By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Last week the Saudi Arabian Football Federation announced that the Saudi national team will play against the Palestinian team as part of the World Cup Asian qualifiers.
Palestinian activists on Wednesday launched a campaign to voice their opposition to a soccer game between the Palestinians and Saudi Arabia, scheduled to take place at the Faisal Husseini Stadium in the town of a-Ram, south of Ramallah, on October 15.
The activists said that the visit of the Saudi national soccer team to the West Bank is a form of “normalization” with Israel.
The Saudi team is expected to arrive in the West Bank on October 13.
Last week the Saudi Arabian Football Federation announced that the Saudi national team will play against the Palestinian team as part of the 2022 World Cup Asian qualifiers.
Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al Faisal, chairman of the Saudi General Sport Authority, was quoted as saying the decision was in response to the request of the Palestinian Football Association. Some Arab clubs and national teams have traditionally refused to play in the West Bank because it required them to apply for entry permits from Israel.
Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association, said the decision to allow the Saudi team to play in the West Bank is of “historic importance.” Rajoub thanked Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdel Aziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and said the decision to play in the West Bank “reflects the effort [by Saudi Arabia] in favor of Palestine and constitutes a message to the occupation that the Palestinians are not alone.”
A group called The Palestinian Popular Campaign Against Normalization said in a statement on Wednesday that the participation of the Saudi team “constitutes a direct recognition of the sovereignty of the Zionist entity.”
The group accused the Palestinian Authority and Saudi Arabia of violating the Arab boycott of Israel.
According to the group, the participation of the Saudis in the match “contributes to covering up the reality of the situation in Palestine and creates a false image of the situation of sports under occupation.”
Noting that the Saudi team had refused to play in the West Bank in 2015 because of its opposition to normalization with Israel, the group urged Saudi Arabia to retract its decision and abide by the Arab boycott of the “Zionist entity.”
The PLO’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also issued a statement expressing opposition to the visit of the Saudi soccer team to the West Bank. “The match is aimed at promoting Saudi policies in the region and paving the way for normalization with the Zionist entity,” the group said, noting that Israel had banned Palestinian teams from the Gaza Strip from playing in the West Bank.
Several Palestinian activists launched an online campaign titled “Sports Normalization” and “Normalization is Treason” to express their opposition to the Saudi-Palestinian match.