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August 17, 2016
For many, the Rio Olympics have been a respite from continuous news coverage of seemingly intractable violence around the world. But for Israel and Palestine, Olympic participation (or a lack thereof) is a political, if not existential, issue. Though Palestine sent a small delegation to the games, one commentator wondered why Palestinian refugees were not included in the refugee team. Meanwhile in Israel, the 1972 Munich Olympics tragedy casts a long shadow. But the Olympics aren’t the only story currently illustrating the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Among the other recent issues debated and discussed by regional observers are the adoption of a pro-Palestine platform by a coalition including the Black Lives Matter movement, the perceived removal of references to Palestine from Google Maps and a proposed change to the Israeli penal code.
Reflecting on the lack of Palestinian athletes in an Olympic team consisting of refugees from around the world, Jordan Times’s Mahmoud N. Zidan wonders what the criteria for the selection of the athletes was: “The team comprises ten refugees, five from South Sudan, two from Syria, two from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and one Ethiopian....there was some controversy over the selection process when the names of the team members were publicized in June....One may wonder where are Iraqis, Libyans, Yemenis, Haitians, Rohingyas and many others. Are there no skilled athletes among these groups of refugees?... A flagrant example of that exclusion is the absence of Palestinians from the refugee team, an absence that begs such questions as: Are there no Palestinian refugee athletes? Are they not skilled enough? ...The exclusion of Palestinian refugees, and other refugees for that matter, is only symptomatic of the fact that oppressive powers have even used humanitarian organizations and gestures — such as the presence of a Palestinian delegation — to further demonize, marginalize and oppress the already oppressed.”
That position is contested by Arutz Sheva’s Jack Engelhard who, evoking the Munich 1972 tragedy, decries the participation of Palestinian athletes in the games to begin with: “there is no place for humor when we consider the Munich Olympics of 1972 and what the ‘Palestinians’ did to us back then....The Olympic committee, I guess, had no choice but to bring them along since, after all, the ‘Palestinian people’ are the world’s darlings....We got a taste of living ‘side by side’ with them in ‘peace and security’ when days earlier their leader Mahmoud Abbas bragged that his Fatah ‘Palestinians’ had murdered 11,000 Israelis. That did not bother anyone either as to the meaning of the Olympic Spirit. They were invited anyway....The Olympic committee, we learn, held a ceremony to memorialize the victims of the Munich massacre. I guess that’s something. But ‘never again’ rings hollow when the same people who literally skinned Jews alive back in 1972 are given a ticket to the civilized world. It means that we’ve learned nothing.”
Controversy also found the seemingly-innocuous Google Maps, which was widely accused on social media of “erasing” Palestine from its mapping service. In fact, Palestine has lacked a country label for at least several years. Still, the fury on social media prompted a reaction from a number of dailies, including this Peninsula editorial which emphasizes that, no matter what maps say, the Palestinian question will have to be addressed sooner or later: “Palestinians are waging an online war against the search engine Google to retain their identity. Thousands have signed a petition urging Google to reinstate Palestine on the maps service after the world’s most used search engine came under heavy criticism following its decision to remove Palestine from its Google Maps application. A Twitter hashtag (#PalestineIsHere) is also gaining popularity not only among Palestinians, but people who oppose Israeli occupation and call for an independent Palestinian state....It is a fact that 136 members of the United Nations recognize Palestine as an independent state and it has been given de facto recognition by the UN. Only Israel, the US and some other countries are reluctant to do so. The Palestinian Journalists’ Forum denounced Google for deleting the name of Palestine from its maps and replacing it with Israel.”
The National’s Tony Karon sees some benefits coming out of the Google Maps debacle, including increasing awareness of the plight of Palestine and its “hopeless” state: “The uproar was hardly surprising, but Google may actually have inadvertently done the Palestinians — and all who support their struggle for justice — an important service: its map reminds us that the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem that began in 1967 is not a temporary anomaly. Having persisted through three quarters of Israel’s history with no prospect of ending in the foreseeable future, it is a permanent feature of the political landscape....Israel’s leaders no longer even pretend that they intend to withdraw from those territories, and illegal settlements continue to expand....It remains important to Mr. Abbas to sustain the belief — evidence notwithstanding — that a State of Palestine is emerging in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. This aspirational state may have been recognized by 136 countries, but Palestinian sovereignty as a physical political reality remains as remote as ever.”
On the subject of symbolic gestures, Daniel S. Mariaschin laments in an op-ed for the Times of Israel about Europe’s perceived pro-Palestinian bias, singling out a recent resolution by UNESCO: “Through this summer’s din and uncertainty of Brexit, the migration crisis and a wave of terror, Europe has remained constant in one respect: its singular fixation on a wrong-headed policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue....For years, the Palestinian leadership has become accustomed to ‘pride of place’ on the issue, picking up supporters and apologists globally, but no more so than in Europe itself....Another recent example of Palestinian influence at the U.N. is the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Executive Board’s vote in favor of a resolution on ‘Occupied Palestine.’ ...To the Palestinians, all of this has a purpose: to erase or delegitimize Israel’s, and the Jewish people’s claim to the land. That European countries, no strangers to either the Jewish narrative on their own continent or to the ancient connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, would, for the sake of diplomatic expediency, dismiss that history with a simple keystroke or a voting show of hands, is unacceptable.”
According to a report by Joseph Dana for the National, the Palestinians have found a new ally in the United States: “The Movement for Black Lives (MBL), a coalition of more than 50 organizations that includes Black Lives Matter, released a wide-ranging policy platform and manifesto. Their stated goal is to unify black voices to articulate a vision for the future and a way to achieve it....When it comes to U.S. foreign policy, the MBL endorses the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and articulates its reason for supporting the Palestinian people.... While using the term ‘genocide’ to describe Israel’s domination of the Palestinians is misplaced, the position that the MBL has taken on Israel and Palestine is a principled and necessary one....the Palestinian struggle is a part of a transnational consciousness that includes all who are fighting for their civil rights.”
Meanwhile, the occupation continues. This Khaleej Times editorial reflects on a new law making its way through the Israeli Knesset which would allow children as young as 12 to be imprisoned for “terrorist offences,” a law many fear is targeting Palestinians in East Jerusalem specifically: “Israel's recent approval of draconian law that allows the imprisonment of children as young as 12 convicted of militant offences is aimed at Palestinians. The 'Youth Bill' will ‘allow the authorities to imprison a minor convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder or manslaughter even if he or she is under the age of 14, passed its second and third readings,’ according to the Knesset statement. The law has been criticized by several rights groups, including Israel's B'Tselem....There is no doubt that the Jewish state is violating international law if the passage of the Youth Bill is any indication. It's not that the children were not being subjected to such high-handedness before the passage of this law....Tel Aviv needs to stop its iron-handed tactics that do not have any justification in today's free world.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.