Is Palestinian Soccer in Israel’s Crosshairs?

The following is an article from The Nation sportswriter David Zirin on the latest israeli attack on Palestinian soccer players. In response to the “truly jarring” response that this article received from Zirin’s fellow sports reporters, he wrote a follow-up piece which goes features a more in-depth history of Israeli violence against Palestinian athletes.

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The Palestinian national soccer team, a source of pride for many, has been under attack by the Israeli state. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)

Their names are Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17. They were once soccer players in the West Bank. Now they are never going to play sports again. Jawhar and Adam were on their way home from a training session in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium on January 31 when Israeli forces fired upon them as they approached a checkpoint. After being shot repeatedly, they were mauled by checkpoint dogs and then beaten. Ten bullets were put into Jawhar’s feet. Adam took one bullet in each foot. After being transferred from a hospital in Ramallah to King Hussein Medical Center in Amman, they received the news that soccer would no longer be a part of their futures. (Israel’s border patrol maintains that the two young men were about to throw a bomb.)

This is only the latest instance of the targeting of Palestinian soccer players by the Israeli army and security forces. Death, injury or imprisonment has been a reality for several members of the Palestinian national team over the last five years. Just imagine if members of Spain’s top-flight World Cup team had been jailed, shot or killed by another country and imagine the international media outrage that would ensue. Imagine if prospective youth players for Brazil were shot in the feet by the military of another nation. But, tragically, these events along the checkpoints have received little attention on the sports page or beyond.

Much has been written about the psychological effect this kind of targeting has on the occupied territories. Sports represent escape, joy and community, and the Palestinian national soccer team, for a people without a recognized nation, is a source of tremendous pride. To attack the players is to attack the hope that the national team will ever truly have a home.

The Palestinian national football team, which formed in 1998, is currently ranked 144th in the world by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). They have never been higher than 115th. As Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril al-Rajoub commented bluntly, the problems are rooted in “the occupation’s insistence on destroying Palestinian sport.”

Over the last year, in response to this systematic targeting of Palestinian soccer, al-Rajoub has attempted to assemble forces to give Israel the ultimate sanction and, as he said, “demand the expulsion of Israel from FIFA and the International Olympic Committee.” Al-Rajoub claims the support of Jordan, Qatar, Iran, Oman, Algiers and Tunisia in favor of this move, and promises more countries, with an opportunity at a regional March 14 meeting of Arab states, to organize more support. He has also pledged to make the resolution formal when all the member nations of FIFA meet in Brazil.

Qatar’s place in this, as host of the 2022 World Cup, deserves particular scrutiny. As the first Arab state to host the tournament, they are under fire for the hundreds of construction deaths of Nepalese workers occurring on their watch. As the volume on these concerns rises, Qatar needs all the support in FIFA that they can assemble. Whether they eventually see the path to that support as one that involves confronting or accommodating Israel, will be fascinating to see.

As for Sepp Blatter, he clearly recognizes that there is a problem in the treatment of Palestinian athletes by the Israeli state. Over the last year, he has sought to mediate this issue by convening a committee of Israeli and Palestinian authorities to see if they can come to some kind of agreement about easing the checkpoints and restrictions that keep Palestinian athletes from leaving (and trainers, consultants and coaches from entering) the West Bank and Gaza. Yet al-Rajoub sees no progress. As he said, “This is the way the Israelis are behaving and I see no sign that they have recharged their mental batteries. There is no change on the ground. We are a full FIFA member and have the same rights as all other members.”

The shooting into the feet of Jawhar and Adam has taken a delicate situation and made it an impossible one. Sporting institutions like FIFA and the IOC are always wary about drawing lines in the sand when it comes to the conduct of member nations. But the deliberate targeting of players is seen, even in the corridors of power, as impossible to ignore. As long as Israel subjects Palestinian athletes to detention and violence, their seat at the table of international sports will be never be short of precarious.

Update on the Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado

The Anti-Oppression Forum is really proud to be one of 120 activist groups and individuals endorsing the call to free indigenous Mexican-American community organizer Nestora Salgado. This update, from the Freedom for Nestora Committee-Seattle, WA goes into depth on Nestora’s case and how you can get involved.

NEWSFLASH! On March 7, the Mexico City Committee to Free Nestora will hold a press conference at which Nestora’s sister, Clotilde Salgado will speak. It will be broadcast live at 10:00am Mexico City time from the portal CENCOS (cencos.wordpress.com). It will be followed by a public forum at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and by a demonstration supported by a number of unions that have endorsed the campaign. They will all address the case of Nestora, and the plight of the community police in Guerrero and in Michoacán. The Mexican National Human Rights Commission has dispatched a team of investigators to look into the circumstances of Nestora’s arrest and incarceration to determine if they violate her civil and political rights. More on this when additional facts are available.

It has been six months since Nestora Salgado, a U.S. citizen and resident of Renton, Washington, was abducted from her hometown of Olinalá, Mexico and transported to a federal maximum security prison hundreds of miles away. She remains imprisoned today on trumped up charges related to her role as the elected leader of the indigenous police force in Olinalá, a force which defended the community against violent drug cartels and corrupt officials. Six months of inaction on her behalf by the U.S. government has resulted in grave hardship and deprivation for her and her family.

As her imprisonment and the arrest of other community police continues, the international campaign to free Nestora and her comrades is growing. Thus far it has encompassed a hunger strike by her husband Jose; an online petition campaign that has over 6300 signers; endorsements by over 120 organizations and prominent individuals; legal petitions filed with the U.N. and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; and a multi-city, multinational day of protest and picketing on International Human Rights Day, December 10. Protests took place at Mexican consulates in five U.S. cities and government offices in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. There were also other actions in Australia, France and Argentina. Dozens of TV and radio interviews, as well as numerous newspaper articles in the U.S. and Mexico, have covered Nestora’s plight and the campaign to free her. Univision, the largest Spanish language TV network in the U.S., produced a short news report on her story.

