Fairfax gives columnist Ruby Hamad a license to blog at its Daily Life website without giving readers a mechanism to publicly respond, comment or perhaps correct any mistakes she has made.
Her most recent blog “Don’t ask athletes to set aside politics ‘in the spirit of the Olympics'” is an impassioned plea to ignore what she calls the “symbolic” Olympic Truce principle – of setting aside conflicts for the sake of the games – and instead embrace the demonisation and singling out of Israeli athletes at the Olympics, because, in her view, they deserve it.
As of this writing, it has been shared on Facebook over 5,000 times, and that number of shares is increasing daily.
The case she makes – which is riddled with unsubstantiated claims, factual inaccuracies and boilerplate one-sided Palestinian allegations, reflects poorly on Hamad’s journalistic and academic ethics but perhaps even worse on Fairfax, which has allowed its website to be misused beyond the pale of reasoned commentary into the realm of propaganda-mongering.
The first part of Hamad’s piece acts as justification for politicising the Olympics, but the examples fail to provide any foundation for her overall message – that demonising Israeli athletes at the Olympics is acceptable behaviour.
For example, she mentions several cases where countries decided as a sign of protest not to send athletes to the Olympics. Then she cites the one case – Apartheid-era South Africa – where a country was ejected from the IOC.
Hamad also mentioned the famous case where black US athletes held up a fist at the 1968 Mexico City Games as a sign of political protest.
Tellingly, Hamad fails to mention the most notorious and vile example of politicisation at the Olympics – the kidnapping and murder of the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Could the reason for this omission be that this attack was perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists in the name of their political cause?
However, none of these comparisons raised by Hamad equate in the slightest way with the unacceptable situation where one particular country’s athletes have been subject to disrespect, unsportsmanlike behaviour or mistreatment by other countries’ athletes while attending the Olympics – which is what Israeli athletes have been subjected to by Arab competitors this year.
Having tried (but failed) to properly justify politicising the Olympics in the interest of shunning athletes from one specific country – Israel – Hamad tries to justify why it’s laudable to do so. It is okay because, Hamad alleges, Israel “has long used sports to punish its Arab neighbours for political reasons”.
Hamad provides a procession of allegations to try and substantiate her claim. They all need to be addressed, so we’ll look at them one by one.
Only last week, Israeli officials prevented the Palestinian Olympic Team chief from leaving the Gaza Strip to join his team in Rio. This was after the team itself was forced to repurchase new sports equipment in Brazil after Israel confiscated their supplies at customs.
Hamad supports this claim with a link to an article from Al Jazeera. However, Hamad’s allegations go further than the ones made either in the Al Jazeera article, or the German DPA article it is based on. First of all, both articles included a statement from an Israeli spokesman that said that steps were being taken to allow the Palestinian official Issam Qishta to join the Palestinian team. Unfortunately, without any other articles or citations, we don’t know why Qishta, given the title of the “head of the delegation” in the articles, was initially prevented from leaving. We do know that the actual head of the Palestinian delegation was most certainly not Qishta but Jibril Rajoub and we also know from the Al Jazeera story that Qishta was not a competitor but one of the 16 Palestinian delegation members that Al Jazeera grouped into the categories of “coaches and administrators”.
(According to a story in the Times of Israel, there were six Palestinian competitors at the Rio Olympics – swimmer Mary al-Atrash from Bethlehem, Mohammed Abu Khoussa from Gaza, and four diaspora Palestinians: Swimmer Ahmed Gebrel, born and raised in Cairo to Egyptian and Palestinian parents and who today lives and trains in Spain; and marathoner Mayada Al-Sayad, Judoka Simon Yacoub and Dressage rider Christian Zimmerman – each from Germany and of mixed German-Palestinian parentage.)
Why was Issam Qishta’s permit delayed? It’s a very pertinent question neither Al Jazeera nor DPA appeared to ask. AIJAC is querying the Israeli Foreign Ministry for clarification and will update this blog post with the response.
