Jibril Rajoub. WikiMedia Commons"Two years ago, we raised the issue in the Congress of FIFA. And we ask to end the suffering of the Palestinian footballers," Rajoub told me over the phone from the PFA's offices in Ramallah. "The congress authorized Blatter to come and see how we find a solution. Blatter came, the Israelis did not take him seriously, they ignored him." On some occasions, FIFA and Asian Football Confederation officials have been prevented from entering the West Bank for official visits. Israel has also been condemned for raiding the PFA's office last November, although the Israeli military claimed a routine patrol requested IDs from Palestinians, who led them into the compound to retrieve their IDs from the football association building. "Over the last year it has become more difficult for Palestinian football players to move between West Bank and Gaza," says Israeli-Arab Knesset member Esawi Frej, who belongs to the leftist Meretz party. Frej has served as an intermediary between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority and told VICE Sports that problems between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can spread to "including things that deal with sports." The PFA also claims hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment have been held at the border for inspection past the time it was to be used for matches. Further, the PFA alleges that any FIFA Goal Project funds—one of Sepp Blatter's major initiatives as FIFA president, which funds soccer infrastructure in underdeveloped countries—directed to the PFA must be approved by the Israeli federation, which violates FIFA rules. The IFA denies these claims. "The Israelis keep bullying us, the bully of the neighborhood, without paying attention to anyone, without being required to comply with the statutes of FIFA," Rajoub says. Israel argues these are just security measures, and widely cite as an example of their necessity the case of Samah Fares Muhamed Marava. Last April, Marava, a Palestinian player, was arrested for using a sporting activities visa to meet with a member of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas leadership in Qatar, to deliver money and messages, according to the Israeli security force Shin Bet. Palestinian National Team player Sameh Maraabah was detained for approximately three hours at the Allenby crossing point by the Israeli border patrol for "security reasons," according to multiple sources familiar with the matter, before being released at approximately 11 p.m. local time. The Allenby crossing point is the only international border for Palestinians living in the West Bank. The team was on its way to Jordan where they would stay the night before flying to Tunisia for training. Palestine is scheduled to play Saudi Arabia on June 11. This incident comes mere hours after FIFA President Sepp Blatter's visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in advance of a resolution at next week's FIFA Congress to suspend Israel for, among other allegations, restricting Palestinian player movement. Two days prior, Blatter met with Netanyahu and assured the press he "remain[s] confident that we will find a solution for the benefit of football development ahead of the FIFA Congress." According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, Blatter informed the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) that Netanyahu promised to ease travel restrictions for Palestinian players and officials, and one source tells VICE Sports that Netanyahu offered everything except for the disbanding of the five settlement teams playing in the Israeli leagues. Multiple sources confirmed to VICE Sports that PFA President Jibril Rajoub turned down the offer and insisted the resolution go to vote at next week's FIFA Congress. Maraabah's detention late Thursday night only reinforces that decision, and, in the eyes of the PFA, undermines Netanyahu's proposed compromise.
Israeli-Arab Knesset member Esawi Frej, who belongs to the leftist Meretz party and has served as an intermediary between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority, told VICE Sports: "I am happy that the Israeli authorities made the right decision and let the mind decide, not the heart, to let the international Palestinian team continue on their journey to Jordan. I call on both Palestinians and Israelis in this time to use wisdom and let the sports win, not politics."