Carrying out this campaign has entailed considerable expense for picket signs, photos, banners, informational flyers and transportation. Donations are urgently needed and gladly accepted to expand this campaign, please see below for more on how to make a donationA shout out goes to the Frente de Resistencia por México which held a successful fundraising event in Los Angeles on February 22.

The Freedom for Nestora organizing committee and her family are keeping up a pressure campaign on members of the Washington State congressional delegation. As of yet, they have not acted on our request to urge Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene on Nestora’s behalf. Instead they have tried working through the U.S. consulate in Guadalajara with minimal results. Only after numerous visits by consulate staff was Nestora allowed to receive, but not make, international phone calls with her family. Additionally, after months of letting Nestora see only her sister, one of her daughters has recently been allowed visits. That and clean drinking water are all that the U.S. intervention have produced.

A critical situation

protestPhoto: Radical Women’s Ann Rodgers, Nestora’s daughter Ruby Rodriguez, and husband José Avila

Prison officials continue to deny Nestora medical attention and the drugs needed to control the pain she suffers due to neuropathy. She is still barred from daily exercise (part of the treatment for her condition) and is restricted to her cell for all but an hour a week. Not surprisingly, she has lost considerable weight. Her sense of isolation is intensified by prison rules that forbid her contact with other inmates, even her cellmate.

The failure of Nestora’s congressional representatives and the U.S. State Department to aggressively intervene to free her has made her situation more difficult. Their lack of action has given a green light to increasingly punitive and exaggerated charges being brought against her by Mexican prosecutors. Six counts of kidnapping suddenly became 50 counts; coordinating legitimate community policing activities is now called leading a “criminal conspiracy”; and allowing community police officers to lawfully arm themselves with single shot rifles and machetes has become “weapons trafficking”.

Forcing Nestora to expend a great deal of the time and money to answer all these bogus charges is part of the Mexican government’s strategy to drain Nestora’s limited resources. Just getting copies of the files related to the plethora of charges against her will cost hundreds of dollars. This is on top of the heavy expenses involved in traveling hundreds of miles to and from the prison to visit Nestora.

Clearly federal and state prosecutors have been sabotaging Nestora’s right to effective legal representation. Government representatives have interfered not only with her right to see an attorney, but also with her choice of attorneys. The court refused to recognize her original lawyer who worked for a well-respected human rights organization and who had experience representing political prisoners. This delay tactic led the family in Guerrero to hire another attorney out of desperation. Unfortunately, he did not have the requisite qualifications to take on a political case like this. Only recently they secured a highly qualified law firm in Mexico City to represent her. But as of this writing–and six months after her arrest–she has still not seen an attorney.

Exciting news on the organizing front in Mexico
On January 17, a demonstration in the capital city of Guerrero demanded Nestora’s release along with other indigenous political prisoners. The Freedom for Nestora campaign issued a statement of solidarity that was widely publicized in the press in Mexico,including the two major newspapers in Guerrero. Two weeks later, on February 2, Nestora’s daughter Sayra spoke before a thousand supporters in Mexico City with the help of Partido Obrero Socialista (POS).

Other solidarity actions included a campaign kicked off by POS to produce and put up 2000 posters to raise public awareness of the case in Mexico. POS members were also instrumental in getting teachers in Oaxaca who belong to the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE) to endorse the solidarity campaign.

Labor and people of color organizations in the U.S. call for Nestora’s release
The Freedom for Nestora-Seattle campaign was highly visible at the January march and rally in Seattle commemorating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. King County Council Member Larry Gossett promoted the campaign and invited Nestora’s husband Jose Avila and her daughter Grisel Rodriguez to address the crowd of several thousand. The MLK Day Celebration Committee also passed a resolution calling on the Congressional Black Caucus to urge the State Department to take immediate action to secure Nestora’s release from custody.

The Freedom for Nestora campaign has been endorsed by an impressive list of labor organizations within the last month. They include: the Washington State Labor Council – AFL-CIO; Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters; Seattle/King County Building & Construction Trades Council; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 77; Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 8; Washington Federation of State Employees Local 843; Puget Sound Coalition of Labor Union Women; and Puget Sound Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

International Women’s Day celebrations keep up the fight

Nestora’s campaign will be featured prominently in International Women’s Day events not only in Mexico City but in New York City, where members of YoSoy132, Nueva York will be on a panel on March 15. In Seattle, members of Nestora’s family will be speak at the annual celebration on March 14. On March 23 Nestora’s case will be one of several examples of repression against women leaders and activists discussed as part of a Bay Area IWD tribute.

As we learn of other events, we will let you know. ¡La lucha continua!

HELP FREE NESTORA! MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!

  • If you haven’t already, now is the time to sign the online petition demanding freedom for Nestora.
  • Write letters and make calls to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to intervene with Mexican officials to free Nestora. His address is U.S. Department of State, Attention: Secretary John Kerry, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520. His phone number is 202-647-4000, TTY: 1-800-877-8339.
  • Please make a donation to the ongoing fight. Every penny will go toward freeing Nestora. Make checks out to “Radical Women-Nestora Fund” and mail to Freedom for Nestora Committee, 5018 Rainier Ave S., Seattle, WA 98118.
  • Visit the Free Nestora Campaign Facebook page to volunteer and to check for new developments, meetings and activities.

This report was prepared by members of the Freedom for Nestora Committee– Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Su Docekal, Coordinator
FreeNestora.Seattle@gmail.com
206-953-5601