Second of all, neither article claims what Hamad does, that Israel “confiscated” sports equipment. According to Google Translate, the DPA article simply said the equipment was “detained” so long that they had to be left behind, while the Al Jazeera article went into further detail, citing Munther Masalmeh, secretary-general of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, who said that Israeli customs authorities had long held the equipment pending payment of import duties – something that incidentally is required of all imports regardless if they are going to Israel or the West Bank.
You see, Israel collects taxes on Palestinian imports at Israeli ports on behalf of the PA and passes on the money and goods to the PA. So, there was no reason for the Palestinians not to pay customs on the imported sporting goods since the PA gets those taxes in the end anyway – no conceivable reason perhaps except to make it seem like Israel was withholding training equipment out of malice.
Masalmeh also claimed that sometimes Israel blocked the import of some sports equipment out of security reasons but it did not mention an example.
Given the types of sports the Palestinian athletes were taking part in, (and that most of the Palestinian athletes were actually living and training in Europe, not the Palestinian Authority or Gaza) it wasn’t explained either the DPA or Al Jazeera articles what “equipment” was necessary to be brought along to Rio that was left to languish at Israeli customs.
For those unaware, Israel controls the borders of both Gaza and the Occupied West Bank, meaning nothing and no one is allowed to enter or leave without Israeli permission (you think all the tunnels underneath Gaza are for terrorists? Think again. Those tunnels are how much of Gaza gets its food, clothes, and machinery).
Regarding Israel’s restrictions of goods into Gaza, Hamad links to an article about smuggling tunnels she dug up from the UK’s Guardian from seven years ago. Perhaps she hoped the reader wouldn’t notice how outdated the story was.
Way back then, Hamas’ bloody takeover of Gaza from the PA was still relatively fresh and Israel’s restrictions on Gazan imports were at their height. In spite of the fact that Hamas, a terror group sworn to Israel’s destruction, continues to rule Gaza, Israel has progressively relaxed such restrictions beginning in mid-2010 and today those restrictions are very limited and deal exclusively with materials that can be used for military purposes. (For example, see this article from earlier this year about Israel preventing the import of a chemical disguised as salt but actually used in the production of rockets.)
Ironically, even the June 2016 Al Jazeera article Hamad cited regarding the Olympic story conceded that Egypt has its own Gaza border crossing at Rafah – why the PA didn’t ask Egypt to allow Issam Qishta to leave Gaza via that crossing? We don’t know and Al Jazeera didn’t ask.
And regarding the tunnels, whose word should we believe – Hamad, who says they are used for humanitarian purposes, or Hamas, which controls Gaza and actually builds those tunnels?
Because Hamas has repeatedly released graphic videos bragging about their tunnels and how they are intended to be used to attack Israelis.
Has Hamas dug smuggling tunnels as well? Sure – except those are all in the Rafah district aimed towards the northern Sinai, not Israel. Such tunnels are certainly not wasted to smuggle in “food and clothes” as Hamad claims – something they can import unlimited amounts of through the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel.
As Israel’s department dealing with Gaza imports – the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) told SBS in July
Every day, over 850 trucks loaded with medical supply, construction materials, food and so on [enter] into Gaza.
The same statement showed that 361,891 truckloads carrying 4,314,941 tons of goods entered Gaza last year alone.
As for machinery – Israel does ban the import of machinery that can have a dual-use for military purposes. The fact is, some of the “machinery” Hamas has smuggled from the Sinai include sophisticated Iranian-made Fajr-5 missiles.
Here’s just one citation:
Yossi Mekelman, a regional expert at London-based Chatham House, told Radio Free Europe on 17 November 2012 that the Fajr-5 missiles were smuggled from Iran to Gaza through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. “The assumption is that they arrived through the Sinai Peninsula through the tunnels [to Gaza]”
Even most of those smuggling tunnels Hamad refers to no longer exist, having been destroyed in recent months by Egypt, (see here and here) which believes the tunnels have been used to fuel terror attacks against Egyptian targets in the Sinai.
