Does The IDF Target Palestinian Soccer Players?

by James M. Wallpalestine_soccer_ap_img

Two Palestinian youth soccer players were shot and badly wounded near a check point in the Palestinian West Bank on January 31.

Ma’an, the Palestinian news outlet, reported the shootings of Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17.

The players were shot by Israeli soldiers as they were walking home from practice in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium in al-Ram in the central West Bank.

Medical reports indicated that “Jawhar was shot with 11 bullets, seven in his left foot, three in his right, and one in his left hand. Halabiya was shot once in each foot.”

Doctors at Ramallah governmental hospital said the pair “will need six months of treatment before they can evaluate if the two will even be able to ever walk again, at best.”

Ma’an also reported that “Israeli forces opened fire in their direction without warning as they were walking near a checkpoint. Police dogs were subsequently unleashed on them before Israeli soldiers dragged them across the ground and beat them.”

The story did not surface in western press outlets until Dave Zirin wrote in the Nation:

Their names are Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17. They were once soccer players in the West Bank. Now they are never going to play sports again. Jawhar and Adam were on their way home from a training session in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium on January 31 when Israeli forces fired upon them as they approached a checkpoint.

After being shot repeatedly, they were mauled by checkpoint dogs and then beaten. Ten bullets were put into Jawhar’s feet. Adam took one bullet in each foot. After being transferred from a hospital in Ramallah to King Hussein Medical Center in Amman, they received the news that soccer would no longer be a part of their futures.

(Israel’s border patrol maintains that the two young men were about to throw a bomb.)”

A week later, Zirin described the reaction he received from his original report on the shooting of the two players.

One of the sports writers asked Zirin, “Do you have any sources that are not Palestinian?”

That obvious pro-Israel and clearly racist distrust of all matters pertaining to Palestinians, was quickly underscored by that same questioner when he sent a subsequent email to Zirin, saying, never mind, I have found a report of the shootings in Ha’aretz, a Jewish news outlet based in Jerusalem.

In his March 10 story, Zirin stated flatly that he believed “members of the Palestinian soccer community are being targeted for violence by the Israeli state.”

Some critics reacted to this theory by saying the targeting charge was  “laughable,” and “ridiculous,” One writer even wrote he would “reach out to The Nation directly to agitate for dismissal”.

Zirin’s response was fact-based and compelling:

maan-attack-dogYes it is certainly true that I don’t have a document signed by Benjamin Netanyahu calling for a systematic attack on the Palestinian national team. What I do have are names: real people, with real families, whose lives and deaths are testament to a story that needs to be told.

There was Ayman Alkurd. He was a 34-year-old member of the Palestinian national soccer team. Alkurd was killed during the 2009 Operation Cast Lead when a missile was sent into his home in Gaza.

There was Wajeh Moshtahe, another national team member. He was killed in his home during Operation Cast Lead as well. He was only 24. There was Shadi Sbakhe, another national team member who suffered the same fate. All three, in fact, died within seventy-two hours of one another.

They reminded many, at the time of their deaths, of Tariq Al Quto, described by the BBC as “a talented midfielder,” who was killed by the IDF in 2004.

Then there are the imprisoned. We can start with Omar Abu Rios, the former starting goalkeeper for the national team. He was arrested at age 23 for allegedly being part of an attack on Israeli troops at the Amari Palestinian refugee camp near Ramallah.

He was, according to Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril al-Rajoub, “arrested at work and taken to an unknown location.” Rajoub appealed directly to FIFA chief Sepp Blatter on Rios’s behalf, saying that his arrest “was in total disregard of all agreements signed by the Israeli side and in direct violation to the simplest right of our players.”

There was also Muhammad Nimr, a top 23-year-old striker and national team member, who had his house destroyed by the IDF and was then jailed without charges being filed. Nimr’s story echoed that of another striker, Zakaria Issa, who had been jailed for sixteen years before being released in 2013 when he was struck with terminal cancer.

Then there was Mahmoud Sarsak. Sarsak was a defender on the national team who was arrested and jailed without charges while trying to cross a checkpoint in order to join his teammates. His plight became an international cause when the Palestinian national team member went on a three-month hunger strike while being held in an Israeli prison.

