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Israel/Palestine: FIFA Sponsoring Games on Seized Land

Israeli Settlement Football Clubs Contribute to Human Rights Violations

(Jerusalem) – FIFA, the worldwide football association, is sponsoring matches in Israeli settlements in the West Bank on land unlawfully taken from Palestinians. To fulfill its human rights responsibilities, FIFA should require its affiliate, the Israel Football Association, which is conducting business in unlawful settlements that are off-limits to Palestinians, to move all FIFA-sanctioned games and activities inside Israel.

“By holding games on stolen land, FIFA is tarnishing the beautiful game of football,” said Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine country director at Human Rights Watch. “FIFA has new leadership and has made new commitments to human rights this year. FIFA should step up now to give settlement clubs a red card and insist the Israel Football Association play by the rules.”

Football field in Givat Ze’ev. © 2016 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch investigated the situation of football clubs that play in the Israel Football Association (IFA) but hold their official matches outside Israel, on fields located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which Israel captured and occupied in 1967. Settlements are unlawful under international humanitarian law (IHL) because the transfer of an occupying power’s civilian population into the occupied territory violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and is a war crime. Settlements are built on land seized from Palestinians.

IFA matches in settlements are already the subject of a dispute between the IFA and the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), which claims that the IFA is violating FIFA rules that prohibit a member association from holding competitions on the territory of another member association without permission. The PFA has been a member of FIFA, (Fédération Internationale de Football Association,) since 1998, and its territory is understood to include the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, recognized internationally as the occupied Palestinian territory or Palestine. The IFA, which is also a member of FIFA, has said that FIFA should allow it to continue holding matches in settlements and should take no position on the status of the West Bank. Israel’s military governs the West Bank as territory under temporary belligerent occupation, and the international community considers it occupied, but the Israeli government stands virtually alone in referring to the West Bank as “disputed territory”.

Last year, FIFA established a monitoring committee to resolve the issue, and the committee says it will submit its recommendations to an October 13 FIFA Council meeting in Zurich.

Human Rights Watch’s research suggests, however, that the issue is not merely a dispute between national associations over the interpretation of FIFA rules. By allowing the IFA to hold matches inside settlements, FIFA is engaging in business activity that supports Israeli settlements, contrary to the human rights commitments it recently affirmed. An April 2016 report, commissioned by FIFA and written by John Ruggie, the author of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), which outline the human rights responsibilities of businesses, makes specific recommendations for FIFA to implement the UNGP throughout its activities. Newly-elected FIFA President Gianni Infantino took office pledging to steer FIFA out of the human rights and corruption scandals of recent years, so that fans and players can focus on the “beautiful game” of football. Doing business in the settlements is inconsistent with these commitments.

Human Rights Watch sought comment from FIFA, its Israeli affiliate, and its European regional association. FIFA said it would respond at a later date, and UEFA declined to respond. The IFA sent a response on September 23, 2016. Human Rights Watch also sent a summary of the report to the organizers of the settlement clubs, inviting responses, and officials from four clubs did so.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented how businesses in Israeli settlements in the West Bank contribute to and benefit from serious violations of human rights and IHL: they are located on land that has been unlawfully taken from Palestinians, they exploit natural resources that belong to Palestinians but are allocated in a discriminatory manner in favor of Israelis, and they are part of a discriminatory regime that privileges Israeli businesses while blocking Palestinian businesses, social, and cultural institutions and infrastructure from developing. The transfer of an occupying power’s civilian population into occupied territory also violates international humanitarian law. The UNGP require businesses to respect not just human rights law but also the standards of IHL. Human Rights Watch has applied the same analysis to the IFA’s matches held in settlements, which are sponsored by FIFA.

Map source: Kerem Navot © 2016 Human Rights Watch

First, the settlement playing grounds, including one indoor (futsal) hall, are built on land that has been unlawfully taken from Palestinians, mostly by seizing land belonging to Palestinian individuals or Palestinian villages, declaring it state land, and then designating it for exclusive Israeli civilian use. Military law in the West Bank limits entry to settlements to Israeli citizens and residents, holders of Israeli visas, or individuals of Jewish ancestry. The West Bank’s 2.5 million Palestinian residents, excluding East Jerusalem residents, are not allowed to enter settlements, except for approximately 26,000 laborers bearing special permits. Arab citizens and residents of Israel, like their Jewish counterparts, may enter the settlements.

Second, financial documents that Human Rights Watch has reviewed show that the IFA is engaging in business activity that supports the settlements. Settlement football clubs provide part-time employment and recreational services to settlers, making the settlements more sustainable, thus propping up a system that exists through serious human rights violations.

