Israel to allow Palestinian soccer players to travel for West Bank match

Gabe Friedman

(JTA) — Israel will allow a soccer match in the West Bank between a Palestinian team and a squad from the United Arab Emirates.

The Sept. 8 match at the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium in Al-Ram, northeast of Jerusalem, will test Israel’s stated willingness to relax its travel restrictions on Palestinian players.

In response to the Palestinian Football Association’s decision to drop its months-long lobbying effort to have Israel voted out of FIFA, Israel promised the international soccer organization in May that it would loosen its restrictions on Palestinian players traveling in and out of Gaza.

For the match to occur, Israel will need to allow some Palestinian players to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. The UAE players will be permitted to enter the West Bank through an Israeli border station in Jordan, Bloomberg reported.

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Abdel Majeed Hijeh, general secretary of the Palestine Football Association, told Bloomberg that he does not expect Israel to loosen all its restrictions.

“We expect the Israeli side to impose obstacles, but it’s our right to hold the match,” he said.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Football Association had long complained about Israel’s strict travel rules against Palestinian players, which Israel said was for safety reasons. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who has been linked to the organization’s massive corruption scandal, had met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in May to address the situation.

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