The FIFA Palestine Cup is meant to crown the best club team in Palestine each year, with the final pitting the holders of the Gaza Cup against the West Bank Cup champions. This season, however, the final of the tournament has been cancelled due to interference from the Israeli government. As reported by Reuters, Israel has refused to give travel permits to most members of Gaza-based club Khadamat Rafah, which would allow them to travel to the West Bank to face off against FC Balata in the final of the tournament.
The reasoning, attributed by Reuters to “media reports,” for the permit refusal is exactly what you would think it is:
Media reports quoted Israeli security sources as saying the team members were believed to have alleged links to “terrorism.”
Khadamat Rafah had requested 35 permits for the game, which would take place just about 87 miles away from their base in Gaza, but the Israeli government only approved 12, five of which were for players. The Palestine Cup final had already been postponed once—it was supposed to take place in July, but only a total of four permits were approved that time. For now, the final won’t take place as planned, and Palestine will not have a club in the Asian Champions League, the continent’s premier club competition.
Speaking to Reuters, Jibril Rajoub, the head of Palestine’s FIFA member association, called the refusal of permits an attempt to “to paralyze Palestinian players and even the (Palestinian) sport system in general.”
So far, there has been no official comment from the Israeli government or soccer association regarding the travel bans, though the Israeli military unit in charge of the permits, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), did give an evasive comment about the process:
Each permit application received by COGAT is individually and thoroughly evaluated, pursuant to the criteria that are published on COGAT’s website and subject to security checks.
FIFA has also been notably silent, despite their traditional insistence that governments do not interfere in soccer matters within their countries. Given how slow they have also been to react to Iran’s ban on female spectators in soccer stadiums, it would be imprudent to hold your breath while waiting for the world soccer governing body to take a stand about the FIFA Palestine Cup, despite the fact that the competition actually bears the organization’s name. FIFA did, however, once fine Celtic fans in Scotland for waving Palestine flags before a match, because it violated their rules against political symbology. So, there’s that.