Third, the clubs provide services to Israelis but do not and cannot provide them to Palestinians, who are not allowed to enter settlements except as laborers bearing special permits. Because of this, football teams, for example, operating in the settlements, are available to Israelis only, and West Bank Palestinians may not participate, play on the teams or even attend games as spectators. In most cases, the clubs receive a majority of their funding from the settlement municipalities and regional councils, which essentially pay them to organize sports and recreational services for Israelis only.

The clubs are members of the IFA, whose business model, like that of FIFA, includes cultivating football at a variety of skill levels and across a wide geographic area, to promote professional football as a national and international sport and pastime. The settlement clubs serve as recruitment and training for Israeli professional teams, which provide both the IFA and FIFA with revenue from ticket sales and broadcasting rights. Like most teams playing in the lower leagues, the settlement teams do not directly bring revenue to the IFA or FIFA, but they are part of the professional football industry, rooted in communities across the globe, that earns US$33 billion annually and helps maintain football’s status as the most popular sport in the world. Like the IFA and the settlement clubs, FIFA is also a not-for-profit association, but, according to John Ruggie’s report, it engages in substantial commercial activity.

Financial records show that in recent years, FIFA and Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) have together transferred millions of shekels annually to the IFA as part of a reciprocal financial relationship in which FIFA and UEFA earn money from regional and international games in which Israeli teams play.

In the case of one club playing in the Israeli settlement of Givat Ze’ev, the IFA, and therefore FIFA as well, are holding matches on a playing field that was rendered off-limits to its Palestinian owners, two families from neighboring Beitunia who were unable to access their land after Israel built the settlement in 1977 and prevented Palestinians from entering it. The Palestinian town of Beitunia has lost most of its agricultural land because of Israeli military orders barring access and physical barriers, Mayor Ribhi Dola told Human Rights Watch. More than a decade ago, Israel built a “separation barrier” that cuts the built-up part of Beitunia off from its open space. Large parts of the barrier, including in Beitunia, run through the occupied West Bank. An advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice deemed the barrier unlawful and called on states “not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction.”

Map source: Kerem Navot © 2016 Human Rights Watch

“We want to build a stadium for our kids to have the chance to play and develop their skills in a professional manner, but where can we do that if we have no land?” Dola asked, referring to the paucity of open space in Beitunia.

One of the registered owners of the land on which the Givat Ze’ev playing field is built, Salah al-Din al-Qurt, aged 67, told Human Rights Watch that his father lost access to the land in the late 1970s, when Israel built the settlement and declared it off limits to Palestinians. Al-Qurt’s nephew is a football player in the Beitunia club, which has to train and play in a neighboring town because Beitunia does not have a playing field that meets FIFA regulations.

The managers of the settlement clubs told Human Rights Watch that the clubs provide an important service to their communities, including helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds and adults pursue fitness and healthy living. Maaleh Adumim municipal football fields manager Ben Hadad told Human Rights Watch that his club provides safe recreation for children in the community, including those who come from difficult familial and/or socio-economic backgrounds.

Human Rights Watch does not dispute that the settlement clubs provide a service to their communities. However, by offering these settlement activities to Israelis but not Palestinians, and on land that the Israeli authorities unlawfully took from Palestinians, these clubs, however good the intentions of their organizers may be, are contributing to serious rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. Irrespective of the ongoing political dispute over the fate of the settlements and their football clubs, sponsoring matches in the settlements contradicts the commitment FIFA recently renewed, to respect human rights in its business activities, Human Rights Watch said. The claim by some that the settlements will be annexed to Israel in the future and should, therefore, be allowed to flourish is not only speculative but also ignores the serious human rights violations that the settlements are and cause today, Human Rights Watch said.

“Whatever political decisions may or may not be made about the settlements in the future, they represent and contribute to serious human rights violations right now, Bashi said. “This problem has one solution: FIFA should tell the IFA clubs to practice, pass, play all you want – but only inside Israel.”

Human Rights Watch conducted telephone interviews with officials from all six settlement clubs. It reviewed financial records, protocols, and founding documents of the settlement clubs and the Israel Football Association, obtained from the Israeli Nonprofits Registrar and the IFA, protocols of meetings of settlement municipalities and local councils and promotional information published by the settlements.

