Jerusalem District Court Justice Moshe Sobel accepted on Monday, September 23, the position of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), who denied permit applications by 23 team members of the Gaza-based football (soccer) club and Gaza Strip cup holder, Khadamat Rafah, to travel to the Palestine Cup final rematch against the Balata Football Club in Nablus, in the West Bank. Justice Sobel approved the recommendations of the Israeli security services to deny permit applications by 23 club members, and recommended that the petition be rejected.
For more than two months, Israel has prevented the Khadamat Rafah club from traveling to the West Bank for a final rematch against its West Bank competitors, the Balata Football Club from Nablus’s Balata Refugee Camp. The two clubs faced off on June 30 in Gaza, with the match ending in a 1:1 draw. The rematch was scheduled to take place in the West Bank on July 3. The club that wins the two-match playoff is due to represent Palestine in the Asian Champions League.
Ahead of the rematch, the Rafah club submitted detailed permit applications for its 22 players, and 13 members of the coaching team and executives. Three days before the scheduled match, the club’s spokesperson was notified that only four applications were approved by Israel, only one of which was by a player. The remaining 31 permit applications were denied on unspecified “security grounds.” The match was rescheduled for September 25, and new applications with supporting documents were submitted to COGAT on August 21. On Monday, September 16, COGAT responded that 12 members of the club would be permitted to travel, but among them only five players.
Last week Gisha – an Israeli NGO that aims to protect the freedom of movement, guaranteed by international and Israeli law, of Palestinians, especially residents of Gaza – petitioned the Jerusalem District Court demanding that it instruct COGAT to grant travel permits to the entire team. The petition emphasized that the Palestine Cup is a FIFA-recognized tournament, and that any further delay of the rematch would jeopardize the winning club’s entry into the Asian Champions League. Sporting events are listed in Israel’s narrow criteria for eligibility for travel permits.
In response to Monday’s court decision, Gisha wrote: “This case is another illustration of the extraordinary effort Israel exerts to prevent Palestinian travel between the parts of the Palestinian territory as part of what it calls the ‘separation policy,’ which systematically violates Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement and undermines the functioning of Palestinian society as a whole. The ease with which the state applies sweeping and arbitrary ‘security blocks’ against Palestinians wishing to travel in a variety of circumstances demonstrates how little regard Israel has for the severe impact of its actions on civilians in the occupied Palestinian territory.”