Israel denies Gaza football team entry to West Bank

Israel denies Gaza football team entry to West Bank
Members of one of Gaza's leading football teams were reportedly denied permission to leave the strip for the second leg of a match with their West Bank counterparts.
3 min read
07 August, 2015
Thursday's match was the first Gaza vs West Bank match in 15 years [Anadolu]
On Thursday a historic football match took place in Gaza between Ahli Al-Khalil - the top team in the West Bank - and al-Shujaya, the land strip's home team.

Waving Palestinian flags, seven thousand fans packed Gaza's Yarmouk Stadium to cheer on al-Shujaya.

"Today represents the unity of land, the unity of people. Today, Palestinian sport defeated the Israeli occupier," said Abdel-Salem Haniyeh of the Palestinian higher council of sport.

The game ended in a goaless draw, perhaps an appropriate score considering the long-standing separation of the West Bank and Gaza.

However, as the Gaza team attempted to pass through the Eretz border crossing for the away leg of the cup match in the West Bank, Israeli authorities refused the team entry.

Four of the players and three of the team's staff were refused travel permits, spokesperson Alaa Shamali said.

The second leg of the cup game, scheduled for Sunday, has now been postponed and state news agency Maan reported that in the next 24 hours, FIFA will work to have the Israeli travel restrictions lifted.

The Israeli Coordination of Government Aactivities in the Territories (COGAT) - a unit of the Israeli ministry of defence unit that coordinates civilian issues in the Occupied Territories - said it had coordinated travel permissions for 37 players. 

However, it needed four players to attend a "preliminary enquiry", and so scheduled their crossing a day earlier.

Palestinian football association president, Jibril Rajoub, canceled their permission to cross, COGAT's twitter statement added.

The group said that coordination was once arranged for Friday but was cancelled by the Palestinian official.

The Palestinian federation said that the game was now delayed until further notice.

"It became clear that seven people, including four players, were not on the list and therefore the entire mission can't leave Gaza without them," Ala Shammaly, a member of the media office for the Shejaia team told Reuters.

Earlier this week, officials told al-Jazeera that the permission to let the West Bank team Ahli Al-Khalil cross the border is part of the deal between Israel and the PFA, following Rajoub's withdrawal of a proposal to throw Israel out of FIFA.

The vote had the support of many of FIFA's members, as well as from Palestinians and international supporters.

Before back-tracking on his decision, Rajoub said nothing would persuade him to remove the request from Fifa's formal agenda, including backroom deals.

Rajoub, former head of preventative security forces in the West Bank, elicited mass criticism for the decision.

Israel has a history of hindering Palestinian footballers from playing the sport, and they are regularly subjected to interrogations when passing through Israeli-run checkpoints and boundary crossings.

In 2014 two teenage Palestinian footballers were shot in the foot at an Israeli checkpoint and the injuries have prevented them from playing football again.

Just before the FIFA vote, Samah Maraaba, a member Palestinian national team, was detained at the Israeli-controlled West Bank-Jordan border.

In another particularly well-known case, Mahmoud Sarsak, a player for the Palestinian National team was held in prison for his alleged involvement with the Islamic Jihad group. He went on hunger strike for three months.

Rajoub said on Thursday he had received a letter from FIFA President Sepp Blatter saying he would work to remove obstacles that may hinder the holding of the final game.

Rajoub also came under fire for reportedly voting for Blatter instead of Jordan's candidate, Prince Ali bin Hussein.