Human Rights Watch interviewed land-owners and public officials, including the mayor, in the Palestinian town of Beitunia, which lost much of its agricultural land to the Israeli settlement of Givat Ze’ev and a nearby Israeli military compound. It reviewed maps provided by the Israeli Civil Administration, a division of the Israeli military, to an Israeli research NGO, Kerem Navot and compared them and aerial photos also obtained by Kerem Navot with maps and land records in the Palestinian Ministry of Local Government and the Beitunia municipality’s office of land registration.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed legal documents related to the registration of the land on which the football field in Givat Ze’ev was built, including its status in Civil Administration land records. It attended a season opening event in Ariel and visited the football field in Givat Ze’ev and the community center in Kiryat Arba that serves as the registered address for the Ironi Elitzur Yehuda club. It sent requests for information and comment to FIFA, UEFA, and the IFA.

Human Rights Watch also sent a summary of the contents of this publication to the IFA, FIFA, and the six settlement clubs, invited their responses to be included in this publication, and made corrections to the text in light of additional information they provided.
Beitunia Football Club. © 2016 Human Rights Watch

Business Activity in Israeli Settlements in the West Bank
Since occupying the West Bank in 1967, Israel has transferred Israeli civilians into 137 settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which now house more than a half million settlers. The settlements are per se unlawful under international humanitarian law (IHL), which prohibits the occupying power from transferring its civilians into the occupied territory and allows it to use land in the occupied territory only for military needs or for the benefit of the local population. The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court is currently conducting a preliminary examination into potential serious crimes in Palestine, including the establishment and expansion of the settlements.

Israeli settlements are part and parcel of Israeli policies that dispossess and discriminate against Palestinians. Their existence and expansion is contingent on Israel's unlawful seizing of Palestinian land and resources and a discriminatory two-tiered system of laws, rules, and services that Israel has imposed in the area of the West Bank under its exclusive control. This system encourages the growth of settlements while discriminating against and harming Palestinians by forcibly displacing them from their lands, denying them permits to build and operate businesses, and restricting their freedom of movement inside the West Bank.

In a January 2016 report, Human Rights Watch analyzed the business activities that support, maintain, and help expand Israeli settlements, through the lens of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The report documented how businesses doing business in and with the settlements contribute to and underwrite the abusive settlement system, including by helping to finance, develop, and market settlements; building settlement properties on unlawfully seized land; and helping to make settlements sustainable by providing services, employment, and tax revenues.

Human Rights Watch urges businesses to cease settlement-related activities. They should stop locating or carrying out activities inside settlements and stop financing, administering or otherwise supporting settlements or settlement-related activities and infrastructure, including by contracting to purchase settlement-manufactured goods or agricultural produce.

The IFA has been a member of FIFA since 1929. It is also a member of UEFA. The IFA is a nonprofit association that had a total revenue of 85 million shekels (US$23 million) in 2014, mostly from the Israeli government (via the public lottery), sales of tickets and broadcasting rights, and moneys transferred from FIFA and UEFA for organizing competitions and developing infrastructure. The IFA listed 1,076 paid employees in 2013. In addition to salaries, the IFA incurs expenses from supporting Israeli clubs and organizing matches, training and paying referees, maintaining the national stadium, and promoting the football industry. The IFA organizes events for  Israeli football clubs, promotes their activities and also earns money from them through ticket sales and broadcasting rights over the games they play.

There are also reciprocal financial and other relationships between the IFA and the international and regional associations to which it belongs. The IFA receives money from both FIFA and UEFA for projects to develop the football industry in Israel and also in payment for games played at the regional and international levels. IFA activities also provide income to FIFA and UEFA, which receive revenues from ticket sales and broadcasting rights for games played by Israeli teams at the European and international levels. According to its financial reports, the IFA received more than 8 million shekels (US$2 million) from UEFA and nearly a million shekels (US$260,000) from FIFA in 2012 and, in a 2010 agreement, UEFA committed to paying 13 million Euros (US$14.7 million) to the IFA over a period of four years to develop Israeli football.

All matches played by teams that are members of the IFA are organized under the auspices of FIFA and UEFA and are subject to their rules, even if they are local matches between two Israeli teams. In order to approve the playing fields on which the settlement clubs play, for example, IFA officials apply FIFA rules and certify that the fields meet FIFA standards and can therefore be part of the national league, whose competitions determine eligibility for regional and international competitions. The IFA referees who judge matches played in Israel or the settlements apply FIFA and UEFA rules.

