In Occupied Territory – the upcoming World Team Chess Championship

Logo FIDE

Justin Horton

London Review of Books Blog  /  November 17, 2022

This weekend, the day before the men’s football World Cup kicks off in Qatar, the World Team Chess Championship will begin in Jerusalem, Israel. Or so it says in the advertising, but in fact it’s taking place in East Jerusalem. That’s occupied East Jerusalem, occupied since 1967, annexed in 1980 and, in the opinion of most of the world community, not part of Israel at all.

Hosting cultural and sporting events in Israel has been controversial for a long time, and when FIDE, the international chess federation, held its Olympiad in Haifa in 1976, it was boycotted by many affiliate nations. But holding an event in annexed territory is a new one to me.

FIDE was obliged to reschedule both of its major team events this year because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Olympiad, scheduled for Moscow, was eventually held in Chennai instead, without Russian participation. The World Team Championship, in which Russia are the reigning champions in both the Open and Women’s categories, was put back several months, and Russian teams were again excluded. The event was allocated to Jerusalem some time ago, but it was only when the venue was announced – the Dan Jerusalem Hotel – that it became clear which part of Jerusalem was meant.

It may be tiresome to compare the way Ukrainians and Palestinians are treated and perceived, since both peoples are victims of great wrongs and great violence. But it is bizarre to remove one nation from a competition because it occupies another and annexes its territory, and then proceed to hold that competition on territory that has been occupied and annexed. This does, however, seem to have escaped the notice of FIDE.

The BDS movement has issued a statement calling for the event to be moved from Israel and observing:

Specifically, by holding the tournament in occupied East Jerusalem, FIDE is reinforcing Israel’s illegal military occupation and its claim of sovereignty over the city of Jerusalem as a whole. The United Nations and the absolute majority of states do not recognise Israel’s sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem and consider its annexation of occupied East Jerusalem as illegal.

FIDE is, normally at any rate, aware of Palestine’s existence: Palestinian teams usually participate in the Olympiad, have done so since 1984, and did so again in Chennai this year. But there is no indication that it has taken the slightest bit of notice of Palestine or the status of East Jerusalem in approving the venue for the forthcoming event. Along with the federations, players and officials participating in the tournament, FIDE is assisting in the slow erasure of Palestine as a nation and of Palestinians as a people.