Palestinians are aiming to get Israel suspended from the international soccer federation, despite efforts by FIFA President Sepp Blatter to calm the waters, writes Daniela Cheslow from El-Bireh in the West Bank.
Palestinian soccer player Uday Kharoub grew up kicking a ball around the streets of his native Qalqilya, and when he was 20 joined his brother to play on the national Palestinian team. Despite being a player accredited by FIFA, Kharoub, 21, said he is frequently stopped at checkpoints while traveling to games and practice in the West Bank.
"You cannot know what is going on in the heads of the soldiers," he said.
Palestinian players are on the offensive now. Gen. Jibril Rajoub, chairman of the Palestinian Football Association, vowed Wednesday to continue pushing a vote to suspend Israel from FIFA, despite attempts by visiting FIFA Chief Sepp Blatter to avert the vote at the association's upcoming May 29 Congress. Rajoub said FIFA's 209 members should suspend Israel until it allows for the free movement of Palestinian players, eases restrictions on importing equipment, and addresses what he referred to as anti-Arab racism in its federation.
"We will keep the proposal on the agenda for sincere and open discussion," Rajoub said. "There will be no compromising."
At a press conference at a Ramallah soccer academy named after Blatter, Rajoub screened footage of Israeli troops storming a Palestinian match and arresting a FIFA-accredited Palestinian referee. He pointed to photographs of the late soccer player Mohammad Al-Qatari, fatally shot in a protest steps away from the academy in summer 2014. And he recalled FIFA's previous decisions to suspend teams from Apartheid-era South Africa.
While Rajoub spoke in a furious torrent, Blatter tried to calm the waters. He recalled that three-quarters of FIFA members would have to vote Israel out, an unlikely prospect. He recalled that Rajoub had offered to establish a monitoring mechanism to resolve the Palestinian grievances, including excluding five clubs based in Israeli settlements.
"If there is a vote it will be a lose-lose-lose situation," he said. "We should avoid that."
In the audience were two dozen Palestinian players, dressed in bright red uniforms with olive trees embossed on their chests. Coach Nouredine Ouldali said one result of Israeli restrictions was that he maintained three lists of potential players, in case athletes were arrested or delayed.
The FIFA vote has dominated Israeli conversation. Israeli Soccer Association Head Rotem Kamer decried Tuesday what he called, "a clear mix of politics and football."
Yossi Shivhon, who played for Israel in World Cup qualifiers in France, Cyprus, Switzerland, Andorra and the Faroe Islands, told DW an exclusion from FIFA would be devastating.
"It's like all the work you did, all you dreamed, is all stopped," he said. "The goals you aimed for – you cannot reach."
Blatter will return to Jerusalem Thursday to continue negotiations. He has suggested the Israelis and Palestinians organize a "peace match" as a step to resolve their differences – a suggestion Rajoub brushed off.
"Solving the problem means ending the suffering and the grievances of our athletes, our players and our officials," Rajoub said. "Everybody is asking about your proposal to have a joint game…this should be an endgame."