The Settlement Clubs and the Business of Football
According to research conducted by Human Rights Watch, there are six football clubs that are members of the IFA and whose official home fields are located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank:
  1. Maccabi Ariel indoor (futsal) football club (Moadon Kaduregel Ulamot Maccabi Ariel), fielding an adult men’s team in Ariel, upper league (indoor), near Salfit. Includes children’s teams in three age categories.
  2. Ariel municipal football club (Moadon Kaduregel Ironi Ariel), fielding an adult men’s team in League C in Ariel. Includes one youth team three children’s teams.
  3. Beitar Givat Ze’ev Shabi, fielding an adult men’s team in Givat Ze’ev, League B, near Ramallah. Includes nine youth team and children’s teams.
  4. Beitar Ma’aleh Adomim, fielding an adult men’s team in Ma’aleh Adumim, League B, outside Jerusalem. Includes two youth teams and six children’s teams.
  5. Hapo’el Oranit, fielding an adult men’s team in Oranit, League C, across the Green Line from the Israeli city of Rosh Haayin. Includes two youth teams and one children’s team.
  6. Hapo’el Jordan Valley (Hapo’el Bik’at Hayarden), fielding an adult men’s team that plays its games in the West Bank settlement of Tomer and trains in Einat, inside Israel. The playing field in the settlement of Oranit is also listed as an official home field. League A. Includes a youth team.


In addition, a seventh Israeli football club, Hapo’el Katamon Yerushalayim, whose primary two fields are in West Jerusalem, also plays some home games in the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.

Map source: Kerem Navot © 2016 Human Rights Watch

Two additional clubs play their games inside Israel but list their registered offices, used for receiving official correspondence, in settlements: Hapo’el Yerushalayim plays in Jerusalem but lists its office in the settlement of Gev’a Binyamin, near Ramallah, apparently at the home address of the founder of the association that runs the club, and Ironi Elitzur Yehuda plays in the Israeli city of Be’er Sheva but lists its registered address at a community center in the settlement of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron.

The clubs play in the lowest three out of five leagues of Israeli football (A, B, and C), considered semi-professional. Clubs in Leagues A and B pay adult players a modest part-time salary for the season, while League C clubs pay coaches but do not play most players. They each have a men’s adult league and children and/or youth teams. They are closely connected with the settlement municipalities and local councils: most get substantial financial support and free use of playing fields from the settlements, and the municipalities advertise their activities and, at least in one case, characterize them as a service provided to residents. Their sources of income include funding from the settlement municipalities and local councils, the IFA and the Israeli public lottery, fees paid by children participating in leagues and football camps, and in-kind donations from local businesses. Their expenditures include salaries paid to coaches and some players, transportation, and equipment. The clubs are run by nonprofit associations founded for that purpose, as is the case for most semi-professional Israeli football clubs. In some cases, the associations explicitly seek to promote the settlements by providing recreational services to attract visitors and new residents, contributing to the further transfer of Israeli civilians into the West Bank.

The association that runs the Ariel outdoor club, for example, lists as one of its goals, “Creating regional cooperation in the area of football while expanding activities in this sector in the city of Ariel, so that it will serve as a center of attraction and a regional football capital.” The head of the regional council in charge of Jordan Valley settlements, David Lahiani, told an Israeli news web site that the Jordan Valley team provides an opportunity for “other teams to come, to see, to get to know the Jordan Valley and enjoy its beauty … It took us many years to reach this status.”

With the exception of Oranit and Ariel indoor (futsal), the clubs are heavily funded by the settlements in which they play, using budgets earmarked to provide sports and recreation facilities to residents. For example, the Givat Ze’ev local council called the football club “a service we provide for residents,” and at a council meeting in December 2015, it approved a 426,000 shekels (US$114,000) grant for the Givat Ze’ev club, a sum that appears to be about half of the club’s usual annual expenses. The Ariel municipality provides 66 percent of the Ariel outdoor team’s funding, according to the group’s 2014 financial reports. According to a 2011 agreement, the municipality of Maaleh Adumim provides 60 percent of the cost of the adult men’s team, as part of a club that, in 2014, had a total of 47 part-time employees. In the case of the Jordan Valley club, the regional council pays 72 percent of the costs, which include salaries for 13 part-time employees, according to 2014 financial documents. In addition to organizing adult games for the enjoyment of local and visiting spectators (or fans), the clubs provide football leagues and camps to children for a fee.

Yet because of the discrimination inherent to Israeli settlements, the clubs have no choice but to provide these services in a discriminatory manner. The Israeli military does not allow Palestinians to enter the settlements, which it has designated as closed military zones, except as laborers requiring special permission. For this reason, Israeli but not West Bank Palestinian players may enter the settlements to train and compete. Israeli but not Palestinian spectators may attend the games. Israeli but not Palestinian children may play on the youth leagues or attend football camp.