True, Israel continues to control the border crossings into the West Bank (in no small part because the Palestinians rejected generous offers for a state in 2000, 2001 and 2008) yet somehow in recent years, some 1.7 million people crossed through the Allenby Bridge into and out of Jordan annually. Clearly, while Israel ultimately controls the border, most West Bank Palestinians can cross the border freely.
What Hamad doesn’t tell you, however, is that the Palestinian Authority also has its own police stationed at the Allenby Bridge crossing and that they also get to decide on who comes and goes.
According to Ma’an citing PA statistics, out of their own figures of 1.2 million who crossed in 2011, 4,653 were refused crossing by the PA due to security reasons, with 1,522 arrested at the border by Palestinian police on outstanding warrants.
Hamad continues her diatribe against Israel, citing a notorious slander made against Israel but getting the day and even the year wrong for the accusation.
If you want to talk about mixing politics and sport, go no further than that time Israeli soldiers decided to amuse themselves by deliberately shooting Palestinian football players in the feet to prevent them being able to play soccer.
Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17 both members of Palestine’s national soccer team were shot by soldiers while returning home from training on January 31 this year. Neither will ever play soccer again.
I know how massive the libel this story was – I personally researched this incident and wrote the blog that debunked it.
While the con was elaborate, here’s the summary: The youths were were shot in the legs – not the feet – (shooting towards the legs is a military tactic to try to stop a terrorist without killing them). They were shot while in the process of trying to hurl a bomb at Israeli soldiers. They were members of the terror group Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Moreover, the fact that these youths were also soccer players was not evident to anyone at the time of the incident and was not mentioned even in Palestinian media initially but was an embellishment added to the story days later.
I encourage everyone to follow the link to read the blog on the subject, particularly because it is a fascinating example of how Palestinian officials – including in this case (surprise, surprise) Jibril Rajoub – can spin a violent clash between Palestinian militant activists and the IDF into a grotesque anti-Israel sporting libel even days after the incident.
What’s makes Hamad’s claim more bizarre, the incident happened in 2014, not “this year” as she said, and on January 30, not 31.
In fact, so many members of the Palestinian soccer team have been jailed, killed, or injured by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), that Israel was threatened with expulsion from FIFA.
This is pure spin by Hamad. This allegation was debunked last October in a blog by AIJAC’s Glen Falkenstein.
Central to the effort to suspend Israel from FIFA has been the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) and its President Jibril Rajoub, former head of the West Bank Preventative Security Forces, who was convicted of throwing a grenade at an Israeli Army truck in 1970. He has primarily tried to justify the demand for expulsion by citing Israel’s restriction of players’ movements between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – restrictions applied not exclusively to soccer players, which Israel says are necessary for security reasons.
Activists have also focused on two Palestinian soccer players who were arrested – in each case for terrorism offences, not for anything to do with soccer. Thus Mahmoud Sarsak, a player arrested in 2009, admitted to being a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, while Omar Abu Rwayyis was arrested in 2012 for helping transport Kalashnikovs that were used to fire on IDF vehicles in a Hamas-sponsored attack.
What would be more accurate to say is that the Palestinian leadership including Rajoub have attempted to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself as justification for FIFA to suspend Israel. In doing so, Rajoub and his Fatah cronies are trying to get FIFA to accept the Palestinian one-sided narrative of blameless victimhood. In raising the controversy, Hamad ignores the fact that the Palestinian attempt to suspend Israel from FIFA failed and the Palestinians were compelled to withdraw their attempt.
If anything, the Palestinian ploy backfired and ties between FIFA and Israel have only improved since that time. In fact, just recently, Malaysia withdrew from hosting the 2017 FIFA Congress rather than have to issue entry visas to Israeli participants. Rather than snub Israel, FIFA chose keeping Israel in the fold over appeasing Malaysia.
At this point in her blog, Hamad went for broke, simply laying down the Palestinian narrative in rapid fire accusations. After doing so, she rhetorically asks essentially whether any readers still think the mistreatment of Israeli athletes is justified.
Consider this for a moment. Palestinians have no citizenship and cannot enter or leave Palestinian territory without permission from Israel. They live under military occupation and are subject to collective punishment, sudden eviction, confiscation of their land to make way for Jewish settlements, arrest and detention without charge or trial, and the threat of violence both from settlers and the IDF who are able to act with almost total impunity.
