Category Archives: Football


As Israel prepares to announce the draw for UEFA’s under-21 football finals in June next year, the Red Card Israeli Racism campaign has put out the following news release.
Nov 27 – On the eve of the announcement in Tel Aviv of the draw for the Euro 2013 under-21 finals next June, some of the biggest names in European football have condemned Israel ’s military attack on Gaza which killed 170 people, including Palestinian boys playing football, and destroyed vital sports infrastructure.
Former Tottenham and Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute is among those signing a statement referring to Israel’s hosting of the U-21 championship as rewarding it “for actions that are contrary to sporting values”.   (See full statement below)
On November 8, 13-year-old Ahmed Younis Khader Abu Daqqa was shot in the abdomen by the Israeli military while playing football with his friends in ‘Abassan village, east of the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis . He died in hospital shortly afterwards. Four other boys were also killed.
The Palestinian Paralympic Committee offices, along with a stadium and sports complex where the Palestine team prepared for London 2012, were among facilities wiped out by Israeli bomb attacks in the days that followed.
A number of football fixtures and gatherings have been moved because of the violence.
Pressure on UEFA to change the venue for the 2013 u-21 finals is mounting as 20 British Members of Parliament have signed a motion (EDM 640) in the House of Commons  stating:
” That this House congratulates the Football Association for its Kick It Out campaign against racism in football; registers with profound disapproval, however, that the FA is prepared to participate in the European Under-21 football tournament to be played in Israel in June 2013, even though Israel is geographically not in Europe and is a country which has policies of racial apartheid against Palestinians.”
Campaigners in a number of European centres are marking the draw in Israel on Wednesday.
Red Card Israeli Racism in Britain has handed in a petition of several thousand signatures.  along with a statement from public figures including filmmaker Ken Loach, calling on the Football Association to support a change of venue for the 2013 tournament. (Text and signatures attached).
UK campaign coordinator Geoff Lee said, “ In addition to the increasing racist violence against Arabs in Israel which is well known to UEFA , the latest attacks by Israel on the besieged people of Gaza must make the UEFA delegates rethink this issue.”
In Italy, a letter has been delivered to the Italian Football Federation calling for withdrawal of the Italian national team from the competition unless there is a change of venue. On themorning of Wednesday, November 28 a protest will be held outside the nationalheadquarters in Rome during which activists have requested a meeting with management.
Frederic Kanoute, Moussa Sow, Demba Ba, Jacques Faty and others
The horrific situation faced by Palestinian civilians in recent days is deeply concerning. We have learnt that on November 10 the Israeli army bombarded a sports stadium on Gaza . Four young people who were playing football were killed. Mohamed Harara and Ahmed Harara (16 and 17 years old), Matar Rahman and Ahmed Al Dirdissawi (18 years old).
We are also aware that since February 2012 two footballers with the Al Amari team, Omar Rowis (23) and Mohammed Nemer (22) are still imprisoned in Israel without trial or charge.
In the run-up to Israel hosting the UEFA Under-21 European Championship, which will reward Israel for actions that are contrary to sporting values, we as European sportspeople wish to express our regret the turmoil of recent days, the primary victim of which has been the Palestinian people.
We express our solidarity and our support for the civilian causalities. All people have the right to a life of dignity, freedom and security. The Palestinians must be protected by the rule of international law. We hope that a just peace will finally emerge – it is simply unacceptable that children are killed while they are peacefully playing football.
Palestine , le sport au pied du mur
La situation subie par les civils palestiniens ces derniers jours est plus que préoccupante. Nous avons appris que le 10 novembre, l’armée israélienne a bombardé un terrain de sport à Gaza . Quatre jeunes qui jouaient au football ont été tués : Mohamed Harara et Ahmed Harara (16 et 17 ans), Matar Rahman et Ahmed Al Dirdissawi (18 ans).
Nous savons en outre que depuis février 2012, les deux joueurs de football de l’équipe d’Al Amari, Omar Rowis (23 ans) Mohammed Nemer (22 ans) sont toujours emprisonnés en Israël sans procès et sans jugement.
À la veille où Israël doit accueillir l’Euro des moins de 21 ans, se voyant ainsi récompensé alors qu’il commet des actes qui restent contraires aux valeurs du Sport, nous, sportifs européens, regrettons la situation d’embrasement de ces derniers jours qui a pour première victime le peuple palestinien. Nous exprimons notre solidarité et notre soutien aux victimes civiles. Tout peuple a le droit de vivre dignement, dans la liberté et la sécurité. Les Palestiniens ne peuvent en ce sens être exclus du droit international. Nous espérons que le droit et la justice règneront enfin, parce qu’il est inadmissible que des enfants meurent alors qu’ils jouent paisiblement au football.
Premiers signataires: Kanoute, Moussa Sow, Demba Ba, Jacques Faty
4. Events in Israel cancelled because of the violence:

