What does Israel have against a Palestinian stadium?
By Amira Hass

A friendly game between an Arab soccer team and a Palestinian team was supposed to inaugurate the new stadium being built in the eastern part of Al-Bireh, near Ramallah, at the end of the year. "Supposed to" because the Civil Administration, an arm of the Defense Ministry, has ordered that the work be halted and is threatening demolition.

FIFA, the international soccer federation, financed the stadium as part of a larger program to promote Palestinian soccer. The stadium covers 11 dunams (2.75 acres) and will hold 8,000 seats. An Israeli contractor, in partnership with a Dutch company and a Palestinian subcontractor, constructed the field.

Palestinian kids play football: many have been killed by Israeli snipers while playingIn October 2008, when the field was ready, FIFA president Joseph Blatter and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad laid the cornerstone for the stadium. The governments of France and Germany are paying for the construction of stands. The outer wall, the lighting and the scoreboard are being financed by the Al-Bireh municipality, which owns the land and within whose jurisdiction the stadium is located.

In 1973, the municipality submitted for the approval of the IDF a detailed plan for the area where the stadium is now located. It received final approval from Israel's National Planning and Building Council and Supreme Planning Council in 1981. Nevertheless, on October 11 of this year, Israeli soldiers and representatives of the Civil Administration showed up at the site. They arrived via the neighboring Jewish settlement of Psagot, which overlooks Palestinian neighborhoods and was built on Al-Bireh land. They delivered a stop-work order from the administration to one of the workers (whose name was handwritten, in Hebrew, on it).

On November 1, the municipality received a "final" stop-work order - addressed anonymously to "the holder," from "the Supreme Planning Council's building inspection subcommittee," and issued by "Assaf."

A German source has told Haaretz: "This could become a major diplomatic issue between Germany and Israel. Just imagine: A German-financed project being torn down. It would definitely be a political scandal."

...The question is: Why, all of a sudden, more than three years after construction of the entire project began and 10 months after construction of the stands started, has the Civil Administration decided to halt the work?

Officials at Al-Bireh city hall see a connection between the stop-work order, and the Palestinian refusal to return to the negotiating table as long as Israel does not freeze construction in the settlements, as well as the recent announcement by Prime Minister Fayyad of the planned consolidation of various Palestinian state institutions. The officials and local activists agree with Samih al-Abed when he says: "This is a typical kind of Israeli pressure, which means: 'Either you go back to negotiations or we'll punish you. We'll do whatever we can to upset your lives.'"

Read full article in Haaretz November 20, 2009


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