The President of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) said Israel’s behavior towards Palestinian footballers was a major stumbling block stopping players from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from taking part in the planned ‘match of peace’ against Barcelona in July.
In February, Barcelona club President Sandro Rosell met with Israeli President Shimon Peres to propose the match between the Catalan superstars and a joint Israeli/Palestinian team.
Speaking to Reuters in Ramallah, PFA chief Jabril Rajoub said Israel routinely stopped Palestinian sportsmen from travelling to matches and training.
“Because of the behavior of the Israelis, that targets sport and athletes, our movement is limited,” Rajoub said.
“I believe that it’s too early to talk about a joint match because of the discriminatory behaviour, even on the playing field, which is being practiced by Israel,’’ he added.
The Catalonian team is no stranger to political controversy in the Middle East.
In October last year the club accepted a request from former Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to attend a match between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Shalit had been held in captivity in the Gaza Strip for five years and was released in October 2011 after the Israeli government negotiated with Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip, and agreed to the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli detention.
To redress the balance at the ‘El Clasico’ match, Barcelona invited Mahmoud al-Sarsak, a former Palestinian soccer player to the game along with a Palestinian ambassador and Rajoub.
Sarsak who had been detained by Israeli authorities without charge for three years after he was stopped when travelling from Gaza to the West Bank to play a match, refused to attend the game, saying he would not share the same stadium with “killer soldier” Shalit.
This summer Israel is set to host the Under-21 European Championship, their biggest soccer tournament since joining UEFA in 1992, and Rajoub said that Israel being awarded the tournament was like a reward for the mistreatment of the Palestinians.
“I hope that Europe reconsiders this decision. Either Israel should adhere to the Olympic Charter and should acknowledge the existence of Palestinian sport events, and it’s right to live and move and do sport like any other nation in the world. Otherwise it is wrong to give Israel the credit for the crime it is doing against Palestinian athletics,” he said.
The European football body, UEFA, has been under fire for awarding the tournament to Israel, and many letters and petitions have been addressed to UEFA President Michel Platini asking him to change his mind.
Barcelona’s match of peace is set to take place in Tel Aviv on July 31, Israeli President Shimon Peres has undertaken to ensure that all players selected to participate would be permitted to attend.
The Under-21 European championship kicks off on June 5 with matches in Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Netanya and Jerusalem.