5. England could host u-21 in 2013 instead of Israel

5. Statement from Ken Loach and other eminent figures calling for UEFA to move under-21 finals from Israel .
As football supporters we hear with concern an appeal from Mahmoud Sarsak, a young Palestinian national team player whose career was cut short by three years’ detention without trial in an Israeli jail.
We are aware that he regained his freedom last July 10, only after a three month hunger strike won him sympathy and support from influential voices in the football world.
Sarsak is asking us now to show our support for all Palestinians who love the beautiful game but who suffer the impact of discriminatory Israeli policies on Palestinian football and the life of the community in general.
We are disturbed by the myriad ways in which the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and the siege of  Gaza  prevent both the development of Palestinian sport at grass roots level and its representation in international competitions. These include:
  • regulations and checkpoints that block the movement of players between Palestinian towns and villages and between  Gaza  and the  West Bank ;
  • official interference preventing the Palestinian national team from travelling abroad to train or compete and making it virtually impossible for foreign teams to attend fixtures in Palestine ;
  • restrictions on the importation of equipment, even when donated by international footballing organisations;
  • prevention of the construction of facilities.
In addition to these impediments, life under occupation entails the constant threat of detention or even death. Two  West Bank footballers, Mohammed Saedy Ibrahim Nemer and goalkeeper Omar Khaled Omar Abu Rowis, were detained in February and have been incarcerated ever since.
Four footballers were among the 1,400 Palestinians killed during the Israeli assault on  Gaza  in December 2008 – January 2009.   Even children are not exempt. On June 20 this year, twelve-year-old Mamoun Zuhdi al-Dam was killed by an Israeli warplane as he played football on land near his family home in  Gaza .
Against this background, Sarsak has drawn our attention to Palestinian dismay at UEFA’s insistence on having  Israel  host next year’s under-21 finals.
He says that staging this, or any other UEFA competition, in  Israel “is legitimising  Israel ’s continued occupation, oppression and apartheid policies. There can be no place in football for segregation and oppression so prestigious tournaments cannot be allowed to take place in  Israel .”
Taking into account the high profile given in European football to combating racism wherever it appears, we agree with Sarsak that it is inappropriate for European football’s governing body to be staging international competitions in a country responsible for systematic discrimination against Palestinians.
We therefore call upon UEFA to move the 2013 U21 finals away from  Israel  and to assure Palestinians that  Israel  will not be granted such an honour as long as its discriminatory practices continue.
John Austin
Dr. Salman Abu Sitta
Stephen Cavalier
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Bob Crow
Rev. Garth Hewitt
Ghada Karmi
Bruce Kent,
Ken Loach
Paul Laverty
Kika Markham
Karma Nabulsi
Prof. Steven Rose
Keith Sonnet
David Thompson
Jenny Tonge


One of the demonstrations for Palestine at football fixtures around Europe this autumn.

Mahmoud Sarsak, a Palestinian football player whose career was cut short by three years’ detention without trial in an Israeli jail, has issued a plea for European football’s governing body UEFA not to go ahead with plans to stage next year’s under-21 finals in Israel.

Sarsak was released last July 10 after a three month hunger strike won him sympathy and support from influential voices in the football world. Former French and Manchester United star Eric Cantona, the international federation of professional footballers associations FIFPro and FIFA president Sepp Blatter were among those who called for his release.

In a letter thanking those who had helped win his freedom, Sarsak said Israel was not “a normal state where citizens can play sport freely.”  At least two footballers were among many hundreds of political detainees and there were endless repressive impediments to playing the game.

“I call on all those who spoke out for my release and the release of the Palestinian hunger strikers, to once again show their commitment to justice and equality by insisting that UEFA move their competitions away from Israel,” Sarsak said.

“UEFA is legitimising Israel’s continued occupation, oppression and apartheid policies. There can be no place in football for segregation and oppression so prestigious tournaments cannot be allowed take place in Israel.”

Film maker Ken Loach and screen writer Paul Laverty have endorsed a statement for football professionals to sign, supporting Sarsak’s appeal.

The statement says:

“Taking into account the high profile given in European football to combating racism wherever it appears, we agree with Sarsak that it is inappropriate for European football’s governing body to be staging international competitions in a country responsible for systematic discrimination against Palestinians.”

Sarsak’s letter was published on his behalf by the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement and has been taken up by the London-based Red Card Israeli Racism campaign.

“We urge everyone who cares about justice and equality for all involved in the game of football to support Mahmoud Sarsak’s appeal,” said campaign coordinator Geffrey Lee.

“We must endorse Sarsak’s call on UEFA to move planned competitions away from Israel as long as its discriminatory practices against Palestinians continue.”

Red Card Israeli Racism has gathered more than 2,800 signatures for a petition calling on UEFA president Michel Platini to move the 2013 under-21 finals from Israel.

Please add your name to the petition and publicise it widely.

In addition you can tell UEFA – politely – on Facebook why you support Sarsak’s appeal.

Campaigners staged actions in support of the campaign at football fixtures in France and Luxembourg on October 12.

At a playoff qualifier between France and Norway at the Stade Oceane in Le Havre , protesters carried on to the field a banner reading “Do not play for Apartheid”. The action was widely reported in the French media.

An earlier demonstration took place on September 20 at a match between Basque side Atletico Bilbao and Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shoma from Israel. Two Bilbao supporters’ clubs took part.


