On Monday, April’s first, Lebanese club Nejemeh was supposed to play Palestinian champion, Hilal Al-Quds, at the Faisal Husseini Stadium in Al-Ram near Jerusalem, as a part of the AFC Cup group stage.
As expected, Nejmeh refused to arrive in the West Bank, as many Lebanese and Middle Eastern teams did in the past. The Lebanese law declares that a Lebanese citizen can’t enter the West Bank & the Palestinian Territories for a sportive or cultural activity. It counts as an act of normalization with the political situation in these areas and with the state of Israel.
In past years it was seen as an act of solidarity by Arab football teams, but for Hilal Al-Quds and Palestinian football, it’s not that simple. Palestinian football is progressing in the past years. After a long wait of more than 60 years to be accepted as a FIFA member, and another 20 year wait to host international matches on home soil, in the past years there was a positive development in the subject. The UAE, Oman, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Timor Leste, Al-Shorta, Al-Quwa Al-Jawia, Khujand, Al-Muharraq, Al-Suwaiq, Fanja - all came to play in Palestine.
Last month, Al-Wehdat, an Arab team with a high profile arrived in Jerusalem to play against Hilal Al-Quds in the AFC Cup.
In response to Nejmeh’s refusal to arrive, Hilal Al-Quds management is demanding the Asian Football Confederation to receive the full points and a victory of 3-0 as a result of the Lebanese forfeit.
Their claim, according to the club’s officials, is that Hilal as a club, and Palestinian football as a whole, have to grow and advance. Sticking to such stands won’t help this process.
In an interview to Al-Kass channel, a representative of Nejmeh’s management, said that this behavior is wrong, disrespectful and unacceptable. Also, he tried to add Syrian club Al-Jaish into the discussion and showing that they won’t be showing up in Al-Ram as well.
Due to their country’ security situation, the Syrian’s are hosting in Bahrain, and Hilal is willing to compromise for it, at least this is what they are claiming so far.
Fans from both sides, the Lebanese and the Palestinians are supporting and criticising the act at the same time. Images in Lebanese social media show Hilal’s logo, with Al-Aqsa mosque, but with a Kippah and a Star of David on it, has turned viral.
The vital question in this matter is whether the Palestinian cause that Nejmeh is claiming to stand for, is no longer helping Palestinian sports to grow? After all, Nejmeh’s delegation can receive the Israeli stamp, which is the reason for the argument, on the temporal paper instead of their passports, this way there will be no evidence for the act itself and the game can go through, exactly like other teams did in the past.
So why Nejmeh insist not to play in Palestine? Who decided that it is good for Palestinians and their football scene, that Arab teams won’t play in the West Bank?
This question remains unanswered.
One thing is sure: the AFC should have prepared to this situation in advance, at the moment the draw was concluded with a highly sensitive combination of teams in the AFC Cup group A.
The solution seems to be far away, as the AFC is yet to make any specific, clear statement or provide a coherent decision in the matter.
Just imagine the AFC approving a 3-0 victory for Hilal Al-Quds, and then being marked by Lebanon and other nations as the one who accepted the political situation in the West Bank.
It’s going to be a mess.