Map source: Kerem Navot © 2016 Human Rights Watch

In addition, these clubs provide part-time employment to some residents of the settlements during the season, making them a more attractive place to live by providing supplementary income close to home. The Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, and Jordan Valley clubs pay the equivalent of part-time salaries to their players (the clubs list the highest-paid players, who receive compensation during the football season, as receiving an annual total of between 12,000 shekels (US$3,000) and 26,000 shekels (US$7,000)), and all the clubs pay their coaches, according to interviews with club officials and the clubs’ financial records. Players and coaches come from both Israel and the settlements.

The clubs are an integral part of the Israeli football industry, which is in turn an integral part of the European and international football industry. While the settlement clubs play in the lower leagues, club managers told Human Rights Watch that some players work themselves up to the top two Israeli professional leagues. The settlement teams thus act as feeders for teams in the upper Israeli leagues, which compete in Europe and beyond. The professional leagues compete regionally and internationally and provide revenues to FIFA, UEFA, and the IFA in the form of ticket sales, broadcasting rights, and team promotional items. Even when the clubs play with other IFA clubs, they do so as part of FIFA and UEFA, promoting the professional football industry within Israel and beyond, including by building and maintaining a fan base of people who buy tickets, watch televised games and buy licensed football paraphernalia – all of which provides revenues to FIFA and UEFA.

Playing on Stolen Land
The settlement playing fields, like the settlements themselves, are built on land that has been unlawfully taken from Palestinians using several mechanisms of seizure. Most of the settlements established prior to 1979 were built on land seized for so-called military use, but then designated for Israeli civilian use, in violation of the laws of occupation. Beginning in the 1980s, new settlements were established mostly on what Israel has termed “state land,” a broad designation that also includes privately owned land whose ownership status Israel reclassified, mostly in the 1980’s. According to its own records, Israel has designated huge tracts of land – 650,000 dunams (65,000 hectares) – in Area C, the part of the West Bank where the settlements are built, as state land and allocated 99.3 percent of it for Israeli use, mostly for Israeli settlements and Israeli business interests, allocating just 0.7 percent to Palestinians.

International humanitarian law does not allow Israel to use West Bank land, except for Israeli military needs or for the benefit of the Palestinian West Bank population.

The football associations and clubs discussed in this publication were not involved in seizing the land where the football fields were built, and the clubs do not own the fields but rather use them with permission from the local settlement authorities.

According to Geographic Information System (GIS) records that the Israeli Civil Administration provided to Kerem Navot, an Israeli NGO that researches land use in the West Bank, the playing field in Givat Ze’ev is built on private Palestinian land rendered off-limits to its owners, and the playing fields in Ariel and Oranit are built on land that Israel reclassified as state land after 1967. However, aerial photos that Kerem Navot obtained from the Israeli government mapping agency, Survey of Israel, suggest that the land on which the outdoor playing fields in Ariel and Oranit are built was at least partially cultivated prior to the establishment of the settlements. Cultivation is an indicator that this land, too, may have been under private Palestinian ownership under the land regime in place in the West Bank since the Ottoman Empire, still formally recognized by Israel, which vests rights to the land to those who continuously cultivate it. The signs of cultivation include the clearing of stones, construction of stone walls and terracing, all of which are consistent with the methods of agriculture in use in the area.

The land where the Jordan Valley team plays was registered as state land prior to the Israeli occupation of 1967, and the playing field in Ma’aleh Adumim was expropriated by the Jordanian authorities prior to the Israeli occupation, meaning that these fields were  under state control prior to the Israeli occupation. However, under IHL, such land can be used only for Israeli military use or for the benefit of Palestinians.

To summarize, Human Rights Watch’s analysis of records from the Israeli Civil Administration and the Israeli government mapping agency, obtained by Kerem Navot, shows that the playing fields where the settlement clubs hold their matches have the following status:

  1. Ariel and Oranit outdoor playing fields: possibly privately owned land (Palestinian ownership) that the Israeli authorities declared as “state land,” even though aerial photographs suggest that, prior to being declared “state land,” the land was under cultivation, an indicator that it may have been privately owned. The Israeli authorities designated it for exclusive Israeli civilian use.
  2. Ma’aleh Adumim playing field: land expropriated in 1966 by the Jordanian authorities but now designated for exclusive Israeli civilian use.
  3. Givat Ze’ev playing field: privately owned land (Palestinian ownership) taken without permission and rendered off limits to its owners after the Israeli authorities built Givat Ze’ev and prevented Palestinians from entering it except as laborers requiring a special permit. Designated for exclusive Israeli civilian use.
  4. Jordan Valley playing field: State land registered as such prior to the Israeli occupation of 1967 but now designated for exclusive Israeli civilian use.

