Does The IDF Target Palestinian Soccer Players?

James M. Wall — March 17, 2015


Jordan’s Baha’aldeen Alja’afreh, right, running by Palestine’s Oday Dabbagh at the Faysal al-Husseini stadium, in Ramallah. The AP Photo is by Nasser Nasser. Click to enlarge

Two Palestinian youth soccer players were shot and badly wounded near a check point in the Palestinian West Bank on January 31.

Ma’an, the Palestinian news outlet, reported the shootings of Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17.

The players were shot by Israeli soldiers as they were walking home from practice in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium in al-Ram in the central West Bank.

Medical reports indicated that “Jawhar was shot with 11 bullets, seven in his left foot, three in his right, and one in his left hand. Halabiya was shot once in each foot.”

Doctors at Ramallah governmental hospital said the pair “will need six months of treatment before they can evaluate if the two will even be able to ever walk again, at best.”

Ma’an also reported that “Israeli forces opened fire in their direction without warning as they were walking near a checkpoint. Police dogs were subsequently unleashed on them before Israeli soldiers dragged them across the ground and beat them.”


Palestinian footballer Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, in his hospital bed, following his attack by Israeli forces,Jan.31, 2014.

The story did not surface in western press outlets until Dave Zirin wrote in the Nation:

Their names are Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17. They were once soccer players in the West Bank. Now they are never going to play sports again. Jawhar and Adam were on their way home from a training session in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium on January 31 when Israeli forces fired upon them as they approached a checkpoint.

After being shot repeatedly, they were mauled by checkpoint dogs and then beaten. Ten bullets were put into Jawhar’s feet. Adam took one bullet in each foot. After being transferred from a hospital in Ramallah to King Hussein Medical Center in Amman, they received the news that soccer would no longer be a part of their futures.

(Israel’s border patrol maintains that the two young men were about to throw a bomb.)”

A week later, Zirin described the reaction he received from his original report on the shooting of the two players.

One of the sports writers asked Zirin, “Do you have any sources that are not Palestinian?”

That obvious pro-Israel and clearly racist distrust of all matters pertaining to Palestinians, was quickly underscored by that same questioner when he sent a subsequent email to Zirin, saying, never mind, I have found a report of the shootings in Ha’aretz, a Jewish news outlet based in Jerusalem.

In his March 10 story, Zirin stated flatly that he believed “members of the Palestinian soccer community are being targeted for violence by the Israeli state.”

Some critics reacted to this theory by saying the targeting charge was  “laughable,” and “ridiculous,” One writer even wrote he would “reach out to The Nation directly to agitate for dismissal”.

Zirin’s response was fact-based and compelling:

Yes it is certainly true that I don’t have a document signed by Benjamin Netanyahu calling for a systematic attack on the Palestinian national team. What I do have are names: real people, with real families, whose lives and deaths are testament to a story that needs to be told.

There was Ayman Alkurd. He was a 34-year-old member of the Palestinian national soccer team. Alkurd was killed during the 2009 Operation Cast Lead when a missile was sent into his home in Gaza.

There was Wajeh Moshtahe, another national team member. He was killed in his home during Operation Cast Lead as well. He was only 24. There was Shadi Sbakhe, another national team member who suffered the same fate. All three, in fact, died within seventy-two hours of one another.

They reminded many, at the time of their deaths, of Tariq Al Quto, described by the BBC as “a talented midfielder,” who was killed by the IDF in 2004.

Then there are the imprisoned. We can start with Omar Abu Rios, the former starting goalkeeper for the national team. He was arrested at age 23 for allegedly being part of an attack on Israeli troops at the Amari Palestinian refugee camp near Ramallah.

He was, according to Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril al-Rajoub, “arrested at work and taken to an unknown location.” Rajoub appealed directly to FIFA chief Sepp Blatter on Rios’s behalf, saying that his arrest “was in total disregard of all agreements signed by the Israeli side and in direct violation to the simplest right of our players.”

There was also Muhammad Nimr, a top 23-year-old striker and national team member, who had his house destroyed by the IDF and was then jailed without charges being filed. Nimr’s story echoed that of another striker, Zakaria Issa, who had been jailed for sixteen years before being released in 2013 when he was struck with terminal cancer.

Then there was Mahmoud Sarsak. Sarsak was a defender on the national team who was arrested and jailed without charges while trying to cross a checkpoint in order to join his teammates. His plight became an international cause when the Palestinian national team member went on a three-month hunger strike while being held in an Israeli prison.

He was released in July 2012. As he said at a meeting in England upon his release, “Israel actively attempts to stop sportsmen and women competing, and there are a large number of athletes in prison…. Since 2008 we have seen Israel detain a number of sportsmen who were arrested under the administrative detention laws—meaning no charges need be brought. They never have to go to trial.”

This is reality for the Palestinian national team: four dead by Israeli munitions and—at least—three jailed in Israeli prisons without trial over the last decade.

I have no idea whether people will see this as constituting a “targeting” of the Palestinian soccer players. I do believe that it is our job as sports journalists to ask the questions.

Zirin is not optimistic that the notoriously conservative FIFA will act to investigate the charge of targeted killings by Israel.

But what is clear is that Israel has a well-documented record of targeting Palestinians it wishes to remove from action of any kind.

The 2014 FIFA (The Fédération Internationale de Football Association) is the international governing body of association football, futsal and beach soccer.

This summer’s World Cup will run from June 12 to July 13. The Palestine team did not qualify for this year’s Cup.

Because FIFA wants to “grow” soccer in all regions of the world, in December 2010, Russia and Qatar were chosen to host the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, respectively.

FIFA plans ahead, given the complicated logistics involved in holding World Cup Events.

Will FIFA dare look ahead to its next World Cup events in Russia and Qatar, without having first confronted the problem of the FIFA membership of Israel, a FIFA member which now stands accused of using attack dogs and deliberately targeting Palestinian soccer players?