KEIR RADNEDGE in DOHA: Go to Israel– then come to Palestine. This is not a tourism slogan but an invitation to European football bosses delivered by an Arab Christian from Bethlehem.
Honey Thaljieh, a Champion for Peace but also a former captain of the Palestinian women’s national team,was vehemently opposed to the European Under-21 tournament being staged in Israel in June.
But now that it will go ahead, despite the protests, she hopes fervently that officials and directors from the competing nations will take the proximity opportunity to see for themselves the contrasts starkly evident either side of the East Jerusalem wall.
Thaljieh, attending the ICSS Securing Sport event, is not among those Palestinians opposed to the tournament. On the contrary, she believes it can serve a useful purpose.
“I think everyone has a right to have such a tournament,” she said, “and maybe this one can help some people to bring about some change because I believe that everything happens for a reason.
“Maybe even this tournament will be a way to help to change mentalities about fair play and justice and women’s rights and perhaps it can happens thanks to football.
“People who want to go to the tournament must also go to Palestine and go to the West Bank and see the differences between the way people are living – and with walls and checkpoints.”
Israel was selected, in preference to Bulgaria, Czech Republic, England or Wales, by the UEFA executive committee in January 2011. The tournament runs from June 5 to 18 and features Israel, holders Spain, Germany, England, Norway, Russia, Italy and Holland.
Matches will be staged in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya and Petah Tivka.
The issue is an emotional one for Thaljieh who suggested that UEFA, while professing to stand up for anti-discrimination policies, should be more wary in future about its allocation of tournaments.
She said: “They have to think more sensitively about this. Of course what happened in Gaza last year was extreme – the bombing of a football stadium – but for other years ahead they should think more about this.
“The bottom line is it’s very hard for one community to see the other encouraged with the award of the tournament . . . It’s almost they gave a medal.
“Life in Palestine is a challenge not only in sports but in everythIng – medication, water and so on.
“I believe in peace. I believe in bringing people together. I’m a Christian and I believe what Jesus said: Love your enemies. But it’s extreme, what’s happening in Palestine. You can’t imagine it unless you see it with your own eyes.”
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