[Boycott - Sports]
Ireland v Israel
Paul MacGiolla Bán, Independent Media Centre Ireland
14 June 2005
I was somewhat distracted while watching both of the Republic of Ireland soccer squad's games against Israel in their quest for qualification for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. Normally, watching Ireland's competitive games is an enjoyable, exciting, and somewhat tense experience, especially when they don't quite seem to be playing as well as I feel they should be. But for both of the games against Israel I found it quite difficult to keep my mind focussed on the football. In watching this soccer game between two nations, I wasn't quite able to put it out of my mind that one of the nations is responsible for the systematic oppression of a population whose land they have occupied.
Most people are aware that there is some kind of conflict between Israel and Palestine. But though the situation is referred to as a conflict, giving the impression of two equal sides battling it out, the word 'conflict' does not accurately reflect the situation, which is incredibly unbalanced in favour of the Israelis.
Israel is sometimes referred to as the only democracy in the middle east. And yet, Israel is in violation of over 60 United Nations resolutions - more than any other nation. The Palestinians, in contrast, are targeted by zero UN resolutions. The two main Palestinian homelands, Gaza and the West Bank, are under Israeli control. Palestinians are the victim of routine human rights abuses at the hands of the Israeli state. These occupied territories function like a prison the size of a small country. As the so-called peace talks continue, Israel is constructing a literal wall around the Gaza Strip. This wall will be 8m high, and the International Court of Justice has stated that the wall “violates certain international and humanitarian laws”. Palestinians in Israel live under an apartheid system, similar to that in operation in South Africa in the 1980s.
On Saturday June 4th, 2005, there was a demonstration in Dublin in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and in protest at their treatment by the Israeli state. It was organised by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC). The demonstrators gathered at the Central Bank on Dame St. before marching past the Dáil and on to the Israeli embassy. According to various reports, between 500 to 2,000 people attended, including several members of Ireland's Palestinian community. The demonstration took place on the same day as Ireland's home fixture against Israel.
This is the reason I found it so difficult to concentrate on the football while watching Ireland's two drawn matches against Israel this year. The situation in Israel is public knowledge and not in dispute. I will return to the plight of the Palestinian people later, but first I want to address the issue of sport and politics.
When confronted with this situation the average football fan will say, quite reasonably, that sport should be kept separate from politics. They do not want to hear about these issues, and do not want their enjoyment of the game ruined. They do not see what relevance the Palestinian situation has to a soccer match. And the mass media are reluctant to make the link between sport and politics, for fear of seeming like spoilsports. However, unpleasant as it may be, the reality is that sport and politics are already mixed.
When the Israeli national team plays soccer, it is a chance for the Israeli state to show a positive face to the world. This public aspect of Israel does not reflect their appalling human rights record. Their treatment of the Palestinian people is hidden from view. They can appear in international competition side by side with other nations without any reference being made to their apartheid policies. But these policies are a central part of the Israeli state's identity. You should not be able to think of the state of Israel without thinking of the Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people.
There is also a Palestinian soccer team. However, life for them is not as easy as it is for the Israeli national team. While Israeli sportspeople travel freely abroad for matches and tournaments, the Palestinian team is frequently stopped at checkpoints. In September 2004, five players were prevented from leaving the occupied territories for their World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan. The Palestinian team's 'home' fixtures are actually played abroad, at Doha in Qatar. Their training ground is in Ismailia in Egypt, over 100 miles from Gaza players' homes. This is a result of the political situation. As a direct result of politics, the Palestinian football team faces all these obstacles. This illustrates how sport and politics cannot be thought of separately.
And so it is that human rights groups, including Jewish and Israeli campaigns, have called for a boycott of Israeli goods. This is why the IPSC called for a boycott of Ireland's World Cup matches against Israel. Perhaps the call for a boycott was not the best way to proceed, as such a call was never going to be successful. But as the citizens of a state where we are lucky enough to have the freedom to enjoy our basic rights, we have a responsibility to show solidarity in some way with those who do not have this freedom. And so, Israel's recent World Cup qualifying matches against Ireland were a perfect opportunity to draw attention to this characteristic of the Israeli state. And yet, the coverage of the match did not include any reference to the plight of the Palestinian people. Not one comment was made about the sectarian policies of the Israeli state. The FAI refused to call for a minute's silence in respect for the victims on both sides of the conflict. As writer Dr. Joe Cleary stated in a speech at the beginning of the march, our politicians, trade union leaders, religious figureheads, and media elites say that they know about the situation in Palestine. They agree that the situation is horrific. They say that their sympathies are with the Palestinian people. And yet, on an occasion such as this soccer match against Israel, a perfect opportunity to highlight the injustices consistently suffered by Palestinians for decades, they are silent.
