Last week, Jen Psaki, the spokesperson for the US State Department, was asked if she had comment on “Israeli soldiers at checkpoints targeting Palestinian soccer players.” She said, “I haven’t seen that. Obviously, we spoke to our concerns [about checkpoint violence] again, in the same Human Rights Report about certain actions and behavior…. I will check that out.”
“Checking out” what is happening to Palestinian soccer players would be well advised, and not only for Ms. Psaki. Last week, I received what could best be described as an overwhelmingly hostile response to my article on a recent shooting by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of two youth soccer players, and how this could affect the extremely perilous position Israel finds itself in the international soccer federation, FIFA. My piece went through the Palestinian Football Association’s very underreported push to get Israel removed from FIFA. Their appeal has been gaining support and will be raised formally at FIFA’s meeting in Brazil. The second part of my article centered around the aforementioned recent shooting of two young soccer players in their feet outside of an IDF checkpoint. The IDF claimed that the two young men had a bomb, something that they deny. My article aimed to show that this incident, alongside the jailing, injuring and killing of prominent members of the Palestinian national soccer team would have the effect of adding fuel to the movement to have Israel removed from FIFA.
I expected to get the typical barrage of hate mail from the usual suspects: the darkest corners of the Internet that believe on principle that Palestinian life is cheap if not entirely without value. At most, these e-mails are as nettlesome as spam.
The part of the response that was truly jarring however was the numerous private queries I received from prominent members of the media. I am choosing to keep their identities private because their correspondence to me was private and I will respect that. The queries contained no curiosity about Israel’s possible expulsion from FIFA. They all instead openly doubted that the shooting of the two young men had even taken place. Was I sure this really happened? When I pointed to my initial sources, the response by numerous people was, “Do you have any sources that are not Palestinian?” One person, writing for a major sports website, sent me numerous queries that I did not respond to, and then when the facts of the shooting appeared in the Israeli paper Haaretz, said to me, “Forget previous queries. I see news of the shooting on Haaretz. Never mind.” The assumption of mendacity affixed to Palestinian sources spoke volumes.
The other part of my story that people accused of being untrue was my theory that members of the Palestinian soccer community are being targeted for violence by the Israeli state. This was described to me as “laughable,” “ridiculous,” and one even said that they would reach out to The Nation directly to agitate for dismissal.
Yes it is certainly true that I don’t have a document signed by Benjamin Netanyahu calling for a systematic attack on the Palestinian national team. What I do have are names: real people, with real families, whose lives and deaths are testament to a story that needs to be told.