The differences notwithstanding, all these football fields are built on land apparently seized and used by the Israeli authorities in violation of international law.

Records from the Palestinian Ministry of Local Governance and the municipality of Beitunia, a Palestinian town next to Ramallah, list two families as the owners of the plot of land where the Givat Ze’ev football field is built. One of the two families asked not to be identified. The other is the al-Qurt family, which is registered as the owner of most of the land. The Israeli Civil Administration also lists members of the al-Qurt family as the presumed owners of the land, according to official Israeli records provided to Human Rights Watch by Salah al-Din al-Qurt. Because the Israeli Civil Administration keeps land ownership records secret and will only release such documents to those who produce evidence showing that they fully or partially own the land, Human Rights Watch was unable to request the records directly.

According to al-Qurt, two Palestinian men are disputing his family’s ownership, claiming that the land had been sold to them. The documents supporting that claim, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, appeared to contain substantial inconsistencies, however. Dror Etkes of Kerem Navot told Human Rights Watch that land sales based on forged ownership documents are common in the area surrounding the built-up part of Givat Ze’ev, which became deserted after landowners could no longer access it and monitor trespassing.

In the case of the Givat Ze’ev football field, the Israeli authorities have not recognized the competing claims to the land and continue to list the al-Qurt family as the owner of most of the field.

Al-Qurt told Human Rights Watch that his father, now deceased, inherited from his father 41 dunams (4.1 hectares) of land in what is now Givat Ze’ev. Until the late 1970s, he said, his family used to earn a livelihood farming the land. Once the settlement was established, however, soldiers prevented his relatives from accessing the land, which became off-limits to Palestinians. He said the settlement did not request permission to build the football field on his land. The land designation in the Israeli Civil Administration records also indicate that no compensation was paid. Aerial photos indicate that the playing field was built sometime after 1999.

“We feel like strangers,” al-Qurt said. “We can see our land, but we can’t reach it, and we can’t use it.”

Al-Qurt said his nephew is a player in the Beitunia football club, but he and his teammates train and compete in neighboring Palestinian towns, because there is no proper football field in the crowded, densely populated town of Beitunia, which is hemmed in by Israel’s separation barrier to the south.

“Can you imagine?” al-Qurt said, referring to his nephew. “His father owns an entire field, a stadium, and his son is not allowed to use it!”

Beitunia Mayor Ribhi Dola told Human Rights Watch that Beitunia lost most of its open space to Israeli settlements, roads and military compounds. The land is now inaccessible, located, behind the separation barrier that Israel built between Beitunia and Givat Ze’ev.

“We don’t have any land to build a proper football field,” Dola said. “We have nowhere to develop or grow.”

Perspective From the Clubs
Human Rights Watch spoke with the owners or managers of the six settlement football clubs, all of whom run the clubs on a volunteer basis, in some cases donating their own money to keep them going. They described setting up the clubs in order to provide a service to their communities, encourage values of teamwork, fair play, and healthy living, and provide safe recreation for children and teenagers who would otherwise be at risk.

“The club is a project that is my life’s work,” Shay Bernthal, the manager of the Ariel outdoor club told Human Rights Watch. “Children who otherwise would run around in the streets find a place for recreation. For some of them, it’s the fulfilment of a dream, to play on a competitive team … for the other residents, it’s fun – to see a game on a Friday, to be spectators and enjoy football.”

Bernthal said his club’s summer camp teaches children values of tolerance, and that he even wanted to bring children from a nearby Palestinian village to participate, but didn’t follow through because, he said, he assumed the children wouldn’t be able to get permits from the Israeli military and that they would face pressure from the Palestinian Authority not to participate.

Research by Human Rights Watch indicates that in addition to the six IFA clubs playing home games in settlements, at least 26 additional settlements organize recreational football leagues, including for children, outside the auspices of the IFA, and another 17 settlements advertise that they have non-IFA football facilities for residents’ use. The settlement club managers and some parents who spoke to Human Rights Watch at an August 5, 2016, opening season event in Ariel said, however, that the affiliation with FIFA raised the standard of the clubs and gave players the possibility of advancing to the higher leagues.

When asked about the ownership of the playing field in Givat Ze’ev, club founder Gabby Peretz told Human Rights Watch that he was unaware of claims that it had been taken from Palestinian land-owners, and that he received permission from the settlement authorities to use it. “The field has been used for twenty years by the [football club] association,” he said. “It was built and approved as a [football] pitch.”

