Sunday, 7 August 2016

Why was Israel pricked at the Palestinian participation in Rio?

Team Palestine in Rio opening ceremony (Source: Google)
The participation of Palestine at the Olympic Games in Rio appears to have censed the Israelis.

The dual-nationality of some players, especially from Germany, seemed to be the main source of Israeli media interest. 
According to the Times of Israel website, in the Palestinian delegation, "three are Germans of Palestinian descent and one was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt".
"No Palestinian athlete has ever made the Olympic medalists’ podium. Don’t bet on that changing in Brazil," the website declared, sealing the fate of Palestine's participation.
Players with dual-nationalities, or who get naturalized specifically for representing a particular country, are not out of the world of sports. Bahrain, Qatar and Israel, to name only three, have granted citizenship to many players to play for their colours.

German "businessman"

But for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, a German player has got a special prominence, with a profile written solely on him, out of other ones.

"How a German Businessman Ended Up Representing Palestine in Rio," the Haaretz headline blurted out. 
The paper said: "Though it is unclear how he gained a Palestinian citizenship, his curious story seems to be a mix of both ideology and opportunism." It is the Olympic spirit time but for Ha'aretz, the ulterior motives of Zimmerman are more important.
Regardless of Zimmerman's motivations, the bitterness (or saltiness to use the internet slang) has been strangely very palpable in the Israeli media.

This was preceded by the seizure of the Palestinian Olympic gear by the Israeli authorities. A team member's travel from Gaza was also obstructed by the Israeli government. These problems were solved only after the Palestinians complained at the International Olympic Committee.
Palestinian public diplomacy 

The appearance of Palestine at the launch ceremony has its significance. 
It is not a secret that thanks to its popularity, regional and global sport events are golden opportunities for exposure to the media and a reminder of a country' existence. It is an unplanned moment of peaceful public diplomacy.

For the Palestinians, such events have become a reminder of the image of what Palestine is: a country that doesn't officially exist, but it is still represented as a country at the Olympics. 
The Olympics opening ceremony was also a TV moment for the Palestinians to appear to the world without being contested by the dozens of Israeli spokespeople, who bully the news media under the name of "balance". 

Watching the small delegation going around the Maracana stadium was very special. There were the slim male players who wrapped the Keffiyeh around their shoulders. The Palestinian identity shone thanks to the female players, who donned the majestic Palestinian thawb (Arabic for dress), with its unique hand-made embroidery patterns. The Maracana crowd, for its part, contributed to the moment, as they went berserk after Palestine's name was announced to the whole world.

The team might not get any medals. Some of its players have already lost in the early stages. 
But the reaction of Israel and its conduct against Palestinian sports teams and players is just a reminder that Israel’s physical actions are not only related to protecting itself, but rather to stomp any Palestinian attempt at self-determination, even if it was a judo game or a horse ride.

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