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More basketball teams from West Bank settlements enter Israel’s national league

The Israeli Basketball Association and the International Basketball Federation would rather avoid the delicate issue of settlement teams hosting games and playing in the Israel professional national league.

The basketball team Maccabi Maale Adumim defeated Elitzur Shomron 85 to 84 yesterday when the game ended dramatically with a three-point shot by Ariel Deri for the win in the last second.

On the face of it, it was just another game between two groups not especially known to the general public. Still, with both groups located in West Bank settlements, the event bore political significance. It was the first time that two settlement basketball teams competed in the West Bank in the Israeli national professional league.

The unique status of the West Bank has led to many a conflict in the various areas of commerce, culture and higher education between Israel and international bodies, as well as within Israel. In the field of sports, the conflict concerns the legitimacy of sports teams from the settlements. 

In the past year, the Maccabi Maale Adumim basketball team rose to the national league, which is the secondary league in Israel and is considered a professional league. It represents the city of Maale Adumim, which is located east of Jerusalem, but it held all of its home games last year in Jerusalem. The following year it renovated its arena to host games. Elitzur Shomron, another settlement team, also rose to the national league. 

Last October, Maccabi Maale Adumim hosted Israeli Ironi Ra’anana for a game. It was the first time that a professional basketball game took place in the West Bank. Mayor of Maale Adumim Benny Kasriel said before the game that “this is a historic meet. We put Maale Adumim and Judea and Samaria (West Bank) on the sports map.” 

Left-wing Israelis have worked to prevent the inclusion of these two groups in the league, which is overseen and governed by the rules of the international basketball association, FIBA. 

The most vocal opposition has been expressed by Or Goren, a well-known former star who played for Israel’s national team. This summer, Goren approached the Israeli Basketball Association and argued that the participation of the two settlement teams violates the constitution of FIBA and its regulations. 

In a letter sent last August, he noted that “the Israeli basketball association violates FIBA regulations as long as it allows the participation of the Elitzur basketball team of the Shomron regional council, which operates outside Israel’s recognized borders.” The teams play in territory that belongs to “Palestine,” Goren argues, and so should play in the Palestinian league. He announced to the chair of the association that in its alleged violation of the FIBA constitution and regulations, the association has exposed itself to sanctions from the international organization. 

In a conversation with Haaretz, Goren said, “I saw how the Russian teams were excluded from European leagues and the impact this had on Russian sports, and thought there’s no greater hypocrisy than this in the world that at a time when the Russians are excluded, Israel’s professional league includes a professional team that represents the greatest example of occupation and racism.” 

The local authority of Shomron then responded, “Children play basketball in Shomron just like on a kibbutz and in Givatayim. Anyone who wants to discriminate against kids and athletes because of where they live is nothing more than just a racist.” 

The Israel Basketball Association responded to Goren, “This is a typically political issue, in deep disagreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Association abides solely by the decisions of the Israeli government and Israeli parliament. As long as the disagreement has not been resolved, the Association cannot exclude a group representing a locality that all of its residents are Israeli nationals from being a member.”

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