He was released in July 2012. As he said at a meeting in England upon his release, “Israel actively attempts to stop sportsmen and women competing, and there are a large number of athletes in prison…. Since 2008 we have seen Israel detain a number of sportsmen who were arrested under the administrative detention laws—meaning no charges need be brought. They never have to go to trial.”

This is reality for the Palestinian national team: four dead by Israeli munitions and—at least—three jailed in Israeli prisons without trial over the last decade.

I have no idea whether people will see this as constituting a “targeting” of the Palestinian soccer players. I do believe that it is our job as sports journalists to ask the questions.

Zirin is not optimistic that the notoriously conservative FIFA will act to investigate the charge of targeted killings by Israel.

Natioanl-Palestine-Football-team-1But what is clear is that Israel has a well-documented record of targeting Palestinians it wishes to remove from action of any kind.

The 2014 FIFA (The Fédération Internationale de Football Association) is the international governing body of association football, futsal and beach soccer.

This summer’s World Cup will run from June 12 to July 13. The Palestine team did not qualify for this year’s Cup.

Because FIFA wants to “grow” soccer in all regions of the world, in December 2010, Russia and Qatar were chosen to host the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, respectively.

FIFA plans ahead, given the complicated logistics involved in holding World Cup Events.

Will FIFA dare look ahead to its next World Cup events in Russia and Qatar, without having first confronted the problem of the FIFA membership of Israel, a FIFA member which now stands accused of using attack dogs and deliberately targeting Palestinian soccer players?

The picture at top shows Jordan’s Baha’aldeen Alja’afreh, right, running by Palestine’s Oday Dabbagh at the Faysal al-Husseini stadium, in Ramallah. The AP Photo is by Nasser Nasser.

The second picture from Ma’an, shows Palestinian footballer Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, in his hospital bed, following his attack by Israeli forces,Jan.31, 2014.

The third picture is a group photo of the 2013 Palestine National Team. It was taken on February 21, 2013. It is from

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
This entry was posted in Media, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Soccer. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Does The IDF Target Palestinian Soccer Players?

  1. Helen Marshall says:

    How can one respond to this with some sort of pithy comment? The sadness is too great. I do not understand the madness that is Israel now.

  2. lgeorgepomo says:

    Jim, thank you for your courageous exposure of yet more evidence of Israel’s decades-long campaign to obliterate everything Palestinian. Your key observation is “that Israel has a well-documented record of targeting Palestinians it wishes to remove from action of any kind.” The systematic elimination of brilliant political leaders, writers, non-violent activists, libraries, educational institutions, cultural history, arts, sports–those endeavors we call the “great equalizers” — outpaces any attempt to catalog such diabolical schemes.

  3. Fr. Robert says:

    Jim, an important exposé. I was sickened reading the Nation article, and all over again with these further details. The most disturbing issue is the utter viciousness and evil of the occupier.

    I felt the same way when we had two innocents assassinated by an Israeli death squad on our doorstep. What kind of corruption of the heart does it take to plot such schemes, and to issue or carry out such orders?

    Your article needs to be given wider context, exposing viciousness in other areas. At the same time, I’m wondering if we are now called to demand sanctions against Israeli sports teams coming to our area.

  4. Janet Varner Gunn says:

    I am especially worried about Naim Abu-Aker, nephew of Mohammad who was an early Deheishe Camp martyr in the First Intifada. Naim, named for Mohammad’s father, has been a supurb guard on a Bethehem area team and, with his team, has won chances to play in China, Germany, and surrounding Middle East countries.

    I will never forget how Naim owns the field around the opposing team’s net, moving like a dancer with his eye never off the ball. His body will earn him a good university spot, exactly what the IDF must rule out and has ruled out for the other players they have taken out.

    What astonishing strategic planning! Go Palestine!

  5. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Thank you, Jim, for exposing yet one more murderous Israeli strategy: To destroy any Palestinian H-O-P-E that keeps the nation alive. Zionist psychologists and psychiatrists have been at work on this for the past 100 years.

    Israel’s psychotic leadership has been attempting to crush any Palestinian narrative, or accomplishment, or infra-structure, or grass roots leadership, or any symbol of their efforts to emerge as a nation.