On July 10 of this year I was released after three years of imprisonment by the Israeli occupation forces and 92 days of hunger strike. The mobilisation by people of conscience around the world and the statements and comments by footballing organisations like FIFPro, professional footballers past and present such as Eric Cantona and Frederic Kanoute, senior football figures such as Sepp Blatter and other notable public figures, were both inspiring and immensely helpful in keeping the pressure on Israel and a major reason behind my eventual release.
I would like to offer my deepest, heartfelt gratitude to all those who spoke out against the inhumane treatment of Palestinians at a time when I and other hunger striking Palestinian political prisoners needed it most.
However, the arbitrary detention, abuse and torture of Palestinian political prisoners continue. Palestinian prisoner rights organisations have particular concerns about three who are on extended hunger strike – Samer Al-Barq, Hassan Safadi and Ayman Sharawna.
Israel works endlessly to repress Palestinian football, just like it does many other forms of Palestinian culture. Palestinian league player Mohammed Sadi Nemer and goalkeeper Omar Khaled Omar Abu Rowis were detained in February this year and remain in prison in Israel .
Football players Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshate, as well as over 1,400 other Palestinians in Gaza, were killed and the Rafah National Stadium was destroyed during Israel’s 2008-09 onslaught on Gaza.
Israel does not behave like a normal state where citizens can play sport freely. Why then, should it be granted the honour of hosting the UEFA U21s championship in 2013, or the women’s U19s in 2015? As stated in a letter from Gaza sports clubs to UEFA president Michel Platini, we must not“reward Israel for its violent repression of Palestinian rights”.
Platini has cruelly stated that the 2013 tournament will “be a beautiful celebration of football that, once again, will bring people together”. But by allowing Israel to host it, UEFA is legitimising Israel’s continued occupation, oppression and apartheid policies. There can be no place in football for segregation and oppression so prestigious tournaments cannot be allowed to take place in Israel.
I call on all those who spoke out for my release and the release of the Palestinian hunger strikers, to once again show their commitment to justice and equality by insisting that UEFA move their competitions away from Israel.
The cultural and sporting boycott and other forms of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) were vital in the fall of the South African apartheid regime, and similar initiatives will be vital to ending Israeli apartheid.
Mahmoud Sarsak
a) Omar Khaled Omar Abu Rowis turned 23 on Sept 10. He is goalkeeper for Al Amry in Ramallah, West Bank. Detained Feb 20, currently in Ofer prison. Reported to have been tortured by Israeli General Security Services, held in stress positions for prolonged periods and subjected to extreme temperatures.
b) Mohammed Saedy Ibrahim Nemer, aged 22, married with one child, plays for Al Amry, on loan to Al Khader. Detained Feb 18, held in Ofer prison but moved early Sept to Remon Prison. Also reported to have been tortured.  .
Israeli Apartheid – a quick guide
We often hear that there is no discrimination in Israel because Palestinian citizens can vote. Some football teams have Arab players. There has even been an Arab Supreme Court judge.
This is true, but it masks an inherently discriminatory system in which most Palestinians cannot hope to be equal citizens in ‘the Jewish state’. Any Jew in the world can claim citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return and Citizenship Law, while Arabs forced to flee their homes from 1947 onwards are refused their UN-sanctioned Right of Return.
Inside Israel (within the pre-1967 Green Line)
The very existence of Israeli Palestinians is regarded as a threat to the state. Racist public discourse constantly bemoans the Palestinian birthrate and pushes for ‘Judaisation’ of the Galilee, the Negev, etc. The domestic secret service Shin Bet has said it will “thwart” peaceful and legal efforts to challenge the ‘Jewish’ nature of the state.
There are more than 30 main laws that discriminate, directly or indirectly, against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Since 2009 the far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu has initiated many more.
It is illegal for citizens to live with a spouse who comes from the West Bank or Gaza. Backing the law, which in practice applies almost exclusively to Palestinians, Israel’s High Court said: “human rights are not a prescription for national suicide”.
In 70 percent of Israeli towns, residency is controlled by admissions committees that filter out those deemed ‘unsuitable’ for the community’s ‘social fabric’. Their role is enshrined in law for 46 percent of communities inIsrael, under legislation passed in 2011.
Various elements of Israel’s land regime mean that Palestinian citizens are blocked from purchasing or leasing land in around 80 percent of the country.
More than 700 Jewish communities have been established in Israel since 1948. The equivalent number for Palestinian citizens is seven, all in the Negev where Bedouin communities have been uprooted from their ancestral homes.
An estimated 90,000 Palestinian citizens live in dozens of ‘unrecognised villages’, many of which are in theNegev and face the prospect of total demolition.
In the Occupied Territories
Israel strips East Jerusalem’s Palestinians of residency status for what EU Heads of Mission called “demographic” reasons. Mayor Nir Barkat openly believes in ensuring a Jewish majority in the city.
Israel’s regime in the West Bank – including the 120+ illegal settlements – has been described by Human Rights Watch as a “two-tier system” where Palestinians face “systematic discrimination”.
In 2011 alone, Israel demolished 620 Palestinian-owned structures in the occupied West Bank. The EU has said this is part of a policy of  “forced transfer of the native population”.
Amnesty International calls Israel’s control of West Bank water resources “discriminatory”, with Palestinians restricted to 20 percent of the water from the main underground aquifer.
Israel blocks movement of goods and people between the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as part of what is officially described as a “separation policy”.
In March 2012 the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged Israel to end “segregation” inside the Green Line and “policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid” in the OccupiedPalestinian Territory.
For more detail see a report by Adalah, The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.


Now that Mahmoud Sarsak is free, please keep up the pressure on UEFA to remove the honour from Israel of hosting the 2013 Under-21 Championships by sharing the Red Card Israeli Apartheid petition with friends and colleagues on Facebook, Twitter and email: #MahmoudSarsak #Palhunger #BDS
See below for the campaign news release

Reuters picture showing a rapturous welcome for Mahmoud Sarsak on his return to Gaza after three years in an Israeli jail without charge or trial

Red Card Israeli Apartheid campaign

10 July 2012

·      Footballer released after three month hunger strike
·      Israel’s detention process condemned as unlawful
·      UEFA urged to move 2013 under-21 finals from Israel
Tuesday July 10 – Campaigners welcomed news of the release of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak after three years in an Israeli jail, but vowed to continue working for an end to the system of detention under which he and hundreds of others have been detained without charge or trial. 
Twenty-five year old Sarsak lost a third of his body weight during a three month hunger strike in protest at his incarceration since July 2009 under Israel’s ‘Unlawful Combatants Law’, which is illegal under international law.
The Israeli authorities agreed on June 18 that his detention should end following an international outcry. Footballing legend Eric Cantona and French international star Frederic Kanoute , FIFA President  Sepp Blatter and the international federation of professional footballers FIFPro  joined forces with filmmaker Ken Loach, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, author Alice Walker and many others demanding an end to his unjust detention.
Relatives gathered at the Palestinian side of the Israeli Erez crossing in northern Gaza on Tuesday to welcome the freed prisoner who was then transferred to Shifa hospital in Gaza City for medical attention. “I thank God and all the athletes of the world,” Sarsak told Reuters between sips from a bottle of water.
FIFPro, the international federation of professional footballers, welcomed Sarsak’s release but made clear that no other Palestinian footballers should have to go through what he had experienced. ‘We, FIFPro, refer to the fact that all professional footballers in the world must have equal rights, including the right to freedom of movement, which is a universal right of every citizen. That also applies to all professional footballers in and from Palestine.’ said FIFPro secretary general Theo van Seggelen.

While Sarsak was still on hunger strike in June the president of the Palestinian Football Association, Jabril Rajoub, wrote to UEFA president Michel Platini reminding him that Olympic squad goalkeeper Omar Abu Rois and Ramallah player Mohammed Nimr are also being held by Israel without charge.
“For athletes in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement and the risks of being detained or even killed are always looming before their eyes,” Rajoub said.
He said the Israeli government was in “direct violation of FIFA regulations and the International Olympic charter” and said: “we ask Your Excellency to not give Israel the honour to host the next UEFA Under-21 Championship 2013.”
Rajoub’s request reiterated a plea sent to Platini a year earlier by 42 Palestinian football clubs based in Gaza, the besieged Palestinian territory close to the Egyptian border which is home to many of Palestine’s best players. Platini ignored the appeal from the clubs and rejected Rajoub’s.
 “We cannot understand why UEFA ignores the other footballers still detained byIsrael and the racism and human rights abuses that have a daily impact on every area of Palestinian life, including sport,” said Geoffrey Lee, coordinator of the Red Card Israeli Apartheid campaign. “Israel does not deserve to host next year’s 2013 European Under-21 championship and we urge everyone who cares about fairness in sport to sign our petition calling on Platini to move the competition to another country.”

Film maker Ken Loach, who endorsed last year’s Palestinian call for Israel to be stripped of hosting the 2013 under 21s and has backed the campaign petition, said the international pressure that had won Sarsak his freedom now needed to be applied in support of “all the other Palestinians detained illegally in Israeli prisons.”


 1. Reports, including pictures of Sarsak’s release, from Ma’an News agency
and Reuters
2. Report outlining the illegality under international law of Israel’s ‘Unlawful Combatants Law’

3. Background information from human rights groups about Palestinian political prisoners

4. Full text of Palestine Football Association president Jibril Rajoub’s letter to Michel Platini is contained within this report:

 5. Platini rejects Rajoub’s appeal, confirms Israel will host U-21 2013:
6. Red Card Israeli Apartheid petition and letter outlining the case against Israel’s hosting UEFA’s  2013 Under-21 finals.

7. French professional footballers including Kanoute, Anelka and Diaby call for Sarsak’s release “in the name of sporting solidarity, justice and human rights”

8.  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter’s statement, 12 June:
9. Eric Cantona, Ken Loach, Noam Chomsky, Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker and others insist on Israeli racism and human rights abuses facing the same sanctions as Poland or Ukraine: ‘It is time to end Israel’s impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states.’
Full text and signatory list of June 12 letter.
10. June 2011 letter to UEFA president Platini from 42 Palestinian football clubs calling for the U 21 Finals not to take place in Israel: “The use of overwhelming force in Operation Cast Lead in winter 2008-09 was responsible for leveling large swathes of Gaza including the Rafah National Stadium, and killing football players Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshate, as well as over 1,400 other Gazans. Israel’s Apartheid Wall, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, runs its eight- meter-high solid concrete course less than 100 meters away from the Faisal Al Husseini Stadium in Al-Ram, the current national stadium of Palestine.”
11. Report summarising Red Card Israeli Apartheid campaign:

 12. Reports of racism entrenched in Israeli society, including football:
– Israel’s interior minister Eli Yishai denounces black victims of mob violence as “infiltrators” and says refugees should be imprisoned, “all of them without exception.”
– Racist football fans on the rampage attack Palestinians in a shopping mall
13. Examples of Israeli authorities interfering in Palestinian involvement in international football matches (various sources):
 – July 2011 Palestinian players were prevented from entering the West Bank fromJordan after an away game in Thailand. Mohammed Samara and right back Majed Abusidu therefore missed the return game at home 5 days later.
– In 2010 the football league winners of Gaza and West Bank had to postpone their cup final because the Gazan team was refused permission to travel.
– Also in 2010, Israel refused to allow six members of the Palestinian national team to  travel from Gaza to Jordan for a match against Mauritania. Captain Ahmed Keshkesh was preventing from returning home for several months.
– In May 2008 the national team was not able to attend the AFC Challenge Cup, denying them qualification for the 2011 Asia Cup.
– In April 2006, Israeli missiles destroyed Gaza’s only football stadium.
– Palestine reached the top of their group in the qualifying rounds for the 2006 World Cup. They failed to qualify after the Israeli authorities refused permission for five key players to travel to a crucial Asian zone match against Uzbekistan in Qatar onSeptember 7, 2005.  “Every day they come to the border only to be sent back,” said Tayseer Barakat, director for international affairs at the Palestine Football Association. “Every time our players want to travel outside for training or playing, the Israeli authorities are blocking them.”
14. At least two of four U21 Championship venues are on or adjacent to land seized from Palestinians.
a) Bloomfield – before Israeli forces occupied Jaffa in 1948, the ground was known as Basa (swamp) Stadium, home to local Jaffa team Shabab el-Arab. They were expelled and later formed Shabab el-Nassera in Nazareth. In January 1949 the Basa stadium was given to the Hapoel Tel Aviv team by the Israeli “custodian of absentee property”.
b) Teddy Stadium, named after former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, is beside an almost entirely destroyed village, al-Maliha.
c) Reserve stadium at Ramat Gan was built on land seized under the Absentee Property Owners Law of 1950 from the Palestinian villages of Jarisha and al-Jammasin al-Sharqi.

15. Palestinian child footballers, victims of Israeli military actions.
– 20 June 2012. 12 year-old Mamoun Hassouna killed by while playing football in theGaza strip:
– April 2005: While playing football: Ashraf Samir Ahmad Mussa and Khaled Fuad Shaker Ghanam, both 15, and 16-year-old Hassan Ahmad Khalil Abu Zeid, were shot dead by Israeli soldiers
– October 2004: Jihad Hassan Barhoum, 16, was shot in the abdomen by Israeli troops in October 2004. A seven-year old was hit in the back.
– 2001: Khalil al-Mughrabi, 11, was hit in the head by a burst of gunfire. Two friends, aged 10 and 12, were wounded.


Scottish protesters demonstrate their vociferous support for Palestinian footballers illegally detained by Israel

SIGN THIS BRAND NEW PETITION – UEFA President Michel Platini: Remove UEFA 2013 European Under-21 Championship from Israel

It’s good to know that Britain’s political leaders care so deeply “about the rule of law and selective justice” in Ukraine, that government ministers declined to attend the England football team’s quarter final Euro 2012 match there on Sunday (June 24).

Strange, then, that the illegal and unjust treatment of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak – whose family is waiting anxiously to see if Israel will stand by a promise to release him after three months on hunger strike and three years in prison without charge or trial – elicits no such concern from the British government.

Nor, even more shamefully, from UEFA, which has reaffirmed its decision to let Israel host next year’s under-21 competition.

A clear message from a protester in Wrexham

Palestinian FA president Jibril Rajoub wrote to UEFA president Michel Platini pleading with him to withdraw the U-21 from Israel.

He said that in addition to Sarsak, Israel was detaining two more footballers, Olympic squad goalkeeper Omar Abu Rois and Ramallah player Mohammed Nimr, and that Palestinian athletes lack freedom of movement and face the constant risk “of being detained or even killed”.

Platini acknowledged that UEFA had come under “a certain amount of pressure” but he ignored the points Rajoub made and reprimanded him for allowing the content of his letter to enter the public domain.

UEFA was “apolitical”, Platini declared, and proceeded to show his impartiality by telling Israeli Football Association President Avi Luzon in a separate letter that he was looking forward to Israel hosting “a beautiful celebration of football that, once again, will bring people together.”

The contempt for Palestine and its footballers exhibited by the man in charge of European football’s governing body is breathtaking. Platini must not be allowed to get away with peddling the idea that sport can be regarded as “apolitical” in a state which wantonly prevents Palestinian footballers from training and playing, brands them terrorists and imprisons them at will.

