Israeli Police Break Up Arab Soccer Tournament in Jerusalem’s Old City

Organizers deny interior minister's accusation that contest is sponsored by Palestinian Authority

The police broke up a soccer tournament among families in Jerusalem’s Old City at the order of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, claiming that the event was linked to the Palestinian Authority. 

The tournament, in which families compete against each other, is a popular initiative that has been held for several years running. There are 183 families competing, each of which puts together a team of young people. Some of the families invest large sums of money on training and uniforms for the event.

On Sunday afternoon, as the players and the audience gathered for the opening of the competition, police officers arrived and ordered the crowd to disperse, confiscated posters and other equipment. The police carried an order signed by Erdan, which stated, “The event will be held on behalf of and/or is sponsored and funded by the Palestinian Authority.”

The PA is forbidden to conduct any activities in East Jerusalem under the Oslo Accords and under the law for implementing the accords. For many years, public security ministers have periodically dispersed cultural and other events in the capital out of concern that they were connected to the PA. But it seems that during the past few months this phenomenon has intensified. A few months ago an event to mark the 50th anniversary of Al-Makassed Hospital was broken up, and last Saturday an event held by the Palestinian Bar Association was halted. Events interrupted in the past have included press conferences, book launches and even a children’s festival.

The Burj al-Luqluq Society, which organizes the soccer tournament, says it has no connection to the PA and does not get any funding from it. According to the group, the money for the tournament was donated by Palestinian businessman Munir al-Kaloti.

“This is a social activity for the benefit of the Old City residents; it’s no shame to hold such activities, especially when the municipality doesn’t promote activities for East Jerusalem residents,” said attorney Mohannad Gbara, who represents the society. “I think that pretty soon Minister Erdan will forbid the sale of Jerusalem sesame pretzels because they have Palestinian markings; they’ll issue closure orders against the pretzel wagons.” Gbara plans to petition the High Court of Justice against the decision.

Erdan’s office said, “We’re talking about scofflaws who lie and blame the agency that enforces the law when they know full well that the Palestinian Authority is involved in the event that Minister Erdan ordered halted. The PA, as an objective, has been trying to violate Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem in recent years. The method is by organizing and funding events that look civilian but behind them is a clear intent to erode Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.

“Minster Erdan has taken and will continue to take a tough stance against the holding of events funded by or sponsored by the PA and its agencies in the Israeli capital. Every order signed by the minister is backed by police intelligence information that proves PA involvement in the event, which is also checked by legal counsel.”

A closed soccer field is seen in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood close to Jerusalem's Old City June 30, 2016.
REUTERS/Ammar Awad