Jerusalem - FIFA has been condoning football matches played
on "stolen" land in the occupied West Bank, Human Rights Watch said
on Monday, calling for Israeli clubs based in settlements to be forced to
Six clubs in the Israeli football league play in West Bank
Jewish settlements, which are considered illegal under international law, the
By allowing games to be contested there, world football's governing
body FIFA is engaging in business activity that supports Israeli settlements,
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.
It said this ran contrary to human rights commitments
undertaken by FIFA.
"By holding games on stolen land, FIFA is tarnishing
the beautiful game of football," Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine country
director at the New York-based HRW, said in the statement.
"Some of these games are played on land owned by
individual Palestinians not allowed to access the area, while others are held
on land belonging to Palestinian villages that the Israeli military seized and
designated for exclusive Israeli civilian use," she said.
To comply with international law, she said, the clubs
"need to move their games inside Israel".
Israel seized the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.
The Palestinians have long opposed the participation in the
Israeli championships of the settlement clubs, which play in Israel's third,
fourth and fifth divisions.
FIFA is expected to discuss the issue at an October 13-14
meeting of its executive committee.
"FIFA will continue its efforts to promote friendly
relations between our member associations in accordance with FIFA statutes and
identify feasible solutions for the benefit of the game and everyone involved,"
it said in a statement.
The reaction of the Israel Football Association was that
sport was being "dragged from the football field into a political
one" but it had faith FIFA would deal correctly with the issue.
It needed to focus on "developing and maintaining the
game as a bridge connecting people and not as a wall that divides them",
the association said.
Palestinian Football Association (PFA) head Jibril Rajoub
confirmed that they had asked the Asian Football Confederation and European
Union to take up the case and were hopeful FIFA's executive committee would
In theory, if the issue is not resolved, the PFA could renew
its efforts to expel or suspend Israel from FIFA.
Last year, it threatened to table a resolution calling on
FIFA to suspend Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian
players, in a move which also included a protest over the settlement teams.
It withdrew the bid at the last minute and FIFA set up a
monitoring committee to resolve the issue. The committee is due to submit its
recommendations to the FIFA council meeting.
Earlier this month, a group of 66 members of the European
Parliament signed a letter calling on FIFA president Gianni Infantino to ban
Israeli clubs based in settlements.
The MEPs cited UEFA's 2014 decision to ban Crimean football
clubs from taking part in Russian competitions as a precedent for barring the
Israel's ongoing settlement construction has been a major
obstacle to peace with the Palestinians, according to many in the international
community including the United States.
"Let me be absolutely clear: settlements are illegal
under international law," UN chief Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month.