Israel Detains Palestinian Soccer Player Hours After Promising to Relax Restrictions
The detention and release of Sameh Maraabah comes less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to stop impeding the movement of Palestine's soccer teams.
Palestinian National Team player Sameh Maraabah was detained for approximately three hours at the Allenby crossing point by the Israeli border patrol for "security reasons," according to multiple sources familiar with the matter, before being released at approximately 11 p.m. local time. The Allenby crossing point is the only international border for Palestinians living in the West Bank. The team was on its way to Jordan where they would stay the night before flying to Tunisia for training. Palestine is scheduled to play Saudi Arabia on June 11.
This incident comes mere hours after FIFA President Sepp Blatter's visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in advance of a resolution at next week's FIFA Congress to suspend Israel for, among other allegations, restricting Palestinian player movement.
Two days prior, Blatter met with Netanyahu and assured the press he "remain[s] confident that we will find a solution for the benefit of football development ahead of the FIFA Congress." According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, Blatter informed the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) that Netanyahu promised to ease travel restrictions for Palestinian players and officials, and one source tells VICE Sports that Netanyahu offered everything except for the disbanding of the five settlement teams playing in the Israeli leagues.
Multiple sources confirmed to VICE Sports that PFA President Jibril Rajoub turned down the offer and insisted the resolution go to vote at next week's FIFA Congress. Maraabah's detention late Thursday night only reinforces that decision, and, in the eyes of the PFA, undermines Netanyahu's proposed compromise.
Israeli-Arab Knesset member Esawi Frej, who belongs to the leftist Meretz party and has served as an intermediary between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority, told VICE Sports: "I am happy that the Israeli authorities made the right decision and let the mind decide, not the heart, to let the international Palestinian team continue on their journey to Jordan. I call on both Palestinians and Israelis in this time to use wisdom and let the sports win, not politics."
This is not the first time Maraabah has been held by Israeli border forces. Maraabah was detained in April of 2014 under suspicion of being a "military activist" after allegedly meeting with members of Hamas's military wing in Qatar.
According to a Palestinian Football Association spokesman, the PFA has already sent a letter to Blatter informing him of the incident. The letter, obtained by VICE Sports, is re-printed here in full:
I hope you had the time to rest after your trip to our region and the busy schedule of meetings with both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the Israeli Government's promise to facilitate the movement of our players is having its first test as I am writing this letter. Our National team, which is heading for Tunisia for a training camp, has been delayed at the Allenby crossing point by the Israeli authorities.
Player Sameh Maraabah has been detained by the Israeli authorities for two hours now, and the team has decided it will not leave without him.
The implications of this incident can only confirm the PFA's position on the promises given by the Israeli Government; that they are only words unless they are included in solution that can only come through, and be guaranteed by the FIFA congress.
Palestine Football Association