Not just a bicycle race

The Giro D’Italia opened last Friday in the occupied city of Jerusalem. The race is one of the biggest in professional cycling and despite being a cyclist, over-paid and over-drugged lycra-clad advertisements taking the form of cyclists is really not my thing, though I took a political interest in this race. Giro’s publicity material describes Jerusalem as “the most populated town in Israel…”, which is enough to raise the hackles, but then I read on. Main attractions of Jerusalem: ‘food: knafeh (puff pastry with cheese and almond blossom water).’ Whaaat? First, how is kunafa listed as the first attraction of Jerusalem, and second, Israel: you take the land, take more land, build settlements, cut down olive trees, take the water, make Gaza into a prison, shoot at children and unarmed protesters, kill journalists, arrest everybody, construct a racist apartheid legal system, build walls, etc etc etc, but now please stop with the kunafa.

Everyone knows that professional sport is about money more than anything else but it is popular entertainment and it is enjoyed as an example of extraordinary human ability and skill. And so. Because sport is supposed to be celebratory and enjoyable, it matters where we enjoy it. For the Giro to kick off in Jerusalem is undeniably political. Why? Think of Jerusalem and all its clichés: cradle of faith, holy city, but more than that also a contested city, capital of Palestine, occupied by Israeli security forces, with Jewish-only settlements in East Jerusalem taking over Palestinian homes. Just after Trump’s speech last December, the Knesset passed a bill to expand settlements in East Jerusalem and include illegal settlements within the Jerusalem boundaries to create a Jewish majority in the city.

The problem with this race is that it becomes a huge advertisement for Israel, always sinking money into promoting its political image abroad. The cash behind this particular advertisement/race was provided by an Israeli billionaire Sylvan Adams, who says he wants to showcase Israel’s “beautiful scenery, our history, our culture, and most of all, our people, in this diverse, free, pluralistic and fiercely democratic society.” He goes on to say “let’s not mix politics with sport.” Can’t have it both ways though can you Sylvan?

Let’s examine his politics for a second:

Diverse?

Israel is so diverse that it is trying to pass a bill to further strengthen the ‘Jewish identity’ of the nation-state, the so-called ‘nation-state bill.’ Among other things the bill would remove Arabic as the official second language, and further reduce the rights of Palestinians in Israel. According to Al-Jazeera the bill would effectively mean that Jews abroad who have never been to Israel would have more rights than Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. (There are almost 2 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, 20 % of the overall population, who are consistently called in the Israeli press ‘Arab-Israelis’ to downplay Palestinian national unity.)

Free?

It’s hard to know where to start with this one. Freedom of movement, perhaps. Checkpoints, Jewish-only settlements, and settler-only roads criss-cross occupied Palestine, restricting the freedom of Palestinians to travel, work or indeed go on a bicycle ride. Last Friday a protest bike ride went from Ramallah to Qalandia, the checkpoint that prevents many Palestinians in the West Bank from going to Jerusalem. One cyclist was detained for ‘trespassing’ (can you trespass on your own land?). Watch a video of the protest here.

Israel loves freedom so much it loves to take it from Palestinians. There are currently almost 6000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including 264 on administrative detention: detention with no trial or charge (illegal according to international law). In the West Bank there are two legal systems: one for settlers (Israeli state law) and one for Palestinians (military rule). There are currently around 300 minors in Israeli detention, and the youngest who has been charged (for throwing stones) is 13.

Fiercely democratic?

Democratic as long as you’re Jewish, and fierce violence perhaps for those on the wrong side of the fence. Last Friday, when the Giro kicked off in Jerusalem, Israeli soldier shot four Palestinians dead in Gaza, raising the total death toll since the start the Great Return March in the past month to 45. The protests in Gaza have been largely peaceful. Meanwhile Bibi wants to build more walls to keep out the ‘wild beasts’ surrounding Israel… One day before the race started, poet Dareen Tatour was convicted in an Israeli court for writing a poem about resistance. Tatour is a Palestinian citizen of Israel. She had this to say: “The whole world will hear my story. The whole world will hear what Israel’s democracy is. A democracy for Jews only. Only Arabs go to jail.”

Boycott Israel: https://bdsmovement.net/

PSC https://www.palestinecampaign.org/

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