For the lucky few, sports represent a lifeline beyond the separation fence in the West Bank and the siege of Gaza. These soccer players were among that lucky few until their future was destroyed by a deliberate act of physical and emotional violence.
Still angry about the bus incident?
Given the format of the blog and the free hand Fairfax gives her at Daily Life, Hamad had little to lose with this ploy. Parsing her claims shows there is another side to her accusations that is being kept from her readers.
- “Palestinians have no citizenship and cannot enter or leave Palestinian territory without permission from Israel.”
- It’s true – Palestinians have no state. But whose fault is that? Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected Israeli peace offers in 2000 and 2001 that would have given them a state and given their people citizenship. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas did the same in 2008. In all of those cases, the Palestinian side ended negotiations without a counteroffer. Additionally, As far as the Palestinians in the West Bank are concerned, most of them had Jordanian citizenship until 1988 when Jordan stripped them of citizenship. Lebanon and Syria, which also are home to Palestinians, refuse to offer Palestinians citizenship. Palestinians who have opted to settle outside of the region, including Australia, can and do receive citizenship like any other immigrant but – unlike any other refugee in the world – do not relinquish their refugee status by doing so. Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are eligible to travel on Palestinian Authority passports. Palestinians in Gaza can and do travel via Egypt without requiring any permission or intervention from Israel whatsoever, although Egypt under the Sisi government has decided – for reasons known only to it – to open the Rafah crossing only irregularly.
- “They live under military occupation and are subject to collective punishment, sudden eviction, confiscation of their land to make way for Jewish settlements, arrest and detention without charge or trial, and the threat of violence both from settlers and the IDF who are able to act with almost total impunity.”
- As for “military occupation”, Hamad ignores the fact that the Palestinian Authority exists in the West Bank and controls security in Area A, where over 90% of West Bank Palestinians live. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and, according to many leading experts on international law, since Israel’s military is not capable of effectively controlling the territory, Gaza therefore can no longer be considered occupied. Palestinians in east Jerusalem, where Israel applied its sovereignty decades ago, have permanent residence in Israel and are eligible to become Israeli citizens if they choose to and are certainly not considered under “military occupation”.
- The rest of Hamad’s allegations simply list one-sided Palestinian claims that are all too familiar to people knowledgeable in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Again, to every claim, there is another side to the story.
- “Collective punishment”: Israel rejects the claim that the security measures it takes to protect its own citizens from terror attacks constitute collective punishment.
- “Land confiscation” Private Palestinian-owned or farmed land is not “confiscated” for settlement use. A handful of the earliest settlements originated on former IDF bases which initially had been legally seized land for military purposes, although only a portion of that seized land was privately owned. Since an Israeli court ruling in 1979, however, settlements were built only on state land. In the West Bank, it is not uncommon to observe a settlement with private Palestinian farmland actually being worked by its Palestinian owners between settlement neighbourhoods, such was the care that was taken not to build on private land. In isolated cases where it was later determined a settlement or part of a settlement belonged to a Palestinian, Israeli courts have ordered settlement homes dismantled or demolished, and these orders have been carried out. Some small unauthorised settlement “outposts” built (in some cases) many years ago by settlers have been claimed by Palestinians to be sitting on private land. These cases are still in Israeli courts, and the fate of these outposts – mostly a few trailer homes on a hilltop – remain unresolved.
- Administrative detention – In a carry-over of prior law in the territory under the British, Israeli forces can hold anyone – Palestinian or settler – without charges or trial (“administrative detention”) for security reasons. Such measures, to be sure, are considered extreme and cannot be applied indiscriminately. The Israeli Supreme Court has intervened and suspended administrative detention for a suspect when warranted. Jerusalem Post journalists have written nuanced pieces about administrative detention on numerous occasions, explaining the process, rationale and weighing the pros and cons for Israel continuing the policy (see here and here).
