(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.”
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 fields in Givat Ze’ev and Ma’aleh Adumim are 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, meaning that it was not privately owned, but under IHL 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:
- 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.
- Ma’aleh Adumim playing field: privately owned land (Palestinian ownership) that the Israeli authorities expropriated but designated for exclusive Israeli civilian use.
- 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.
- 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.
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.