Palestinians Make Olympics Statement

Team Hopes To Highlight National Identity at Games

Walking Through Gates: Palestinian athletes may not win medals in London, but they hope to highlight their national identity.
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Walking Through Gates: Palestinian athletes may not win medals in London, but they hope to highlight their national identity.

By JTA

Published July 20, 2012.
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“We are in the occupation,” he told JTA. There are “no facilities, no coach, no moving for the player from town to town – from Jerusalem to Ramallah, from Ramallah to Bethlehem.” Halabi said that due to restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, the first time the entire delegation will meet is when the athletes and coaches arrive at London’s Heathrow Airport on Friday.

Even when offered, Halabi said he refuses any cooperation with the Israeli delegation. “There are more than 6,000 Palestinians in their prisons,” he said about Israel. “With the occupation and the prisons, I cannot train in judo” with Israel.

For her part, Sawalha would be happy to train with Israelis. “The whole thing is about sport and nothing else,” she said.

Zinger said that the Israeli Olympic Committee has been responsive to every Palestinian complaint regarding freedom of movement, doing its utmost to ensure that Palestinian athletes can train without limitations.

“They have no problem in principle as far as we know,” he said. “When there were problems like that in the past we managed to work it out and since then we haven’t heard any complaints.”

The International Olympic Committee reported in an October 2011 news release that the Israeli and Palestinian Olympic committees met three times last year regarding potential collaboration and easing freedom of movement, but has reported no further progress since then.

Even as he eschews using the Israeli Olympic team’s gyms, Halabi lamented his athletes’ subpar training facilities. As such, while star Israeli judoka Arik Ze’evi expects to win a medal, Halabi has modest goals in mind for Abu Rmeileh.

“I hope to see him carry the Palestinian flag in London,” Halabi said. “He is a good fighter in judo. Maybe he will make a good place, but a medal is very difficult.”

Spats between the two committees have occurred ever since the Palestinian delegation first announced its participation in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Israel reportedly objected that year to the Palestinian athletes’ walking under a banner that read “Palestine,” on the grounds that there was no recognized state of Palestine. The International Olympic Committee dismissed the complaint.

This year, Israel has lobbied heavily – and so far unsuccessfully – for a minute of silence at the Games to commemorate the murder of 11 members of the Israeli delegation to the 1972 Munich Games. Palestinian terrorists killed the victims. Halabi said he had “no comment” on the issue.


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