Responses from FIFA, UEFA, and the IFA
In recent years, FIFA has acknowledged the need to take proactive steps to fulfill its human rights responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). FIFA commissioned an April 2016 report by John Ruggie, the author of the UNGP, to recommend how FIFA can implement its standards throughout its activities. FIFA is a nonprofit association registered in Switzerland, that organizes, directly and indirectly, professional football activities with estimated annual revenues of US$33 billion, according to Ruggie’s report. FIFA’s “significant commercial activities on a global scale” make the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights the appropriate reference standard, Ruggie wrote. FIFA President Infantino welcomed the report, saying that “FIFA is committed to using its leverage to ensure respect for human rights.”

Human Rights Watch wrote to FIFA on August 30, 2016, asking for information, including about policies relevant to the UNGP and the settlement clubs. Newly-appointed FIFA Human Rights Manager Andreas Graf told Human Rights Watch that FIFA would not be able to respond by the time of publication but would endeavor to reply at a later date. On August 31 Human Rights Watch also wrote to UEFA Vice President Michael von Praag, who said he could not respond before UEFA elections in mid-September. In response to an August 28 letter from Human Rights Watch inquiring about IFA implementation of the UNGP, IFA Legal Adviser Efraim Barak, who is also a member of the monitoring committee set up to examine the issue of the settlement clubs, responded on September 23. Barak said that he found nothing in FIFA’s human rights policies to support Human Rights Watch’s claims regarding the matches organized in settlements. He wrote:

… the purpose of the IFA is to benefit football. That is its sole concern. Political issues are not part of our “playing field”.

… sports activities in general, and football in particular, are meant to serve as a means for promoting peace and neighborly relations among people and among nations … The participation of Israeli athletes from all religions and sectors in the IFA, including in Israel’s national football teams, has always been a source of pride and a leading example of comradery and neighborly relations.

On this issue, we make no distinction between any of the Israeli football teams that are active in the IFA and have players from different nationalities and backgrounds playing together in comradery and full cooperation, regardless of where the clubs are located. The same holds true for clubs located in places whose final status is to be determined, according to valid agreements between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in negotiations between these parties, and which are currently under the authority of the State of Israel.

In addition, Human Rights Watch sent a summary of the contents of this publication to the IFA, FIFA, and the managers or organizers of the six clubs that play in the settlements, inviting response.

Norman Goldstein, the founder of Maccabi Ariel indoor (futsal) football club, responded:


Who exactly is the occupier here? All history books refer to the “period of the Arab occupation”. That is, the Arabs are the ones who occupied! The French come from France, the English come from England, Russians come from Russia, Jews come from Judea, the People of Israel come from the Land of Israel, and the Arabs come from a place called Arabia!

…Many Arab (Israeli) clubs come for matches in Ariel. Palestinian clubs do not belong to Israeli leagues, just like French clubs do not play in the Spanish league.

…Foreign players must get a permit in order to play, just like in any other country.

…The Maccabi Ariel club has not received a dime from the Israel Football Association or any other body.


Shay Bernthal, the manager of the Ariel municipal football club (outdoor), responded:


You chose to reach conclusions whose bottom line is completely unrelated to its content …

…There is no “business activity” here. This is a voluntary club, and receives no support from the Israel Football Association. Quite the opposite, the club pays fees and funds activities through payments made by parents, donations, personal wealth and a modest allocation from local tax payer money subject to the law and to the regulations of the Ministry of Interior. The allocation is currently less than 45 percent, contrary to what you noted, and it goes down every year.

… The “solution” you suggest – to relocate activity from the community into the “Green Line” means, at best, ending the activity – who is going to drive 50 km to host clubs?! Who is going to violate the laws of the Sabbath for this?! The result would be throwing kids into the streets because they have nothing to keep them busy.

… To the best of my knowledge, Ariel was built on abandoned, not private, land.

….You did not mention that the collaboration between me and clubs from the sector [Arab citizens of Israel] is excellent. You did not mention the club’s activities against racism and violence, and you did not mention what concrete action I took to try and promote peace: a game against a Palestinian club, having two Muslim players on my adult team and more.

…It is even more regrettable to drag my children and youth into this equation. 


