia Elementary Girls School in northern Gaza while it served as an U.N.-designated shelter. At least 15 people—including four children—were killed, and many more wounded. An Israeli strike in the immediate vicinity of an U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in Rafah killed at least nine and injured over 25 people, while on July 23rd, a similar attack on another UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun left 15—including six children—dead and over 100 injured.” Israel destroyed 141 schools during its 51-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Soccer players at IUG

Soccer players at IUG

Refaat Alareer teaches world literature and creative writing in the English Department at IUG. He’s also Co-Editor of Gaza Unsilenced, along with Laila El-Haddad, and describes the level of destruction at IUG during Israel’s bombardment last summer, including the administration building, and the personnel department and English department offices.

Why would Israel bomb a university? Some say Israel attacked IUG just to punish its 20,000 students or to push Palestinians to despair. That is true, but to me IUG’s only danger to the Israeli occupation and its apartheid regime is that it is the most important place in Gaza to develop students’ minds as indestructible weapons. Knowledge is Israel’s worst enemy. Awareness is Israel’s most hated and feared foe. That’s why Israel bombs a university; it wants to kill openness and determination to refuse living under injustice and racism. But again, why does Israel bomb a school? Or a hospital? Or a mosque? Or a 20-story building? It could be, as [Shakespeare’s] Shylock put it, “a merry sport”?

Islamic University of Gaza Summer 2014

Islamic University of Gaza – Summer 2014

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Futbol aka soccer – a game in Israel’s crosshairs

Mural on Palestine Stadium entrance in Gaza

Mural on Palestine Stadium entrance in Gaza

The international FIFA scandal got more ink and soundbites than it deserved, in my humble opinion.

Maybe that organization is oozing in corruption, and the arrests of high FIFA officials were warranted. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Maybe Sepp Blatter’s reelection was fair and square. I doubt it.

The real story here never got much attention. I’m disappointed.

Palestine Stadium

Palestine Stadium

Here’s the story you should have read or seen on the nightly news:

1) Israeli authorities have routinely locked up Palestinian futbol (aka soccer) players, and thrown away the keys. Mahmoud Sarsak comes to mind. Arrested and held without charge for 3 years, he was finally freed following a very long hunger strike when he lost more than 1/2 his body weight. (* I think he’s recently been detained again.) And it’s well-documented that Israeli authorities frequently prevent or delay Palestinian athletes from traveling for practice or games.

2) The Palestinian Authority, in response, had urged FIFA to expel Israel from the organization.

3) That vote was scheduled to occur this week but, mysteriously, the U.S. Department of Justice decided to arrest high-level FIFA officials on charges of corruption, following a 4-year FBI investigation.  Interesting timing!

4) Also mysteriously, the Palestinian representative suddently withdrew his motion to expel Israel.

Despite an avowed determination to see a vote on the issue, Rajoub withdrew the proposal Friday. Instead, the 209 FIFA member associations voted to set up cooperative groups to work out problems.

The proposal calls for creating “a three-party working group (composed of the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and a representative of FIFA) that would meet monthly to clarify and solve issues.”

It also calls for introducing “football IDs” for Palestinian athletes and officials, to help speed up the process of passing through checkpoints.

The proposal was adopted with support of 90 percent, garnering 165 votes.

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012.

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012.

Palestine Stadium in Gaza destroyed by Israel in November 2012

Palestine Stadium in Gaza destroyed by Israel in November 2012

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012.

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012.

Now I’m not sure 2 + 2 + 2 = 6 here but I’m pretty sure there’s a story behind the story that we’re not hearing. A good reporter would be asking more questions.

1)  Why did the U.S. Justice Department decide to make the arrests now, not last year? (On a side note, why go after FIFA officials while Wall Street bankers should be arrested?)

2)  Why did the Palestinian representative withdraw his demands for a vote to expel Israel?

3) Why did the Israeli military target the Palestine Stadium in Gaza? Has it been rebuilt?

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Killing Hamid: Starting the Gaza War

On November 14, 2012, Israel launched a bombardment in the Gaza Strip that lasted 8 days.  Israeli officials said they were defending themselves against rocket fire from militants.  As I sat in Gaza listening to the bombs falling all around, I heard President Obama on the radio tell the world that Israel had a right to defend herself.

Few people heard about the events that precipitated the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.  One of those events was the killing of a 13-year-old Palestinian boy playing soccer on November 8, 2012.

Hamid Abu Dagga

Hamid Abu Dagga

Who is defending? Who is the aggressor?  President Obama and the Western media should not be so quick to judge.

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Mahmoud Sarsak – Palestinian soccer player

I wonder if the Palestinian football player, Mahmoud Sarsak, will be watching the game tonight in London where I believe he is touring.

Young people in Gaza produced this 3-minute video to commend Mahmoud Sarsak, the Palestine footballer, and ex-prisoner, for refusing to attend the October 2012 El Clásico match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid because Israeli soldier and ex-prisoner of war Gilad Shalit was to be present as a VIP guest.

