Lebanon-Israel-Olympics

star-Olympics_150Reply to Ruby Hamad’s Don’t ask athletes to set aside politics ‘in the spirit of the Olympics’

Is there even one Palestinian in the Lebanese Olympic team?

There are few things more hypocritical than Lebanese claiming to snub Israel because of what we allegedly do to the Palestinians. If there is one country in the Middle East whose treatment of the Palestinians most closely resembles Apartheid-era South Africa it is Lebanon.

This response should have been released during the 2016 Rio Olympics but I only read Ruby Hamad’s justification for not even trying to follow de Coubertin’s ideals for the games into the second week and other projects took precedence.

In the name of all the competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.

Olympic Oath

Never mind, Her piece has gone viral and the same false arguments continue to rise even when thoroughly debunked.


In the aftermath of the 1948 Israel War of Independence, Palestinian refugees entered Lebanon expecting a warm welcome. After all, the yet-to-be labelled Palestinians and the Lebanese were both Levantine Arabs and many of the Palestinians had family and social ties. Quite a few Lebanese, then and now, didn’t consider themselves Arabs but that is another story.

Many had only entered the British Mandate of Palestine, or the preceding Ottoman Turkish southern part of the Willayat (province) of Beirut, across an unguarded border, within living memory. This is a major reason why UNRWA defines a Palestine (note not Palestinian) refugee as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

They were due to be majorly disappointed.

Now 68 years later Palestinian refugees number about ten per cent of the Lebanese population but even if third or fourth generation Lebanese-born they are not allowed citizenship. Most live in the country’s 12 official refugee camps. Originally built as temporary shelters they have become overcrowded, run down cities. Although the population has skyrocketed they have not been allowed to expand and Palestinians are not legally allowed to own land so most do not and can not live elsewhere except for unofficial ‘gatherings’ on the borders of the camps where UNRWA is not allowed to build and Lebanon doesn’t provide services.

Logo-Lebanese-Olympic-Committee

Lebanese Olympic Committee

It is hardly surprising that there is little sports infrastructure. Palestinian Authority Olympic-hopeful Mary al-Atrash created some media buzz when she claimed to be without an adequate pool in which to train in in the the West Bank.  In fact they are several; other swimmers train in a 25 metre pool and she could have trained in Jerusalem had she applied for a permit. However no Palestinian swimmer in Lebanon need lie about the lack of Olympic quality swimming pools. There are none and, as even providing drinking water is a constant problem in the camps, unlikely to be one in the foreseeable future.

Olympic athletes tend to spring from one of two sources. The first is government sporting programmes of which Lebanon provides none for Palestinians. The second is from parents providing the considerable resources required to groom a champion or even simply a competitive athlete. Lebanon excludes Palestinians from public school system and only 0.1 percent go on to university. At least twenty professions are restricted including medicine, law and engineering. In other words poverty and lack of opportunity to develop also hinders Palestinian sport in Lebanon.

de Coubfor sportsmanshipertin medal

Pierre de Coubertin medal† not won by Lebanon

Hamad begins her op-ed with a sporting (perhaps that should be unsporting) variation of the Red Light Excuse. “Officer, Don’t give me a ticket for running that traffic light when it was red. Everyone does it so the law no longer applies”. A list, even an accurate list, of the times when politics did enter the Olympic Games is presented as rationale for not even trying to follow the ideal.

She then follows up her point with as dishonest a list of dubious allegations as I have ever read for shunning Israel at sporting events.

It is a sad fact of life that when Palestinians invent stories of victimhood they are uncritically repeated by even the respectable media without proper fact check. This even has a name, PALLYWOOD. Ruby Hamad is well on the way to a Pallywood Oscar.

It is difficult to know whether Palestinian Olympic team chief Issam Qishta eventually reached Rio. No international or domestic media with the exception of Al Jazeera (the Qatari source for the story) covered the story or followed it up and I found no Israeli government public statement on the matter. It should not surprise anyone that crossing a border between two entitities who have fought three full scale wars in less than a decade is not as simple as crossing from Austria into Germany. Nevertheless people and goods do cross. An average of 600-650 trucks pass through the border point each working day.

Given that the Olympics are held every four years one should ask did Qishta apply a reasonable time ahead for a visa or did he as a matter of principle refuse to apply because he does not recognise Israeli Authority?

Why didn’t he leave via Egypt which also has a border crossing with Israel? That’s a rhetorical question by the way. Egypt almost never opens the Rafah crossing to Palestinians and is the destroying Palestinian smuggling tunnels because it fears that Hamas, which sees itself as the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood could use them to move fighters and weapons into Sinai. The tunnels Israel destroys are all military.

handshakeIt does put Egyptian Judoka Islam al Shahaby’s refusal to shake hands with his Israeli opponent into an interesting perspective.

However the most egrious statement, long disproved, is the lie that Israel deliberately shoots footballers in the feet to prevent them playing.

The small lie: Neither Jawhar nor Halabiya were members of Palestines’ national soccer team. However there is, of course an overlap between the age when such young men engage in terrorism and the age when they play football. They are and have acknowledged that they belong to the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and have a record of clashes with Israeli security forces. This, combined with the conflicting accounts of what happened, even when and where, makes the Border Police claim that they were lightly wounded in the legs when spotted with bombs very credible.

Palestine footballers

Jawhar and Halabiya shortly after the incident

The Big Lie #1: That Israel targets Palestinian footballers with the intention of ending there careers. As can be seen from the accompanying photo neither has damage to their feet nor seems much handicapped. Maybe they will one day play for Palestine.

The Big Lie #2: 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.

The truth is that Jibril Rajoub, convicted terrorist and Head of the Supreme Council for Sport and Youth Affairs, Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association, and Chairman of the Palestinian Olympic Committee attempted to manipulate FIFA (not the least corrupt organisation) into censuring Israel but withdrew the complaint at the last minute. He counted the potential votes and realised that he was in for a crashing and very embarassing defeat if he could not raise enough support to even present the motion.

Image result for rajoub and eini shake hands

Jibril Rajoub (Palestine) and Ofer Eini (Israel) shake hands at FIFA

By the way here is some interesting trivia. The predecessor to the Israel Football Association the Football Association of Mandatory Palestine was founded in July 1928 (that is about five years before the Lebanese Football Association and before the establishment of the State of Israel) and applied for membership in the FIFA. They were admitted provisionally on 17 December 1928, affiliated on 17 May 1929 and recognised by FIFA’s government on 6 July 1929 as the Palestine Football Association! Every body knew that when someone referred to Palestine they were talking about Jews.

Towards the end of the article an element of truth sneaks in.

The Lebanese team would almost certainly have been subject to severe repercussions back home if they had acted against their country’s policy of avoiding all official contact with Israel.

What kind of a country considers accidentally travelling in the same bus at an international sporting event an official contact? What repercussion awaited them for such a serious breach? It’s not as though they had competed – and lost.

One last thing

Don’t ask athletes to set aside politics ‘in the spirit of the Olympics’ by Ruby Hamad is a rant that one expects to thrust into your hands handed out, for free, when you aren’t expecting it. What is a self-professed quality media organization like Fairfax doing publishing such an unbalanced diatribe without at least a minimum of fact-checking?

Extra credit


† The Pierre de Coubertin medal (also known as the De Coubertin medal or the True Spirit of Sportsmanship medal) is a special decoration awarded by the International Olympic Committee to those athletes, former athletes, sports promoters, sporting officials and others who exemplify the spirit of sportsmanship in Olympic events or through exceptional service to the Olympic movement.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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