FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York, NY, June 2, 2013 – Human rights advocates from Adalah-NY carried out a demonstration at the exhibition game between the Israeli and Honduran national soccer teams at New York City’s Citi Field today to call attention to the continued apartheid policies of the Israeli state. With a banner reading “RED CARD ISRAELI APARTHEID,” (PHOTOS) activists called upon the American soccer community to join their counterparts around the world in condemning Israel’s use of sports to distract from its illegal occupation and violations of Palestinians’ human rights.
Israeli-Palestinian sociologist Tamir Sorek has written extensively on soccer in Israel, noting "Football is an effective vehicle for Israel to rehabilitate its image with the international community. A large sporting event is an ideal opportunity for Israel to present itself as a normal country."
The demonstration at Citi Field comes on the heels of a May 24th protest in London by the Red Card Israeli Racism Campaign, which was held in response to the Union of European Football Associations’ decision to stage its under-21 championship in Israel. The UEFA’s decision has come under intense criticism from soccer fans and prominent human rights activists including Desmond Tutu, and provoked growing demands for a sports boycott against Israel modeled on the successful international boycott of South African apartheid teams in the 1960s and 70s.
Palestinian soccer players, including Mahmoud Sarsak and Honey Thaljieh, are leading the calls for a boycott. Sarsak, once a rising star in the Palestinian national team, made headlines last year when he went on a 92-day hunger strike to protest his 2009 arrest and nearly three-year detention by Israel without charge or trial—a tragic turn of events that cut short a promising career. Worldwide protests demanding the footballer’s release and heavy pressure from FIFA and the International Football Association on Israel ultimately prevailed, but Sarsak has noted that other athletes including Olympic goalkeeper Omar Abu Rouis remain in detention.
“Like all peoples of the world, we in Palestine, we want to play sports, especially football,” Sarsak declared earlier this year. “Israel is a country of discrimination and apartheid. It does not stop at the destruction of homes and trees, but it also wants to break human beings, including athletes.”
The first Bethlehem Marathon, held this past April, highlighted the obstacles that Palestinian athletes routinely face—runners were forced to run two laps of the same course as Palestinians were unable to find a continuous stretch of land 26.2 miles long due to Israel’s apartheid wall.
“The most fundamental principal of international sports is fair play,” said David Zirin, sports editor for The Nation. “The fact that Palestinian national team members have been assassinated, bombed, imprisoned without charges, and of course physically prevented at checkpoints from participating, all point to a disturbing truth: Israel doesn't play by the rules. Their targeting of ‘a national team without a nation’ is about more than politics. It's about killing hope and all fair-minded people in the international sports community should call it out for what it is."
In 2005, over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. The Palestinian-led BDS movement is a moral, nonviolent campaign for human rights inspired by the worldwide boycott movement that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa.