Israel on Verge of Being Dismissed From World Soccer Because of Settlement Teams

Many people won't be aware of Beitar Givat Ze'ev, a small club that plays its games in the Israeli third division. But it could be why Israel is kicked out of the World Cup and all international soccer competitions next month.

The Israeli soccer team at a training session before a World Cup qualifier against Italy, September 2016.
Nir Keidar

The fans of Beitar Givat Ze’ev — a soccer team that plays in the southern section of Israel’s third division — may not know this, but their club is one of the five most important in Israel today. In fact, not in Israel. According to international consensus, Givat Ze’ev lies in what is defined as occupied Palestinian territory. This makes it a non-Israeli club playing in the Israel Football Association (IFA). In the first round of the Israeli State Cup, held in Givat Ze’ev last week, the club lost 2-0 to Beitar Nordia — a team established in 2014 by Beitar Jerusalem fans who got fed up with the racist behavior of La Familia (the Jerusalem club’s extremist fans).

There are four other settlement clubs playing within the framework of the IFA. They represent Ma’aleh Adumim, Kiryat Arba, Bikat Hayarden (in the Jordan Valley) and Ariel. However, there are currently 153,000 signatures on a global online petition calling on international soccer’s governing body, FIFA, to enforce its own rules and expel Israel from the organization. This would mean kicking it out of the World Cup, the European Championships, and the Champions League and Europa League.

As usual, Israelis who don’t want to know and who think the occupation is just dandy have yet to acknowledge the fact that, a month from now, this issue will come up for discussion at FIFA.

FIFA’s rules are unambiguous. They are not open to interpretation or an issue that allows for some discretion. Since 1998, FIFA has recognized the Palestinian Football Association and the league it operates, and it sees the West Bank as Palestinian territory. FIFA rules do not permit the Israeli soccer association to operate within the bounds of the Palestinian one without the express approval of FIFA and the Palestinian association. Obviously, such permission has never been given.

In order to abide by FIFA rules, Israel will have to move the activities of the teams from the settlements to within the 1967 borders (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev would rather swallow a cyanide capsule) or face being expelled from FIFA (ditto).

Joining the Palestinian league is not an option for these teams. According to a precedent set in Crimea, this is how FIFA deals with occupation: After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, FIFA refused to recognize Crimean sides that joined the Russian league. According to international law, Crimea is under the jurisdiction of the Football Federation of Ukraine — just as Givat Ze’ev is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian one.

A few days ago, 66 members of the European Parliament signed a sharply worded letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, calling on him to enforce FIFA’s rules. They reminded him that, according to European Union resolutions, the settlements contravene international law and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.

Football teams in these settlements constitute de facto annexation of Kiryat Arba, Ariel, Givat Ze’ev, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Jordan Valley. They are part of the occupation regime and the apartheid apparatus that excludes Palestinians, expropriating their lands and limiting their freedom of movement. Ostensibly, the decision at the FIFA council meeting next month should be a simple one: the immediate suspension of Israel. No more World Cup qualifiers and Champions League games for Israelis.

The Givat Ze'ev settlement in the West Bank.
Emil Salman

Israel would be shaken to its roots by such a result. Such a decision could lay the foundations for a Palestinian state. Beitar Givat Ze’ev fans may not know this, but their home games are already attended by representatives of human rights organizations, and the games are widely reported in Europe. Beitar Givat Ze’ev is well known over there, and could be about to become equally discussed in Israel.