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Posts

Palestine sends its sports team to Olympics


Woroud Sawalha of the Palestinian Olympic team in her 800m heat, London 2012. Photo by Reuters

Palestinian Olympic team given warm welcome at London city hall

Five Palestinian athletes are in London for the 2012 Games

By Mostapha Zarou, Al Arabiya

July 27, 2012

The Palestinian Olympic team received a warm welcome at the city hall, the London mayor office. About 60 people greeted the five Palestinian athletes who made it to London for the 2012 Games.

Only one of them reached the qualifying standards. Abu Rmeileh, a 28 years old Judoka, made history as the first ever to qualify for the world biggest sporting event. Abu Rmeileh will be carrying the hope of his people and the Palestinian flag at the opening ceremony.

“I am proud to fly high the Palestinian flag during the ceremony, this is an affirmation that we Palestinians exist and hope our state will be one day as other sovereign states around the world.”

The other four athletes will be competing by invitation from the international Olympic committee. Baha Alfarra will be running the 400 meters; he seeks to improve his personal record by at least two seconds despite the difficulties that all athletes faced during their preparations to the London Games.

Baha sees the participation of Palestine in this big event as an achievement in its self even though it has been difficult for people in Gaza and Palestine in general.

Waroud Salwalha is a track athlete competing in the 800 meters; she is the first female to represent Palestine in this category wearing a headscarf in the Games.

Waroud is hoping to be an example to all Muslim women that they can still practice sport wearing a hijab.

In swimming Sabine Hazboune and Ahmed Gebril will represent Palestine in 50 meters freestyle.

The Palestinian Olympic team has demonstrated an inspiring unity of purpose, overcoming the difficulty of division to take part in the Olympics for the fifth time. This coincides with the Palestinian quest to obtain international recognition of Palestine as state in the United Nations council.


Palestinian athletes are truly Olympian

By Samira Shackle, MEMO
July 26, 2012

The Palestine Olympic team has arrived in London. Made up of five athletes, it is the largest team Palestine has ever sent to the summer Olympics.

The athletes are Maher Abu Remeleh, a judo champion; Baha Al-Farra, a 400m runner; Woroud Sawalha, an 800m runner; Sabine Hazboun, a 50m freestyle swimmer; and Ahmed Gebrel, also competing in the 50m freestyle swimming.

Palestine has participated in the Olympics since the 1996 games in Atlanta. It sends its athletes under an invitation from the International Olympic Committee, which exempts developing nations from having to meet the qualifying standard. While four of the five athletes are competing under these rules, Remeleh made history this year by becoming the first Palestinian to qualify for the Games on merit.

Given that the athletes are, for the most part, below the qualifying standard, medals are unlikely, but they are driven by the thrill of representing Palestine on the international stage. While they are keen to attend the Olympics as sportsmen and sportswomen, it is inevitable that politics follows them wherever they go. The fact of their participation is symbolically important for Palestinians; a statement that their nation exists and can take part in this global event.

Al-Farra is the only contestant from Gaza. Training in cheap running shoes along busy, bumpy roads, he has to dodge potholes and traffic. The harsh blockade on Gaza means that food shortages are common, and the expensive, protein heavy diet required for an Olympic athlete is difficult to come by. Given these circumstances, it is unlikely that Al-Farra will close the gap between his personal best of 49.04 seconds and the 43.75 that 2008’s gold medallist achieved. The lack of facilities is a source of frustration for some; Nader El Masri, who competed in the 500m at the Beijing Olympics and also hails from Gaza, has said that he knows he could cut seconds off his time if he were able to train in a proper stadium. Nevertheless, Al-Farra is happy to be representing his nation. “It’s a beautiful feeling, both as an athlete and a Palestinian,” he told the Guardian. “I will be taking a message from the Palestinians to the greatest games on earth: that Palestine exists despite our difficult circumstances.”

This feeling runs deep. London 2012 coincides with the holy month of Ramadan, presenting a dilemma for Muslim athletes. The four Muslims in Team GB have all decided to postpone their fasts or provide meals for the poor instead. The Palestinian judo champion, Remeleh, has said that he will not fast, telling the Times: “I asked scholars who recommended that I should not fast. They say that I represent a nation and not just myself, so when I return from the Games I will have to make up for it.” It is interesting that even religious authorities place such importance on his performance in the Olympics.

