Terror ‘All Stars’? Israel bans entry to Gaza soccer team, for good reason

Israel banned travel permits for most of a Gazan soccer team due to their ties to terrorism. 

By World Israel News Staff and Associated Press

Israel has denied travel permits to most players on a Gazan soccer team which had hoped to cross through Israel and into the Judea and Samaria to play a local championship final against a rival Palestinian club.

Khadamat Rafah is set to play Balata FC in Judea and Samaria on Wednesday. But without the Israeli travel permits, the game is unlikely to take place as scheduled.

In a statement, Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency, which screens permit requests, said a security check turned up information pointing to “most” of the team’s “links to terrorism.” That, coupled with heightened security threats from the Gaza Strip, prompted the agency to recommend the players be prevented entry.

Cogat, (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) an Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said every permit request is examined “individually and thoroughly.”

Due to the security threat, Israel has been forced to restrict movement to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and requires travelers to obtain permits to leave.

Critics say these are increasingly harder to come by. Israel disputes this and says it grants tens of thousands of permits for Gazans with no terrorist ties.

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Palestine Football Association President Jibril Rajoub, who was suspended in 2018 from FIFA, the world’s soccer body, for inciting hatred towards Argentinian star Lionel Messi, one of the greatest players of his generation, because of a planned game between Argentina and Israel, told The Associated Press:

“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,”

The soccer team’s predicament highlights the daily difficulties Gazans face under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

Rajoub said his association has long lobbied FIFA to sanction Israel for what it says are its efforts to restrict the movement of Palestinian players.

He slammed the withholding of permits and pledged to hold the game.

Under the Palestinian Football Association’s terms, the winners of the Gaza league play the champions in Judea and Samaria in a two-leg final, one in the Gaza Strip and one in the Judea and Samaria.

The Gaza game took place earlier this year and this week’s game, which had already been delayed for two months over access to permits, was to take place near the city of Nablus (Shechem) north of Jerusalem.

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The winner of the final game goes on to compete in the Asian Champions League.

Following the Gaza game, Khadamat Rafah had attempted for two months to obtain permits but its two requests were denied, except for a handful of club members.

Gisha, an Israeli rights group that had challenged the move in court, criticized Israel’s permit system.

“The ease with which the state labels Palestinians as a security threat turns out to be time and again an arbitrary and sweeping act,” said Gisha, an Israeli rights group that had challenged the state’s decision along with the players.

Gisha received 23,471,422 shekels from foreign governmental bodies between 2012-2019, according to NGO Monitor. It has frequently criticized Israeli security policies in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and has at times petitioned Israel’s High Court in an attempt to hamstring those policies.

A court in Jerusalem upheld the state’s decision on Monday.

The Palestine Cup had been suspended for years until 2016 when FIFA reached understandings between Israel and the Palestinians over the movement of athletes.

Tournaments in 2017 and 2018 took place as planned.