Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Al-Sarsak waves to supporters as he is finally freed after three years in an Israeli jail without trial. Photo: Reuters
Ask your average football fan what they think about the Palestinian national side and you are likely to get an incredulous: ‘Palestine has a team?’ Ask about next year’s European under-21 finals being held in Israel and ‘That’s not in Europe!’ is the likely reaction. But European football’s governing body, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), has indeed selected Israel to host the men’s under-21 finals next June and the women’s under-19 finals in 2015.
Over the coming months Red Card Israeli Racism aims to publicise this and challenge Israeli racism through football.
Following a series of recent incidents, football’s governing bodies have again been proclaiming how seriously they take racism. Despite this a major competition is being staged in Israel – where campaigners argue that racism is institutionalised.
This was highlighted in June when football legend Eric Cantona endorsed a letter calling for the release of Mahmoud al‑Sarsak, a talented member of the Palestinian national squad who was on hunger strike in an Israeli jail. He had been arrested in July 2009 when he tried to travel from his home in Gaza to join a new club in the occupied West Bank.
An international outcry secured his release on 10 July. By then he had refused food for more than 90 days in protest at three years’ incarceration without charge or trial. Two other footballers are reported to be among at least 300 Palestinian victims of Israel’s ‘administrative detention’ regime.
Sarsak’s hunger strike came to a head during UEFA’s Euro 2012 competition in May, hosted jointly by Poland and Ukraine. Cantona was one of many notables questioning the double standard that saw Poland and Ukraine threatened with sanctions over racism while Israel’s treatment of Palestinians went unremarked.
After Sarsak was freed, Theo van Seggelen, secretary general of the International Federation of Professional Footballers’ Associations, said FIFPro expected any player, ‘be it Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Mahmoud al-Sarsak’, to be allowed to play for their country.
This concern is welcome, but it is not enough, campaigners say. Sarsak may have been freed but the overall situation remains unchanged. Street violence targeting Palestinians and immigrants in Israel occurs against a background of high-level racist rhetoric. In May, Israel’s interior minister Eli Yishai denounced black immigrants as ‘infiltrators’ and said migrants ‘think the land doesn’t belong to us, to the white man’. Days later, ten Eritrean homes were firebombed in Jerusalem.
In the West Bank, Israel’s 45-year-old military occupation oversees an apartheid-style system of permits and checkpoints that severely limits Palestinians’ ability to train and compete in any sport. In Gaza the situation is even worse. Three players were among the 1,400 Palestinians killed during Israel’s assault in 2008-9, during which the Rafah national stadium was levelled.
The president of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, told UEFA president Michel Platini during Sarsak’s hunger strike that: ‘For athletes in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement and the risks of being detained or even killed are always looming before their eyes.’ He pleaded with Platini ‘not to give Israel the honour to host the next UEFA under-21 championship’.
Rajoub’s request reiterated a plea sent to Platini a year earlier by 42 Palestinian football clubs based in Gaza. Platini ignored both. Instead he claims that Israel will host ‘a beautiful celebration of football that, once again, will bring people together’. This is despite the fact that Israel’s draconian controls will make it impossible for tens of thousands of Palestinian fans from the West Bank and Gaza to get to the matches.
Campaigners across Europe who took up Sarsak’s case are now in discussion with leading football anti-racists to make sure Israel’s racism remains high on the agenda. There will be leafleting and demonstrations at football grounds in several European countries. From October, they will focus on the seven European nations that qualify for the championship, aiming to persuade them to visit Palestine and see for themselves what life as a Palestinian footballer is like.
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History