More than 300 Palestinians are held without charge or trial along with more than 4000 other political prisoners, all detained illegally in Israeli prisons. Akram Rikhawi has been on hunger strike for more than 70 days in protest at his detention and  Hassan Safadi, who ended a 71 day hunger strike on 14 May, has resumed his fast after Israel breached a deal to free him.

And yet Platini suggests that the state responsible for this could hold a “beautiful celebration” that will “bring people together”.

Fortunately these bankrupt arguments don’t wash with many of those responsible for the pressure to which Platini referred. These include French footballing legend Eric Cantona, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, filmmaker Ken Loach and others who called for an end to Israel’s impunity in a letter to Platini  on June 12.

They questioned why Ukraine was challenged (rightly) over its human rights record  while Israel was not.  “Racism, human rights abuses and gross violations of international law are daily occurrences in that country,” their letter said.

Loach, who last year endorsed  a Palestinian call for Israel to be stripped of hosting the 2013 under 21s,  told the Red Card Israeli Apartheid campaign:  “The promised release of Mahmoud al-Sarsak shows what can be done by international  pressure. Let’s hope that Mahmoud is returned home as promised. Now, let’s turn our attention to all the other Palestinians detained illegally in Israeli prisons.”

The campaign to free Sarsak has brought the plight of Palestinians to world attention, with support from the international federation of professional footballers FIFpro, 20 French players include Frederic Kanoute, Nicolas Anelka and Abou Diaby, the UK Professional Footballers’ Association, and even Sepp Blatter, the president of the international federation of football associations, FIFA. See previous post for a summary.

British comedian Mark Steel lampooned the Israeli position in the Independent newspaper.

“In 2006, [the Palestinian national team] were top of their World Cup qualifying group when the entire team was refused a visa for their match with Uzbekistan,” Steel wrote.

“ I suppose this must be because the whole team was in Islamic Jihad, and they were employing that old terrorist trick of becoming the national football team, then qualifying for the World Cup finals from where it’s a simple step to start an insurrection.”

Former UK Member of Parliament John Austin said in a letter to the Guardian: “Earlier this year, the UN determined that Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories violate the UN’s convention prohibiting apartheid. Uefa should reconsider its decision to hold its under-21 championship in Israel in 2013. ”

An Israeli Embassy functionary alleged in response that Sarsak was a terrorist and that calling him a “young Palestinian footballer” was “insulting to footballers”.

He was swiftly answered by Dr Ghada Khami: “If Israel’s press attache knows so much about Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak’s “crimes”, why hasn’t his government formally charged Sarsak with them or put him on trial in three years of detention? Or indeed any of the other 300 Palestinians held in Israeli administrative detention?”

The campaign to strip Israel of the under 21 competition has generated increasingly creative forms of protest.

Wrexham Peace and Justice Forum used this striking image to drive home their message that Israel is unfit to host international sporting events

Dutch activists produced this highly effective little film

About 140 protesters in Scotland added to the 8-0 humiliation of the Israeli national women’s team in a European championship qualifying match on June 17 with a large, energetic demonstration in the stands.

“Free Mahmoud Sarsak” was interspersed throughout ninety minutes of non-stop chanting with “Without guns, you’re rubbish” and multiple versions of “Boycott apartheid Israel”.  The protestors warned the Scottish players of Israel’s habit of calling in an air strike when losing in a fair fight.

Mainstream sports reports couldn’t ignore the protests.

Red Card Israeli Apartheid banner at the Welsh demonstration on June 20.

At a similar fixture in Wales three days later, around 50 activists picketed the main entrance and several  were thrown out of the football ground for wearing Palestinian team shirts, holding Palestinian flags or just for chanting Free Palestine.

The head of security told campaigners he had orders from UEFA to remove any signs of support for the Palestinian people from the stadium.

J-BIG supporters joined the Red Card Israeli Apartheid picket in Wales.

 A report made it into the Israeli media.

The Zionist Jewish Chronicle covered the football story in some detail.


While an Israeli judicial committee weighs the life of footballer Mahmoud Sarsak in the balance,  European football’s governing body is busy demonstrating the bankruptcy of the idea that sport has nothing to do with politics.

A vigil for Mahmoud Sarsak outside Ramle prison

Replying by email to journalists who inquired on Friday about the Palestinian call for Israel to be stripped of hosting the under-21 championships next year, UEFA’s media services department said the organisation was “of the opinion that football – and sport in general – are building bridges between nations and communities and that political matters should not interfere with the practice of the game.

” We are therefore committed to offer all of our 53 member associations – including the Israeli FA – their national teams, clubs and supporters, the opportunity to participate in our competition and in the development of football acrossEurope.  And it is with this in mind that the UEFA Executive Committee awarded the organisation of the final tournament of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship 2013 to Israel.”

In other words, despite international outcry at the unlawful detention without charge or trial of Sarsak and other Palestinian footballers, among 4000+ other political prisoners held in Israeli jails, UEFA rewards the state which perpetrates these outrages.

The Palestinian Football Association, previously wary of angering the Israel authorities on which it depends for facilities to bring a Palestinian team to the  London Olympics,  specifically called on UEFA to dismiss Israel as youth championship host.