The Palestinian Olympic committee drew some criticism in sections of the Israeli press for refusing an offer to use training facilities; “There are more than 6,000 Palestinians in their [Israeli] prisons,” said Hani Halabi, the head of the Palestinian delegation. “With the occupation and the prisons, I cannot train in judo with Israel.” This demonstrates the impossibility of any apolitical action for Palestinians in the public eye. Yet with the Games about to begin, these athletes will be looking forward to the opportunity to draw attention to their country for something other than conflict and occupation. That is surely better than any medal.

Waroud Salwalha is a track athlete competing in the 800 meters; she is the first female to represent Palestine in this category wearing a headscarf in the Games.

Waroud is hoping to be an example to all Muslim women that they can still practice sport wearing a hijab.

In swimming Sabine Hazboune and Ahmed Gebril will represent Palestine in 50 meters freestyle.

The Palestinian Olympic team has demonstrated an inspiring unity of purpose, overcoming the difficulty of division to take part in the Olympics for the fifth time. This coincides with the Palestinian quest to obtain international recognition of Palestine as state in the United Nations council.


Palestine’s Woroud Sawalha Sets a Precedent for Palestinian Women!
By PNN
August 10, 2012

After painting each finger nail with a small Palestinian flag Woroud Sawalha achieved a first for her occupied country of Palestine running the 800 metres in London’s 2012 Olympics.

Finishing just 21 seconds behind the winner of her group set an example for Palestinian women that will lead many aspiring young athletes to follow in her footsteps.

The 20-year-old university student from the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank ran in a long-sleeved blue shirt, long pants and a white hijab. She’s one of two women competing for Palestine at the Olympics, which has never sent female athletes before.

Palestine never has it easy when it comes to participating in world sporting events due to several impeding factors. An obvious issue is that Palestine is yet to be officially recognised as a state by the United Nations because of Israel’s occupation and insistence to follow dead-end negotiations that Israel itself regularly sabotages or makes impossible.

Olympics are supposedly meant for sporting cooperation and peace rather than a political agenda yet throughout the time Palestine has been permitted to take part there has been constant difficulties, pitfalls and opposition by Israel.

Thankfully the International Olympic Committee recognized the Palestinian Olympic Committee in 1993, following the Oslo accords between Palestine and Israel which gave Palestinians an identifiable albeit vague territory for the IOC to recognise in Jericho and Gaza.

A myriad of complex problems however still exist when it comes to Palestinian Olympians and every day Palestinian civilians. Inhumane travel restrictions form part of Israels occupation strategy and are perpetuated by the irrational fears some Israeli’s hold. Such ideological mindsets are unfortunately common and contribute to a society in Israel that readily justifies and accepts their countries “self-defence” justification for abusing Palestinian Human Rights.

Israeli government officials who claim such restrictions are part of a necessary “wider security apparatus” are assisted by anti-Palestinian activists that continually seek to deny Palestines right to exist.

Although Woroud Sawalha has stated she and her fellow Palestinian athletes had no trouble getting to London for the Games it could have easily been a nightmare with the present system of checkpoints and permit requirements faced by Palestinians.

Despite the Olympic committees of Palestine and Israel having met a couple of times this year to work out travel arrangements for Palestinian athletes and coaches no agreement has been reached to this date.

Training for Sawalha isn’t easy, she has previously spoken about the difficulties of finding places to work out because of travel restrictions imposed by the Israelis. It is beyond most Londoners and Olympians understanding of just how difficult some competitors have it.

Hitting the track last night Sawalha ran 2:29.16, breaking her best time of 2:40.12. Shortly after finishing she ecstatically exclaimed “My target was to make a new record for myself and for Palestine. I got it,”

This is the first time women have taken part in the Palestinian Olympic team just like several other nations such as Saudi Arabia. Speaking of how far she has come and the progress made Sawalha said “My parents called me before the race and said ‘all Palestinians are watching and hoping you get a good result’, I hope I will do well in the future. This Olympic Games is a first step for me.”

A first step that is massively significant, I look forward to seeing a Palestinian Gold medalist in the future but for Palestine Woroud Sawalha is already an Olympic Champion.

[Abu Rmeileh lost in the second round of the men’s 73kg judo; Baha Alfarra came last in his first round heat of the 400m; Woroud Salwalha ran her personal life-time best in the 800m, though came last in the first round heat; Sabine Hazboune came 5th in her first round heat of the women’s 50m swim; Ahmed Gebril came 3rd in his first round heat of the 400m freestyle swim, not fast enough for the next round.]

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