One thing is sure about the forthcoming football match between Northern Ireland and Israel on 12 August: the certain winner will be the Israeli government’s propaganda machine.
Israel craves the cloak of respectability that participation in sporting and cultural events gives it, much as the Apartheid regime in South Africa did during its dark heyday. Unfortunately, the IFA is helping them in that process by staging this ‘friendly’ game.
In 1967, Israel invaded and occupied Palestinian lands. These lands are still under Israeli military occupation. What is more, contrary to international law, Israel has built numerous Jewish settlements there on land expropriated from Palestinians. The building continues today and now there are around 500,000 Jewish settlers living on the West Bank. Israel has simply ignored United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding that it cease settlement building and remove its settlers from Palestinian lands.
That is the behaviour of the state, whose football team the IFA has invited to play in Belfast.
Northern Ireland fans, and the IFA, should spare a thought for the Palestinian football team, which has to operate under the severe restrictions of Israeli occupation — and little or no financial resources.
Apart from one match against Jordan, it has never played a game at home. It is next to impossible to organise training at home for the entire squad, because of travel restrictions between the West Bank and Gaza imposed by Israel, or abroad, because of the denial of exit visas by Israel.
If the IFA is interested in ‘sport for all’, it should organise a friendly match with Palestine at Windsor Park and donate the whole gate money to the Palestine Football Federation. But the IFA would be well advised to get an assurance from Israel that it will not deny the Palestinian players exit visas, lest the match have to be cancelled at the last minute.