The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been in the news once again recently, but not for the usual reasons. Rather than reading headlines about rockets and settlements we are instead seeing a battle of words and parliamentary procedure within FIFA itself, between the Palestinian Football Association and the Israeli Football Association. The cause of this dust-up? A recent push by PFA head Jibril Rajoub to suspend or expel Israel from FIFA. You see, while Russia, the 2018 World Cup host, recently annexed part of Crimea (they needed the extra space, you see), and Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host is overseeing the deaths of thousands of slaves during the construction of World Cup stadia, Rajoub knows that the real evil within FIFA is the Jews.
Rajoub has a laundry list of complaints against Israel. They range from the inability of Palestinian players to travel from Gaza to the West Bank (due to Gaza being controlled by Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group that is at odds both with Israel and Fatah [the political party to which Rajoub and the rest of the leaders of the Palestinian Authority swear allegiance to]), to the various security measures undertaken by Israel in the wake of the Second Intifada. It’s worth noting, however, that these measures, amongst them the construction of the security barrier, have put a stop to the wave of suicide bombers and death that engulfed the nation during the Second Intifada.
While airing his grievances Rajoub casually neglects to mention that Palestinian athletes have in the past taken advantage of travel visas to aid and abet Hamas operations. Samah Fares Muhamed Marava, the player in the article above, is still a part of the Palestinian National Team and was briefly detained last week as the Palestinian side traveled into Jordan. This is partially due to the Palestinian FA’s failure to notify the Israelis of whom was to be traveling, and partially due to his past ties with a terrorist group whose sole reason for existing is to destroy the State of Israel. Coincidentally, at around the same time, the Israeli National Judo team was detained in Morocco, an incident which received little – if any – international press coverage, and certainly no international outrage.
But who is Palestinian FA president Jibril Rajoub? According to himself, he is a man of peace. He told Vice Sports, “I am trying to promote grassroots: love, friendship, neighborhood, I want to support the Palestinian causes through the ethics and values of the game, not through the violence of the machine gun.” And certainly, Rajoub promotes peace; when he wants to. He has even been filmed claiming “I am your peace partner” in Hebrew! Rajoub is fluent in Hebrew, and even translated a Moshe Dayan book into Arabic. Rajoub learned Hebrew, incidentally, in an Israeli prison, where he served time in the ‘70s and ‘80s after throwing a grenade at a group of IDF troops. Some may call that attempted murder, but then, we know that Rajoub is a man of peace. He said so. And here is the man of peace, speaking to Lebanese TV station Al Mayadeen in 2013: “Listen. We as yet don’t have a nuke, but I swear that if we had a nuke, we’d have used it this very morning.” A man of peace, indeed. More recently he spoke out against a proposed moment of silence at the 2012 Olympics for the victims of the 1972 Munich massacre, saying: “sports are a bridge for love… and should not be used for divisiveness and the spread of racism.”
Let’s look at his resume, though. Rajoub was one of Yasser Arafat’s most trusted advisors, and he was seen as a potential successor for Arafat prior to Arafat’s death. Mahmoud Abbas would instead become the next President for Life of the Palestinian Authority, but Rajoub was a contender then and he is likely to succeed Abbas, whenever Abbas cedes being the head of the PA. Prior to running the Palestinian FA, Rajoub was head of the Preventive Security Force, the PA’s official security agency. This group was accused of various human rights violations while led by Rajoub. While he claims not to believe in the machine gun, I suppose he once believed in the cigarette burn, and the genital mutilation.
Additionally, they were even involved in a Supreme Court case stemming from the death of an American citizen in PA custody. Rajoub and Co. won the case, or rather, the Supreme Court decided that only individuals could be held accountable under the Torture Victim Protection Act, and not organizations such as the PA. More recently, an Israeli human rights group, Shurat Hadin, filed against Rajoub at the International Crimes Court, holding him accountable for the fact that Fatah, the political party/terrorist group he is a leading member of, fired rockets at Israeli civilians – and boasted about this on their Facebook page – during last summer’s surge in rocket attacks against Israel. The same group has also called on FIFA to expel Rajoub, for the same reasons.
Consider this bit from the recent best-selling book Catch the Jew by Tuvia Tenenbom (no relation), who befriended Rajoub under the guise of being a German journalist, and not an Israeli-born Jew:
“His life experience has taught him that “resistance does not mean only military resistance,” he tells me, and one day “I started to understand that our aspirations could be achieved through other tools.” One of those tools, what a shocking surprise, is sport. Sport, he teaches me, “is an effective tool to achieve our national aspirations.”
So is this why Jibril Rajoub is trying to get Israel kicked out of FIFA? Well, it’s part of the equation. the PA has, in recent times, used all sorts of external political bodies to exert pressure on Israel. Sometimes this is through promoting resolutions acknowledging a Palestinian state in European parliaments. Another example of this would be the recent entry of the Palestinian Authority to the International Crimes Court, a move that has also opened up the Palestinians to legal action, like the previously mentioned case filed against Rajoub.
There’s another aspect at play though, too, one that has less to do with Israel and Palestine, and more to do with interior Palestinian politics. Consider this nugget from the aforementioned Vice article: “Abbas will not be in power forever,” said one former IFA senior official. “Rajoub knows that by using this topic, it gives him a lot of media attention and power. I believe he is using this for political aspirations.”
Rajoub, who was passed over during the last succession of power in the Palestinian Authority, knows he may not have another shot if he isn’t chosen to replace Abbas. After all, it’s not as if he can simply run in the next election, because the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have elections. But he can use his limited power as head of the Palestinian FA (and other sporting authorities) to gain popularity the way Palestinian politicians have often done in the past; bashing Israel and blaming them for all the problems faced by Palestinians, without actually trying to solve the problems. Having said that, it’s unlikely that FIFA will either suspend or expel Israel – which was expelled from the Asian Football Conference decades ago due to the Arab countries boycotting games against Israel, and now plays in UEFA – due to the fact that there won’t be enough votes. In addition, if FIFA decides to start mixing politics and sport, it would likely be forced to suspend or expel dozens of member nations. Of course, that assumes the organization would apply the same standards it does in this vote to all member nations, which it won’t. Furthermore, in spite of the recent raids and legal action brought against FIFA by the FBI, it appears the vote will occur later this week.
In fact, Sepp Blatter, ever the modest man, has tried to mediate the conflict himself. Amongst his proposed solutions was a “peace friendly” between Israel and Palestine. Israel accepted, though it seems that they were in a sense calling a bluff, as Palestine rejected the offer. And why not? As Rajoub said, he is a man of love, friendship, and neighborhood. At least when he wants to be seen as such.