“We ask your excellency not to give Israel the honour of hosting the next UEFA U21 Championship in 2013,” PFA President Jibril Rajoub said in a letter to UEFA president Michel Platini.

“For athletes in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement and the risks of being detained or even killed are always looming before their eyes,” Rajoub wrote, noting that in addition to Sarsak, Olympic squad goalkeeper Omar Abu Rois and Ramallah player Mohammed Nimr were also being held by Israel without charge.

The Jerusalem Post put its own spin on the story, accusing the Palestinian Authority of politicising the situation and demonstrating  how vital the 2013 U-21 games are to Israel’s attempts to sanitise its tainted image.

“European soccer’s brightest talents are set to grace Israeli soccer stadiums next June after Israel beat out Bulgaria, Czech Republic, England and Wales to host the Under-21 championships and the IFA (Israeli Football Association) is confident the tournament will go ahead as planned,” JP said

It quoted the IFA: “We are certain that FIFA and UEFA will not mix politics with soccer and are certain that the Under-21 European Championships will take place, as decided, in Israel next summer.”

UEFA should understand that the only “bridges” built by its complicity with Israeli propaganda are the Jewish-only roads  that link the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank to the institutionally racist state.

Sport cannot build bridges when one community wields state power to imprison and oppress another. The idea that politics can be separated from sport in this situation is clearly untenable.

The UEFA media statement rings particularly hollow given Platini’s refusal even to acknowledge an appeal a year ago from 42 Palestinian football clubs in Gaza calling on the organisation not to reward Israel for its racism and illegality.

On Friday (June 15), the Red Card Israeli Apartheid campaign reminded UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson of this, handing in a letter summarising the burgeoning support for  the Palestinian footballers.

The campaign urged Robertson to act upon an earlier letter to him and Platini, signed by eminent figures including former football legend Éric Cantona, filmmaker Ken Loach, Michael Mansfield, QC, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and writer Alice Walker. They had addressed racist oppression in Israel as exemplified by the treatment of Sarsak and called for an end to Israel’s impunity.

Recent days have seen a growing chorus of calls from footballing organisations and individuals calling for Mahmoud Sarsak’s release:

FIFA, the International Football Association,

FIFPro, the World Association of Professional Footballers

Thirty six French footballers including Frederic Kanoute, Nicolas Anelka and Abou Diaby 

Gordon Taylor, president of the Professional Footballers’ Association in the UK, told a campaign supporter by email:

“As the founding member of FIFPro and Executive member of the Board, we fully support FIFPro’s call for the release from prison of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak.”

By rejecting calls from Palestinians and their supporters, UEFA is actively encouraging the state of Israel to continue perpetrating human rights abuses and defying international law. In this it is only following the example of Israel’s allies among the major colonial powers, especially the United States.

While 25-year-old Mahmoud Sarsak awaits death or deliverance in an Israeli jail, U.S. President Barack Obama honored Israeli President Shimon Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. According to CBS, “Obama praised Peres for using his outlook on the Middle East to fortify the relationship between the United States and Israel.”

In the face of such hypocrisy and injustice, activists in many countries have been inspired to hold protests at sports ministries and Israeli embassies and in Scotland, at Tynecastle Stadium, where Israel’s national women’s team went down to an 8-0 defeat on Saturday  in a women’s Euro qualifier.

The petition for Sarsak’s release is building signatures, though many more are needed.

All this has started, at last, to gain some exposure in UK and international media, allbeit considerably less than would be the case if the imprisoned sportsmen were anyone other than Palestinians held in Israel.

In addition to embedded links above, there were fair reports by Agence FrancePresse and Associated Press

Intelligent football commentary:

 A former MP had a letter published in the Guardian newspaper :

A blogpost on the Amnesty International website highlighted the issues:

Here are some other examples of coverage:


A modest boycott campaign set up a year ago to challenge the awarding of UEFA’s under 21 football championship in 2013 to Israel, has successfully mobilised high profile support for Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak, close to death after a long hunger strike in an Israeli jail.
Sarsak, 25, has been refusing food for almost three months in protest at his detention, without charge or trial, since July 2009.
Over just a few days, the Red Card Israeli Apartheid campaign, working together with award-winning filmmaker Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty, mobilised support for a letter berating European government and football bodies for ignoring Sarsak’s plight and allowing Israel to get away with persistent human rights abuses and violations of international law. By Tuesday the legendary Eric Cantona had come on board, along with the UK’s Show Racism the Red Card campaign and several respected patrons of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
A comprehensive news release sent to the media on Tuesday is reproduced below.
From the Red Card Israeli Apartheid CAMPAIGN

– Football legend Éric Cantona and world pro footballers association call for release of Mahmoud Sarsak, detained three years in Israel without charge or trial
– Footballer near death after 80+ days without eating, one of 308 Palestinian “administrative detainees”
– UEFA criticised for awarding Israel right to host 2013 Under-21 tournament
– Cantona, Show Racism the Red Card, Chomsky, Loach and others slam official silence over Israeli human rights abuses, noting contrast with condemnation of Euro 2012 host Ukraine
Leading sporting, cultural and academic figures, including football legend Éric Cantona, have thrown their weight behind a campaign in support of Mahmoud Sarsak, a Palestinian footballer from Gaza who is close to death after more than 80 days on hunger strike.
Sarsak, 25, was seized by Israeli authorities in July 2009 when he was a promising young star of the Palestinian national team attempting to travel to the occupied West Bank for a game.
The world professional footballers’ association  FIFPro said in a statement  Sarsak, who had lost about 30 kilos in weight, should be released from jail. He had been detained for three years without charge or trial. His family have not seen him since his initial arrest.
The organisation said it is “also very concerned about the situation of many other professional footballers in Palestine. . . .There are stories of other players who have been harassed, arrested or even killed.”
In a letter sent on Tuesday to UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson and UEFA President Michel Platini, football legend Éric Cantona, the UK based Show Racism the Red Card campaign, MIT professor Noam Chomsky, John Dugard, Former Special UN Rapporteur on Palestine and film director Ken Loach, among others, called for the same concern to be shown over racism and human rights abuses in Israel as has been expressed over Poland and Ukraine, the Euro 2012 hosts.
They noted that human rights abuses and violations of international law occur daily in Israel, and ask: “why are these same (government and football) groups silent when Israel is to host the U.E.F.A. Under 21s competition in 2013?”
42 Gazan football clubs wrote a protest letter  to UEFA President Michel Platini  a year ago. They have received no reply.
Israeli jails house around 4,000 Palestinian political prisoners, violating Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids the transfer of occupied peoples (Palestinians), to the territory of the occupier (Israel). More than 300 are “administrative detainees” like Sarsak, held without charge or trial.
The letter concludes: “It is time to end Israel’s impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states”.

1.   Full text of letter addressed to Sports Minister Hugh Robertson, UEFA President Michel Platini and other European government and sporting bodies:
‘We are all shocked at the racist chanting at football matches in Poland and Ukraine where Euro 2012 is being played. Footballing bodies and politicians have been outspoken in their condemnation. Indeed some government officials are boycotting group stage matches in Ukraine because of perceived human rights abuses in that country.
So why are these same groups silent when Israel is to host the U.E.F.A. Under 21s competition in 2013? Racism, human rights abuses and gross violations of international law are daily occurrences in that country.
Israeli government ministers respond to mob attacks on black refugees by denouncing them as ‘infiltrators’ and calling for them to be imprisoned in military camps.
Israeli jails house around 4,000 Palestinian political prisoners, more than 300 of them “administrative detainees” held without charge or trial. One of these is a footballer from Gaza, Mahmoud Sarsak, aged 25. He has been imprisoned for nearly three years. No charge, no trial. In desperation, he has been on hunger strike for more than 80 days and is now close to death. He, and all victims of abuse by the Israeli state, need our support.
It is time to end Israel’s impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states.’
Éric Cantona, actor and former footballer
Noam Chomsky, Professor MIT, USA
John Dugard, Former Special Rapporteur of UN on Palestine, South Africa
Trevor Griffiths, Writer, UK
Paul Laverty, Screenwriter, UK
Ken Loach, Filmmaker, UK
Michael Mansfield, QC, UK
Miriam Margolyes OBE, Actor, UK
John Pilger, Journalist, author, film maker, Australia
Show Racism the Red Card (
Ahdaf Soueif, Writer, UK
2. Statement from the international federation of professional footballers
3. VIDEO: Mahmoud Sarsak’s mother speaks about her son, his imprisonment and his hunger strike
5.  Background information from human rights groups about Palestinian political prisoners
6. Israel’s interior minister Eli Yishai denounces black victims of mob violence as “infiltrators” and says refugees should be imprisoned, “all of them without exception.”
7. Racist football fans on the rampage attack Palestinians in a shopping mall,
8. UK and other European governments boycott games in Ukraine because of human rights concerns.
9. Appeal from Sarsak’s father and brother, May 24


Thousands of football supporters at three UK grounds heard the message “Show Israel the Red Card”  on Wednesday February 22, when campaigners handed out leaflets at UEFA under-21 matches at Middlesborough, Wrexham and Paisley.

Their call for Europe’s football governing body to withdraw the under-21 finals from Israel in 2013 attracted friendly attention from fans.

At Wrexham, a banner proclaimed the message “No to Israeli apartheid” and campaigners raised the cry: “Change the finals toWales”.

As part of the run-up to UEFA’s Annual Open Congress, due to be held in Istanbul on March 22, leaflets were delivered for Welsh manager Brian Flynn and the head of the Welsh Football Association Phil Pritchard.

“The Palestinian people are treated worse than black people were during South African apartheid or in the segregated southern states ofAmerica,” the leaflets said.

“We are urging all the European football associations to support the 42 Palestinian clubs in the Gaza Strip who have called on UEFA President Michel Platini not to reward Israel for its racist discrimination against Palestinians,” said Geoff Lee, UK coordinator of Red Card Israeli Apartheid.

In Middlesborough the campaign team included members of the Northumberland County UNISON trade union branch. Leaflets were snapped up by receptive fans, said Mick Bowman of Newcastle Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The Red Card Israeli Apartheid campaign began a year ago, after UEFA announced its decision to award Israel the 2013 under-21 finals. See here for a report on campaign action to date.