Palestinians aren’t spared the horrors of occupation for the sake of sport

First published by TRT World on 29/1/2019

Malaysia has been stripped of holding a sporting event because it would not allow Israel to participate in the competition. Is the decision fair – and is Israel held to the same standard?

The World Para-Swimming Championships were due to open in Malaysia on the 29th of July. However, the host nation decided to ban Israeli athletes from competing, based on Malaysia’s longstanding support for the Palestinian people—Malaysia does not allow entry to the country on an Israeli passport—as they struggle to attain their rights.

Under sustained pressure from Israel and its supporters around the world, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decided to strip the majority Muslim country of the championship and is now looking for another host city.

Defending the IPC’s decision, its President Andrew Parsons said: “When a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new championships host”. He added that “All World Championships must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination.”

Malaysia’s minister of youth and sports, Syed Saddiq, explained that his country would have “lost our moral conscience and moral compass” if hosting an international sporting event was “more important than safeguarding the interest of our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are being mutilated time after time again”.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was unmoved saying,

“They want to cancel, let them cancel. I find that the world has to follow what Israel says. I don’t understand because the world has the power but still has to listen to Israel… but we won’t”.

He added, “We stand by our principles that Israel is a criminal nation and it has been breaking international laws without anybody saying anything.”

Mahathir saw similarities between his decision and the actions of the United States and several European nations, which did not allow certain foreigners into their countries.

“This is normal, but we have our reasons. These people (Israeli athletes) are not seeking asylum, not in fear, pain or difficulty”, he added. He saw the athletes as coming “from a country which does not obey international laws, and we have to stay with our principles.”

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was quick to defend the IPC’s decision, tweeting that the IPC “are absolutely right. We were proud to host the Israeli team here for London 2012 alongside many other countries that have profound disagreements with Israel – but the ability to bring countries together is part of the magic of the Olympics and Paralympics Israeli athletes should not have been, and should never be banned from competing.”

It is right to say that fair-minded people would instinctively be against any form of discrimination and would support the IPC’s decision, especially those who argue that sport and politics should not mix. However, in the case of occupying countries, which commit atrocities against helpless civilians and discriminate against them and some of their citizens by law, morality should trump fair-mindedness.

There is a case for banning these countries from participating in sporting events, thus depriving them of the oxygen of publicity and normality.

Israel is a country that should be held accountable for its crimes against the Palestinian people, and it should face the same sporting boycott as South Africa did until it changed course, dumped Apartheid and started the journey of eliminating discrimination.

Far from being a country which deals harshly with discrimination, it codifies it into its laws. Not only does it oppress the Palestinians under occupation and siege on a daily basis, but it has also done this for 70 years.

It has enacted over 60 laws that explicitly discriminate against  Palestinian citizens. Its policies were the subject of a report commissioned by UN agency ESCWA, which found that Israel practised apartheid against the Palestinians as a whole. The report was removed from ESCWA’s website under pressure from Israel and the USA.

If there was any doubt about Israel’s discriminatory policies, the passing of the Nation-State Law should remove any of that doubt. The right to self-determination in Israel was reserved only for Jews, Arabic, an official language of the state had its status demoted, and the right to move to ‘return’ to Israel was reserved for Jews but not Palestinian refugees.

Israel denies Palestinians building permits, demolishes their homes and evicts Palestinian families on a regular basis. It allows ‘admissions committees’ to decide if a non-Jewish family can move into a mainly Jewish town or village. It builds settlements on illegally occupied Palestinian land for Jews only.

It applies civil law to Israelis and military law to Palestinians under occupation. It spends less on the education of Palestinian Israeli children than it does Jewish Israeli children. It recently opened a road, which segregates Palestinian and Israeli vehicles.

No sporting spirit towards Palestinians

However, since the controversy is about sport and there is ample evidence of discrimination and interference in Palestinian sport, whether it is through freedom of movement or Palestine’s ability to host visiting teams.

The world should remember the four children killed on the Gaza beach in 2014 while playing football. One of them may have gone on to be a football star, but we will never know.

They should also think of Mohammed Khalil, a Palestinian football whose knee was shattered by sniper fire, ending his hopes of a future as a footballer. The same career-ending injuries were brought on Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17, who was shot by Israeli soldiers as they were walking home from a training session in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium in al-Ram in the central West Bank in 2014.

team of football players, all amputees, has been formed in Gaza, which gives hope and something positive to do for those traumatised Palestinians. Those objecting to a sporting ban on Israel should consider this. Israel deliberately made them potential Paralympians rather than Olympians.

While Israeli Paralympians may have been saddened to miss out on the Malaysian Paralympics, their disappointment won’t have been as permanent as the loss of limbs experienced by Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank.

The message to apartheid Israel from the world is: we will not allow discrimination against you, but we will not bring you to account for the discrimination you commit against your non-Jewish citizens or the occupied Palestinians. We will allow your discrimination to continue but object to any discrimination against you. That is a very dangerous message, which will only embolden Israel to oppress, kill and maim Palestinians at will.

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