    Let’s save our anger and focus it on implementing BDS, and further exposing horrendous Israeli crimes, at all levels and at all world events, be it soccer/sports, or academic, or entertainment, or the arts & sciences, or tourism, or Israel’s export industry, etc

    Let us start by drowning FIFA with messages that disallow Israel from participation in World Cup Soccer, for starters.

  6. Jim, your posting focuses powerfully on an important subset of the Zionists’ frenzy to commit culturecide-cum-genocide against the Palestinians. I’ve been increasingly convinced for years that the Zionists are engulfed in a massive psychosis, and I postulate that guilt is a major part of its root causes; I see all their actions deriving from the invasion by European Jewish Zionists of a land to which they did not belong. Trying to build an edifice of legitimacy where no such edifice is possible has led to a prime component, criminality bounded by crimes against humanity and war crimes, of the psychosis. The impunity given the psychosis and its practitioners is mind-boggling.

    As I writhe in empathic frustration and anger with the Palestinians, I’d like to add just one more plank of an indictment of the Zionist enterprise — an indictment and then the follow-on trial that are long overdue. I ask you, Jim, and your readership to link to and read this March 12th article by the indefatigable Dave Zirin. It is titled “Israel, Palestine, Pinochet… and a Soccer Jersey?” from LatinOpen Magazine, as shared with me by the first responder above, my friend Helen Marshall whose State Department career included significant service in South America. Here’s the link: . Please find this extract from the article and reflect, inter alia, that this Zionist frenzy is ever-present, global, and evil beyond any attempt to define its scope and boundaries: “…the (Chilean soccer club) team was charged by the Simon Wiesenthal Center with “fomenting terrorist intent.” The mere name Simon Wiesenthal sends chills up my spine…he represents the true terrorists among us in intent and action, and the Zionist platform Israel is the quintessential state wreaking terrorism on its helpless victims.

    Viva Palestine!

    (This subject just keeps on giving: I just recalled and located another article by Dave Zirin, dated Nov. 19, 2012, titled “Killing Hope: Why Israel Targets Sports in Gaza.” Its setting is during the end-2012 latest act of Zionist Israel’s “mowing the grass” atrocities in Gaza. The article is also from the Nation; I read it via The Washington Report On Middle East Affairs, Jan.-Feb. 2013 edition: .)

  7. Fred says:

    This act by Israel is pure sadism. Their cruelty towards Palestinians just keeps growing. The fact that the mainstream media suppressed it is another example of the censorship that goes on to protect Israel. If this would have happened to an Israeli athlete, it would have been all over the news. Israel will get away with this crime, as it gets away with all the others it commits.

  8. tamarque says:

    In reading the article it reminded me of the pain of racial profiling in the US. So many people of color are shot with impunity by the police who are given a free pass despite all evidence of guilt. The same language that makes false accusations against the victim allows a free pass to be given to the killers. But when you have a system that is based on racism, the individual perpetrators are just the expression of the racism and terror tactic against a population. Israel did not invent their methodology, but they certainly have honed it to an ever greater depth of perversity.

    I disagree with the writer who spoke of guilt for theft of land. Instead let me speak of revenge–hateful revenge by racist people. I am reminded of situations with some people who are Jewish. To them nothing that is done can compare with the holocaust. So to them anything they do is payback and cannot compare. There are people who are sociopathic when it comes to the Palestinians. They are perceived as non-people. And Israel says as much when saying that 1 Jewish person, a male to be specific, is worth more than dozens of Palestinians.

    This vengefulness against the soccor players churns my stomach with revulsion and rage.
    It is matched today by a report with photos of a 15 yr old Palestinian-American visiting with his family in West Bank. Isreali police with masks assaulted the boy practically beating him to death. He is now in custody, isolated from his family, w/o medical care and charges of violence (stone throwing, resisting arrest). Despite photos of the police battering this boy while on the ground and in handcuffs, they had the audacity to tell the judge that the boy didn’t obey the police. Blatant lies.

    More articles like these need to be broadcast. The world is kept in blinders by the mainstream news. They need to be stripped off. Israel’s lies and race based cruelty need exposure.

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