November 2012, Week 3


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Mon, 19 Nov 2012 21:41:29 -0500
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Killing Hope: Why Israel Targets Sports in Gaza

By Dave Zirin

The Nation blog November 19, 2012


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, 90 Palestinians, including 50
civilians, have been killed in Gaza. 225 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 only completed
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?

The answer is simple. Sports is more than loved in Gaza
(and it is loved.) It's an expression of humanity for
those living under occupation. It's not just soccer and
it's not just the boys. Everyone plays, with handball,
volleyball, and basketball joining soccer as the most
popular choices. To have several thousand people gather
to watch a girls sporting event is a way of life. It's
a community event designed not only to cheer those on
the field, but cheer those in the stands. As one
Palestinian man from Gaza said to me, "[Sports] is our
time to forget where we are and remember who we are."

Attacking the athletic infrastructure is about
attacking the idea that joy, normalcy, or a universally
recognizable humanity could ever be a part of life for
a Palestinian child. This is a critical for Israel both
internationally and at home. The only way the Israeli
government and its allies can continue to act with such
brazen disregard for civilian life is if they convince
the world that their adversaries collectively are less
than human. The subway ads calling Muslims "savages",
the Islamophobic cartoons and videos that are held up
as examples of of free speech, are all part of a quilt
that says some deaths are not to be mourned.

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At home, attacking sports is about nothing less than
killing hope. Israel's total war, underwritten by the
United States, is a war not only on Hamas or military
installations but on the idea that life can ever be so
carefree in Gaza as to involve play. The objective
instead is to hear these words of a young girl outside
Al Shifa Hospital on November 18th who said, "To the
world and people: Why should we be killed and why
shouldn't we have a normal childhood? What did we do to
face all this?"

If you play, you can dream. If you dream, you are
imagining a better world.  As the great Olympian Wilma
Rudolph said, "Never underestimate the power of dreams
and the influence of the human spirit. The potential
for greatness lives within each of us." Nothing marks
the nihilism of Israel's project quite like this fact:
they don't want the people of Gaza to dream. In the
eyes of Benjamin Netanyahu, they are only worthy of

[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming "Game
Over: How Politics Has Turned the SportsWorld Upside
Down" (The New Press) Receive his column every week by
emailing [log in to unmask] Contact him at
[log in to unmask]]


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