Soccer of the Absurd

Right now, Israel, the Palestinians, and the FIFA [Fédération Internationale de Football Association], the World Soccer Authority, are engaged in a struggle of the absurd. The Palestinians claim that Israel has been interfering with their ability to play soccer by preventing team members from entering and leaving Palestinian controlled areas. The Palestinians are now petitioning the FIFA to expel Israel from its organization. If Palestine cannot play freely, why should Israel play at all?

According to the Arabs, some players are humiliated and abused before being allowed to cross the Allenby Bridge -- the only exit option for Arabs living in Judea and Samaria -- to Jordan to participate in international competition.

[S]aid Mr. Salah  ... “I’m only a soccer player. I love the ball — there’s no reason for me to sit three, four hours to be humiliated and harassed.” - New York Times

At other times Palestinian players have been prevented from crossing the border to play international competition or visiting teams have been prevented.

Because sometimes Israelian [sic] occupation prevent some teams to visit Palestine - State of Play, Euro 2013, Football and Palestine

Israel says these difficulties are due to security concerns; and no doubt there might be a few militants in the ranks of the players -- sport has never been simon pure; though some of the Palestinians claim a degree of harassment is at play [pun intended].

Even the national teams that come from outside, they have a problem ... the Israelis ... there are two players ... they are women ... and they are young players ... they stop [sic] them in Jordan ... they didn't let them to come in ... and they are [from] Myanmar or Chinese Taipai or Taiwan ... [second speaker] ... and this was deliberately to spoil the match ... [first speaker] Just to spoil the match - State of Play

The charge is that Israel is interfering with the rights of Palestinians to field a national soccer team.  Evil Israel is once again oppressing humanity.

Sounds like a valid charge, if one lacks critical thinking.  Do the Palestinians have a right to a national team? Are the Apache given a slot in world soccer competition? Do Chile and Argentina allow the Mapuche natives to field a national squad? If any non-nation deserves a team ... it ought to be Texas.

I know this is a gray area. Scotland, which is not independent, has a national soccer team. So does Puerto Rico, though part of the USA, and Tahiti, though part of France. This is not a clear call, but neither can it be assumed to be a natural right for Palestinians.

Athletic Bilbao became a rallying team for Basque nationalism. FC Barcelona is the flagship for Catalan nationalism. The Basque and Catalans certainly have a clearer, and longer claim on separate nationality, language, and identity than the Palestinians have; yet even though the Basque and Catalans field "national" teams for regional play, they do not have affiliation with the FIFA, only Spain has. Further complicating this debate is the incontrovertible history that the original Palestinian soccer team had Jewish players, and morphed into the Israeli team in 1948.

So if Israel is interfering with Palestinian national expression in sport, I am neither surprised nor outraged.

I am sure there are security reasons at times, but Israeli courts have granted considerable leeway whenever security is claimed, so I cannot rule out all of the Palestinian complaints as lies. I am sure there is a degree of harassment. Just how much of this soccer obstruction is for genuine security reasons, I do not know; but I have no reason to trust the Arabs more than the Israelis. Maybe the players are security risks, maybe the Israelis are just fishing for info from third parties, or want to show the Arabs just who is in charge. Keep them off balance. Who knows?

... Rotem Kemer, chief executive of the Israel Football Association, said that more than 95 percent of Palestinian requests for player movement had been approved so far this year, and that those rejected “probably had some background involving terrorism.”  - New York Times

The absurdity is that Israel is halfway responsible for this. If Palestinians "do not exist," as so many Zionists claim, why even allow a Palestinian team at all? Why doesn't Israel just clamp down and stamp out the pretense? They do not exist, we are not letting them out to play.

The answer is politics. Israel politicians talk out of both sides of their mouth. Simultaneously they deny a genuine Palestinian national identity, while still talking of a two state solution ... and at the same time denying that Palestinians will ever be given a state.

Part of the reason is money. A good portion of the money given to the Palestinians is used by the Palestinians to buy Israeli products: food, medicines, etc.  The dark secret is that if the West stopped funding the Palestinian Authority, not only would the Palestinians go broke, but so would a lot of Israeli businesses who sell consumer goods to the Palestinians. Subsidies to the Palestinian Authority, though they be looted by corrupt officials, do take some burden off of the Israelis. What the West subsidizes the Israelis don't have to.

Israel is also afraid of international blowback if she flat out declares there will be no truly independent Palestinians state. The Israeli government does not want to bite the bullet, so rather than manfully putting an end to this charade, it waddles along in this twilight zone, and we see this present absurdity in world soccer right now.

Adding to the lunacy, the Palestinians want to disallow five Israeli teams from Judea and Samaria.

The Israel FA not only remains silent when attacks against Palestinian sports are committed, but is complicit with the occupation, having accepted five teams from Israeli settlements internationally recognised as illegal under international law.  - The Guardian

Then the lunatic fringe comes out. Gideon Levy is supporting the Palestinians and asking the FIFA to boot the Israelis out of world soccer.

The truth must be told from the outset: I hope Israel is suspended from FIFA. ... If soccer’s governing body shows Israel a red card, as the Palestinians demand, it could mean that soccer becomes the source of transformation.  - Ha'aretz

If I have one complaint about Israel, it is that Israel cannot make up its mind. If Israel has no intention of ever allowing a Palestinian State, then admit it, bite the bullet, and put an end to this nonsense. Would Abraham Lincoln have allowed a Confederate soccer squad? 
There seems to be a degree of passive-aggressive harassment. Israel does not have the guts to straight out tell the Arabs, "No!" so it decides to harass them into obedience by over-regulation, when history has shown everywhere that such harassment produces defiance, not compliance. When you come to take Vienna, take Vienna.

If Israel cannot make up its mind now, what will it do as the Palestinian team gains an international following? ... as is already happening.  Will Israel wait until they turn out to be the '69 Mets, only this time from Ramallah?

Either tell the Arabs straight out, "No!" or ease up. The end result is that this comedy of indecision has now infected sport.

We here in America, because we do not follow soccer, are missing the beauty of this theater of the absurd being played out on a worldwide soccer pitch.

It is almost enough to make me want to learn the rules of soccer. Nah!

Mike Konrad is an American who writes on various topics.