Under international law, an occupying force must protect all civilians in the area under its control. This is ignored by Israel. The 65 UN resolutions targeting Israel relate to Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people. As mentioned above, there are two areas of Israel where there are large concentrations of Palestinians: the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. These areas were under Palestinian control until Israel took over in a military invasion in 1967. Although they were designated to become a Palestinian homeland in the Oslo peace accord of 1993, they remain under Israeli control. These areas are referred to as the occupied territories. It is in these occupied territories that the Palestinian people live under Israeli jurisdiction.
The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not like the rest of Israel. An Irish person travelling to any other part of Israel would find a society quite similar to his own. However, the occupied territories are a different proposition. Here, the Palestinian population lives in extreme poverty. There are severe water shortages. There are high rates of malnutrition, illiteracy, and infant mortality. But these conditions of deprivation do not result from the Israeli state's inaction or unwillingness to improve the quality of lives of the Palestinian people. These conditions are the result of conscious action and planning by the Israeli state. In the occupied territories, there are forced evictions of Palestinian families. Palestinian businesses, houses, shops, and crops are bulldozed and destroyed. The Palestinian population's movement is regulated by Israeli checkpoints. These checkpoints prevent children from travelling to school, workers from travelling to their place of work, and the sick, injured and pregnant from travelling to hospital. The people are prevented from governing themselves effectively. Although in some areas Israel has allowed Palestinians to take on the administration of functions relating to health care, education, and infrastructural projects, Israel retains overall control.
But as if this were not bad enough, the most serious difficulty faced by the Palestinian people is the constant Israeli military presence in their communities. Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships periodically enter Palestinian communities. The Israeli military impose frequent curfews on the population. They shoot at the Palestinian volunteer ambulance service. Young men are arbitrarily arrested and placed in 'administrative detention' without trial.
In the alleged attempts to correct this situation, there is discussion of the viability of a one state solution or a two state solution. Much is made of Palestinian suicide bombings, and it is said that this is preventing the negotiation of a political settlement. The loss of life and injuries as a result of suicide bombings is tragic. It should be remembered that this loss of life due to suicide bombings is on a much smaller scale than the death count on the Palestinian side. Since the beginning of the current intifada (Arabic for 'shaking off') at the end of September 2000, 1,049 Israelis have been killed, but 3,617 Palestinians have been killed. 118 Israeli children have been killed, but 680 Palestinian children have been killed. All of these deaths are tragic, but far more Palestinians than Israelis are dying. And currently, 8,043 Palestinians are being held in prison by Israel, according to official figures. Most are held in appalling conditions. No Israelis are held captive by the Palestinian side of the 'conflict'. 4,170 Palestinian homes have been demolished during the current intifada, but no Israeli home has been demolished by Palestinians. While suicide bombings are horrific, in the normal course of events, the Israeli population are free to pursue a normal, free existence. For the Palestinian population there can be no normality. This is a nation where one class of people have their basic rights directly violated by the state. These human rights violations include persistent violations of rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Civil and Political Rights, including the right to life, the right to freedom of movement, and the right to self-determination.
There are many Israelis who are not racist. The racist attitude towards Palestinians which is prevalent in Israel does not come as a result of being Jewish. There is no link between this racism and the Jewish faith, the Jewish race or the Jewish cultural identity. This is shown by the fact that much of the horrific detail of the Israeli state's treatment of the Palestinian people is reported by Jewish journalists in the Israeli press. To be filled with horror at the Israeli state's subjugation of the Palestinian people does not mean to have any bad feeling towards Jews in general. There is a difference between being Jewish and believing in the philosophy of Zionism. It is true that this is a specifically Jewish philosophy, but all Jews do not subscribe to this philosophy, and indeed, many non-Jews are supportive of Zionist philosophy. Therefore, our condemnation of the Israeli brutalisation of Palestine should be directed at the Israeli state, rather than directed at Jews in general. Otherwise we are perpetrators of the same deluded prejudice that is now focussed on the Palestinians.
Raymond Deane, the chair of the IPSC, has called for "a massive 'tell the truth' campaign targeted at our mainstream media". As citizens of a free society we have a responsibility to show solidarity with those who do not have this luxury. This begins with informing ourselves. We must become aware of the reality of the situation.
- www.ipsc.ie (Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
- www.adl.org (Anti Defamation League)
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