Rights group wants settlement soccer clubs to relocate inside Israel

Mon Sep 26, 2016 6:12am EDT
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By Ori Lewis

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A human rights group urged soccer's governing body, FIFA, on Monday to move matches being played by Israeli teams in the occupied West Bank to Israel, saying that playing in Jewish settlements meant they were playing on stolen land.

The six clubs named by Human Rights Watch are all minor. But the dispute over their location showed how sport, in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was widening political divisions rather than bridging them.

In a report, HRW said the Israeli teams, from the settlements of Maale Adumim, Ariel, Oranit and Givat Zeev, and a squad representing the occupied Jordan Valley region, were playing "on land unlawfully taken from the Palestinians".

Settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes that.

In some cases, the grounds the Israeli teams are playing on are on land privately owned by Palestinians, HRW said.

"By holding games on stolen land, FIFA is tarnishing the beautiful game of football," said Sari Bashi, the director for HRW for Israeli and the Palestinian territories.

She said FIFA should require the IFA "to move all FIFA-sanctioned games and activities inside Israel".

The Israeli and Palestinian football associations, both FIFA members, hold diametrically opposed views on the issue.   Continued...

Players from Ariel Municipal Soccer Club, who are affiliated with Israel Football Association, wait in their dressing room ahead of their match against Maccabi HaSharon Netanya at Ariel Municipal Soccer Club's training grounds in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel September 23, 2016. Picture taken September 23, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen