Let’s start with a fact. On November 16, the Israeli Air Force bombed the 10,000-seat Palestine Stadium “into ruins.”* The stadium also headquartered the center for youth sports programs throughout the Gaza Strip. This is the second time Israel has flattened the facility. The first was in 2006 and the people of Gaza have spent the last six years rebuilding the fields, stands and offices to keep the national soccer team as well as club sports alive in the region.
I’m sure the reaction to this fact will depend on what side people take in the current conflict. For the Israeli government and their supporters, they promised “collective punishment” following the Hamas rockets fired over the border and they are delivering “collective punishment.” Matan Vilnai, deputy defense minister of Israel has in the past threatened a “holocaust” and Gilad Sharon, son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, called for Gaza to be the new “Hiroshima.” In this context, a sports facility must seem like little more than target practice.
For those attending daily demonstrations against the carnage, this news of a stadium’s destruction must also be seen as an irrelevancy. After all according to The Wall Street Journal, ninety Palestinians, including fifty civilians, have been killed in Gaza. Two hundred and twenty-five children are among the more than 700 injured, and these numbers are climbing. Israeli ground troops are massing at the border and President Obama can only bring himself to defend Israel without criticism. There is only so much concern for a stadium people can be expected to muster.
I think however that we should all take a moment to ask the question, “Why?” Why has the Palestinian sports infrastructure, not to mention Palestinian athletes, always been a target of the Israeli military? Why has the Palestinian domestic soccer league completed only seven seasons since its founding in 1977? Why are players commonly subjected to harassment and violence, not to mention curfews, checkpoints and all sorts of legal restrictions on their movement? Why were national team players Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshate killed by the Israeli Defense Forces during the 2009 military campaign? Why did imprisoned national team player Mahmoud Sarsak require a hunger strike, the international solidarity campaign of Amnesty International, and a formal protest from both FIFA and the 50,000-player soccer union FIFpro to just to win his freedom after three years behind bars?