- “Threat of violence from IDF and settlers with almost impunity” – The IDF’s MAG unit investigates all allegations of IDF abuses against Palestinians brought to its attention and prosecutes offenders. Settlers who commit acts of violence towards Palestinians are arrested, tried and have served time in prison. Some have also been held in administrative detention. Moreover, the truth is that most Palestinians don’t fear the “threat of violence” from either the IDF or settlers, let alone experience it, because most Palestinians don’t actually come in contact with either of them on a regular basis. This is because 95% of Palestinians live under Palestinian self-rule and security control in Area A. In a revealing example that illustrates this, a blog I co-wrote for AIJAC in 2014 unearthed data from an internal PA study from 2011 showing that only 1.9% of Palestinian children surveyed even claimed (no evidence asked or required) to have been subject to violence from the IDF or settlers (compared to 21.4% who claimed they had experienced violence from a teacher, 14.2% from school pupils, 11.9% from a friend, 8% from a young neighbour, 7.4% from boys/girls at street and 6.9% from an “old neighbour”).
Hamad then justifies the Lebanese actions against Israel by saying there would have been “repercussions” against them had they not blocked the Israelis from getting on the bus.
I’m sorry – if Lebanon couldn’t send its team to the Olympics and be civil to other athletes no matter who they are, then perhaps Lebanon should have kept its team at home. Such is the spirit of sportsmanship of the IOC. No wonder the IOC censured the Lebanese team after the incident.
Not satisfied with attacking Israel on Palestinian issues, Hamad then justifies Lebanese hatred towards Israel on the basis of: The 2006 war (which she failed to mention Hezbollah started by penetrating Israel from Lebanon and kidnapping and killing Israelis patrolling Israeli territory); the 1982 Lebanon War (which Hamad didn’t mention only followed the constant bombardment of Israeli towns by PLO forces based in southern Lebanon); the 1982 massacres at Shatila and Sabra refugee camps; (which, Hamad didn’t mention, it was determined through investigation and in courts, were perpetrated by Lebanese Christian Phalangist militias without Israel’s direction or prior knowledge of intent); and bad feelings over Israel’s southern Lebanese security zone (which she erroneously says Israel withdrew from in 1999. It was 2000).
The rest of Hamad’s piece summarises her case – namely encouraging countries to disrespect the will of the IOC which hosts the games and ignore the principle of the Olympic Truce when it comes to Israel. It appears Hamad would welcome turning the games itself into a place where hatred can and should flow between athletes unfettered – provided it is directed against those who offend Hamad’s world view.
Moreover, while Hamad tried to show examples where countries have brought politics into the Olympics, she could only come up with cases where countries have opted not to go to the games out of protest, or cases where the Olympic podium was used to stage a political act. She couldn’t provide other examples comparable to the kind of open hatred and hostility she encourages against Israelis at the Olympics because there aren’t any comparable examples.
More than that, within Hamad’s piece lies a more profound reality: While Arab countries may even be at war with one another outside of the Olympics, you don’t see their athletes snubbing one another – that sort of behaviour is reserved exclusively towards Israelis.
As columnist David Rosenberg astutely commented in Ha’aretz on August 16 (subscription required):
There are certainly plenty of tensions around the world and the Middle East is the mother of all world tension spots. But a search of Olympic snubs comes up with zero incidents apart from Arabs dissing Israelis.
There are no cases of Israelis dissing Arabs, and none of Yemenis insulting the Saudis who are bombing their country. There are no protests against the Syrians who are, with the help of their Arab brothers, slaughtering each other. Nor are there incidents between Iran or Russia, who are both playing a key role in the Syrian bloodbath, with anyone in the Arab world.
There are plenty of complaints about Israeli racism towards Arabs, but few speak of anti-Israeli racism. Yet that is exactly what we see, not just at the Olympics, but in the Arab world’s attitude toward Israel in general.
At the Munich Olympics in 1972, the world witnessed what happened when this sort of demonisation against Israeli athletes was taken to the extreme. History has shown Israelis that what begins with snubs and slurs usually ends, sooner or later, with a lot more hurt than just feelings.