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Football diplomacy

Saturday night promises to be a very lively affair.  I’m told television sets in every city, in every country in Europe will be turned to the European Football Cup Championship. My friends and I have already staked out the bar where we will watch the game in the Sultanahmet District in the Old City of Istanbul.

Football has become an explosive issue in the Middle East thanks to Israel’s detention and incarceration of Mahmoud Sarsak, the Palestinian football star.

Mahmoud Sarsak's relatives gather around poster

As he was leaving Gaza in July 2009 on his way to the West Bank to play football, Israeli officials arrested Sarsak and held him for the next THREE YEARS without formal charges being filed against him.  Israel claimed he was linked to the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, which Sarsak denied.  Perhaps Israel just wanted to side-line a promising athlete’s career.  That’s one way to beat the opposition.

Stadium in Gaza

Stadium in Gaza

Another way to beat them is to destroy the opposition’s stadium so they become demoralized and have no place to practice, as Israel did in November 2012 during their 8-day bombardment in Gaza.

Stadium in Gaza destroyed by Israel in November 2012.

Stadium in Gaza destroyed by Israel in Nov. 2012.

Stadium in Gaza destroyed by Israel in November 2012.

Stadium in Gaza destroyed by Israel in Nov. 2012.

Stadium in Gaza destroyed by Israel in November 2012.

Stadium in Gaza destroyed by Israel in Nov. 2012.

Sarsak was finally released in July 2012 after a three-month hunger strike during which he lost nearly 1/2 of his normal body weight. Check out this video of his release.

The Under-21 Football Tournament is scheduled to be held in Israel in early June 2013.  There is a growing chorus of opposition urging officials to move the tournament out of Israel.  Sarsak has added his voice to this campaign too.

So long as Israel can detain Palestinians without charge indefinitely, and not be held accountable, I think the world should boycott Israel.

And I think the Palestinians should buy some air time on the major networks Saturday night when all of those eyeballs are glued to their sets.

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Palestinian athletes in London

Pictures from London share the joy and excitement of the Palestinian athletes participating in the Olympics.

Another step forward in the race to win international recognition and approval of a Palestinian nation.

And this photo is amazing!

The Palestinian National Team was established in 1908.
The Palestinian Football Association was established in 1928 In Jerusalem, and it became officially a member in FIFA in 1929.
The Palestinian team first participated in the World Cup in 1934 in Italy.
And they say there’s nothing called Palestine!

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21st century gladiators

The Palestinian soccer (futbol) player held by Israel without charge or trial for three years returned home to Gaza today.  I wrote about Mahmoud Al-Sarsak in June here and here.  He lost nearly half his body weight following a 3 month hunger strike in protest of his detention.

Many pictures of his return from a celebratory Gaza today, available here.

Israel did the right thing in releasing him.  The authorities argued that Mahmoud is a member of the Islamic Jihad, which he denied.  Whether or not the allegation has merit, we will never know because the Israeli authorities said they didn’t have enough evidence to bring him to trial.   No one — in Israel, the US,  anywhere — should be denied his liberty on a mere hunch or suspicion.  But it happens ALL OF THE TIME to Palestinians in Israel.

The photos of Mahmoud Al-Sarsak returning home victoriously remind me of the ancient Roman gladiators.   With the odds stacked against them, these warriors fought in “games” to defend their honor and dignity.   The citizens of Rome took great pleasure in the “combat.”

Roman gladiator

Today, is there anyone taking pleasure in the sport of the Israeli Occupation?

It appears to be a sport, albeit a very cruel one.

Perhaps the rules of the game could be changed.  Could we set aside the lethal weapons, rockets, drones, and white phosphorous that have been used on Palestinian civilians, as well as the crude rockets launched by the militants from the Gaza Strip?  Instead, we could enlist soccer (futbol) players — both Palestinian and Israeli athletes.

Just imagine the festivities!   The match would have to be at a neutral location agreeable to both; the proceeds from ticket sales might fetch a pretty penny.  The profits would be shared equally, of course.

The only “weapon” would  be the soccer ball, of course.  No fighting to the death.  Just good, old-fashion scores.

Who would be the referees?  Hmmmm!   Israelis don’t trust the United Nations, and Palestinians don’t trust the United States.  Finding referees trusted by both might be challenging.

But assuming the games could proceed, and weren’t rained out or postponed for other reasons, we could see the beginning of a new tradition – 21st century gladiators fighting for the honor and dignity of their homeland.  I’m referring to both Palestinians and Israelis.

And the global citizens who watched, either in person or live-streamed to their computers, could cheer on their favorite team.

This proposal makes plenty of sense — at least to me, a mother and grandmother who abhors violence, death and destruction.  But I’m a pragmatist.  I realize we must do something about the excess testosterone in the world.

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Filed under Football - Soccer, Gaza, Hunger Strike, nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, People