Arieh Rokah, the manager of the Hapo’el Oranit, responded:

What has been written in the report is incorrect, and it is unfortunate that its authors chose to disparage the football clubs. The land on which the Oranit football pitch is located is not privately owned and had not been cultivated. Hapo’el Oranit has players from minority groups (from Kafr Qassem), who are as happy as we are to be part of the team. This speaks for itself. The authors of the report are welcome to come and see the collaboration between the children of Oranit and the children of Kafr Qassem at the Oranit football field. Every Israeli community, wherever it may be, may take part in any activity within the framework established by the State of Israel. Residents of Oranit are not second class citizens. That time has passed! We are here on the map.

Map source: Kerem Navot © 2016 Human Rights Watch

Gabby Peretz, the founder of Beitar Givat Ze’ev, responded:

Human Rights Watch is making a mistake by attacking football, which intends to unite people. There have been Arabs on my team throughout the years, from the North, from Beit Tsafafa [East Jerusalem] – it’s not a one-off thing. Every year, Arabs play on the team. They are registered in the [Football] Association, and they are received with love.

We didn’t take over the field. We received it 20 years ago. I work in education, so that the children won’t run around in the streets. I don’t care if they are Jews or Arabs, from Givat Ze’ev or Jerusalem – everyone plays on my teams. Whoever tries to hurt those teams is committing a crime.

…Does your movement really think they can prevent any activity whatsoever by children who were born to parents who were also born in Givat Ze’ev? How far do you want to go with the harm you cause to your people, in the name of some political achievement?

…Leave us to engage in our educational and cultural work for the sake of Israel’s children, Jews, immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia and Arabs from Givat Ze’ev’s neighboring towns.


Tokyo Sexwale, the chair of the monitoring committee, said in an August 18 letter to the group European Jews for a Just Peace that the committee would present recommendations to the FIFA Council meeting in October, and that the FIFA Congress, whose next meeting is in May 2017, might have to ratify any decision made. A group of 66 Members of the European Parliament wrote to FIFA President Gianni Infantino on September 9, urging him to require the settlement clubs to relocate.

The individuals who established and run the semi-professional football clubs in Israeli settlements volunteer their time and resources to provide recreational services to their communities, Human Rights Watch said. But they are doing it in the wrong place. Settlements violate IHL and their existence and operations cause a range of human rights abuses to West Bank Palestinians that cannot be mitigated except by their dismantlement.

These abuses include the unlawful taking of land and natural resources and their discriminatory allocation, restrictions on freedom of movement and other violations extensively documented by Human Rights Watch and other groups. The football competitions in the settlements provide services and part-time jobs to settlers, making the settlements more sustainable, and, because of the discriminatory restrictions that the Israeli authorities impose, they do so on a discriminatory basis, allowing Israeli but not Palestinian players and spectators to participate. They conduct their activities on land seized unlawfully and used for a purpose that violates the international law prohibition against an occupying power transferring its civilians to the occupied territory. As well-meaning as they may be, the clubs themselves cannot “fix” the problem – except by relocating their activities outside the settlements.

The members of the clubs in question could play semi-professional football without contributing to rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said. To do so, they should relocate their home fields, where they play their matches, out of the settlements.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Israel Football Association stop organizing football activities in Israeli settlements. The six clubs in question should either move their games (and official fields) to inside Israel or be excluded from IFA competitions and activities. The IFA should cancel its certification of any land in settlements as approved IFA playing fields or indoor (futsal) halls.

The seventh club, Hapo’el Katamon Yerushalayim, should stop playing in the Ma’aleh Adumim football field, and Hapo’el Yerushalayim and Ironi Elitzur Yehuda should move their registered addresses to inside Israel.

Human Rights Watch recommends that FIFA and UEFA, whose rules govern IFA activities, require the IFA to stop holding games inside the settlements and to stop allowing fields and halls in the settlements to be used for official competitions.

Human Rights Watch further recommends that the Israeli government remove its civilian settlements from the occupied West Bank.


Due to an error in locating GPS coordinates on a map provided by the Israeli military authorities, a previous version of this report erroneously stated that the playing field in Ma’aleh Adumim was built on private land that had been expropriated by the Israeli authorities. In fact, the Ma’aleh Adumim field is on land that was expropriated by the Jordanian authorities in 1966 and passed to Israeli control in 1967. 

Although the Jordanian authorities originally seized the land, it came under Israeli control when Israel became the occupying power in 1967. The Israeli authorities then used the land for their own purposes to build the playing field. International humanitarian law allows an occupying power to use land in the occupied territory for its military needs or for the benefit of the population living under occupation only. Human Rights Watch has found that the Israeli construction and control of the Ma’aleh Adumim field, like the other playing fields in the settlements, did not meet that standard and that such construction therefore violates international humanitarian law. 

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