His name is Iyad Abu Gharqoud; he is a soccer player and a resident of Gaza, and he speaks to us directly from The New York Times today, allowing us to hear his anguish— as well as his courage—in telling his own experience of Israeli oppression. This is a rare occurrence in the newspaper of record, and we should savor the moment.
It is true that Abu Gharqoud’s op-ed piece “FIFA Should Give Israel the Red Card,” appears in print only in the international edition, but it is also to be found online, with a reasonably prominent position on the World page. The essay, calling on FIFA to suspend Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, is notable for its ring of genuine feeling: his love of soccer, his grief at the suffering he has endured and witnessed and his fear of Israeli reprisals for this moment of speaking out.
The young athlete writes to us from Bureij, a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, where his family has lived since they were driven from their home near Beersheba in 1948. He has found “great joy” in playing soccer, but as a professional he has come up against the fact that Palestinians under occupation live “at the whim of Israeli officials.”
His teams, Hilal al Quds and the Palestinian national team, are often held up at check points or prevented from traveling altogether; players, coaches and referees are denied travel rights, harassed and imprisoned; and two athletes were permanently maimed last year when Israeli border police shot them in their feet.
Abu Gharqoud writes of the special agony of Gaza, where Israel bombed soccer fields and recreation areas last summer, where four boys died under Israeli shells as they played soccer on a sandy beach and where Israeli missile fire killed eight soccer fans as they watched a televised World Cup game.
When he calls for FIFA to suspend Israel, his plea has the force of a moral argument. “I have been stopped at too many checkpoints, held for too many hours and suffered too long on account of my Palestinian nationality to be silent at this crucial moment,” he writes.
Here it becomes clear that he is taking a serious risk by speaking out. He goes on: “I have dedicated much of my life to excelling at the sport I love, but there are more important things in life than success on the soccer pitch.” In other words, he knows that Israel could choose to ruin his career for what he has told the world.
This is an antidote to the usual Times reports on Palestine/Israel, where we find official commentary taking the place of on-the-ground reality. Abu Gharqoud speaks with an authentic voice, and he gives us one small piece of the crushing Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Although he writes of soccer, he links its struggle under Israeli rule to the larger picture of occupation, to the “subjugation of the Palestinian people.” Two states or one, he writes, is not important. “Equality is.”
The article should point us to Israel’s repressive policies beyond the game of soccer. We could substitute almost any other endeavor in its place and find similar stories: in education, for instance, where schools are attacked with tear gas and students detained on the way to exams, in agriculture, where crops are destroyed and market produce left to rot at checkpoints.
In this piece, the Times has lifted the curtain to give us a brief view of the crushing effect of the Israeli occupation. Readers would benefit from more of this, but past experience warns that we should not expect a repeat any time soon.