When Israel makes an own goal

Erez Crossing. Photo by Gisha

Erez Crossing. Photo by Gisha

August 3, 2016. After insisting for two days on its refusal to allow Palestinian soccer players from Gaza to exit the Strip in order to play in the Palestine Super Cup match, Israel retracted its security allegations against most of the players who had been denied exit. The match was held in Hebron yesterday. Just another example of the arbitrary, life-disrupting conduct, which is rampant at the crossing.

The Palestine Super Cup final match ultimately took place in Hebron, after a long and inexplicable chain of events, which culminated in Israel allowing players from Gaza to join their teammates, who had been waiting in Hebron since last week. This story, at least, has a happy ending, but the conduct of the authorities at the crossing shows – once more – how readily Palestinians are labeled as “security threats”.

This year’s final pitted the Shaban Khan Yunis team from Gaza against Ahali al-Khalil from Hebron. The Gaza team arrived at Erez crossing last Thursday, ahead of the final match, which was scheduled for Saturday, but only eleven of the players were allowed to cross. Seven others were refused. It was decided to postpone the match and contact the international football association, FIFA, for help. The first match between the two teams was held in Gaza last week, when some of the Hebron players were denied entry.

The decision to deny the players passage from Gaza to Hebron was made by the Israel Security Agency (ISA), which said that the players were denied entry “due to damaging security information and in light of the security situation”. One wonders exactly how obstructing a sports event with tens of thousands of eager fans in the Palestinian territory benefits the security of Israelis. The fact that the ISA retracted its decision, as it does occasionally when faced with external pressure, only raises more questions about the necessity of the decision in the first place.

We have been sounding alarm bells over the growing numbers of Palestinians whose permits have been cancelled for “security reasons” or those who arrive at Erez Crossing, valid exit permit in hand, yet are told to go home, sometimes after hours of questioning at the crossing. This soccer game took place, with an impressive line-up of Gaza players, but for most of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents, including traders, families, medical patients and many others who don’t have FIFA in their court – gratuitous travel restrictions remain and are an everyday reality.