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The spotlight should be on Palestine at the Paris Olympics | Paris Olympics 2024

The spotlight should be on Palestine at the Paris Olympics | Paris Olympics 2024

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In a couple of weeks, on July 26, the 2024 Olympic Games will begin in Paris, bringing joy, excitement and, perhaps most importantly, a renewed sense of human solidarity to the lives of sports enthusiasts around the world.

Millions of people from Africa to Asia and Europe to the Americas will be glued to their television screens to watch athletes draped in the colours of their national flags compete to be the best and to celebrate their successes as their own. Children especially will get to see what can be achieved through determination and hard work and how sports can bring people together.

For Palestinians trying to survive Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza, however, the 2024 Olympic Games will be nothing but another confirmation of the world’s apparent indifference to their suffering.

Millions of Palestinian children maimed, orphaned, displaced and traumatised by Israeli aggression will not even be aware of the global sports competition taking place in France. They will be too busy looking for water, food and shelter and mourning their slain loved ones, wrecked homes and stolen futures to pay any attention to who runs the fastest or jumps the highest in Paris.

Since October 7, the besieged Gaza Strip has been the scene of a unprecedented tragedy. According to conservative estimates, in a little more than nine months, Israel’s military has killed more than 38,000 people and wounded nearly 90,000. This death toll includes more than 15,000 children. Many more children have been left without parents. The Israeli assault has also destroyed most of the Strip’s schools and hospitals. There are no universities left standing. Once home to more than two million people, most of Gaza is now nothing but rubble.

In this unprecedented context, the Olympic Games should not go forward, as if nothing has happened, with Israel’s participation.

According to the Olympic Charter, the games seek to create a way of life based on, among other things, “respect for internationally recognised human rights and universal fundamental ethical principles”.

Israel has been blatantly violating human rights and “universal fundamental ethical principles” without any consequences since its inception.

For 76 years, Israel has painstakingly implemented apartheid rule over Palestinians and proved itself incapable of subscribing to international humanitarian law or indeed basic Olympic values.

Among its extensive, flagrant violations are the widespread confiscation of Palestinian land and property, unlawful acts of killing, forced displacement, severe restrictions on movement, arbitrary detention, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians.

And for the past nine months, it has been engaged in a genocidal war against Palestinians in Gaza.

Having Israel take part in this year’s games as it continues to massacre Palestinians on a daily basis would be a mistake of epic proportions. It would not only make a mockery of Olympic values but also embolden the Israeli government to continue killing innocent Palestinian men, women and children.

Some say Israel should be allowed to participate because “politics and sports should remain separate” while others claim Israel should not be punished for “defending itself against Hamas”. Neither argument has any merit. The mass killing of children, systematic destruction of schools, flattening of hospitals are not “acts of self-defence” or mere political disagreements that can be set aside when playing sports. They are crimes against humanity that should not be ignored or excused in any context. Any state engaging in such crimes should be met with global condemnation and exclusion.

In February, a group of 26 French legislators appealed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), urging it to exclude Israel from participating in the forthcoming Olympic Games in Paris. They insisted that Israeli athletes must participate under a neutral flag, similar to how Russian and Belarusian athletes are expected to compete in this year’s games due to their countries’ ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

Palestinian sports clubs, youth centres and civil society organisations have also appealed to the IOC to uphold its principles and meet its obligations. They have urged the exclusion of Israel from the Olympic Games, at least until it dispenses with its apartheid system.

This course of action is not without historical precedent. Apartheid South Africa was prohibited from taking part in the Olympic events of 1964 and 1968. And in May 1970, it was expelled altogether.

South Africa’s exclusion from the Olympics was a consequence of its infringement of the first rule of the Olympic Charter, which clearly prohibits discrimination against any country or individual based on race, religion or political affiliation.The country was readmitted into the Olympic fold only after the fall of apartheid in 1991.

It is truly shameful that the IOC, which did the right thing and excluded apartheid South Africa from the games and took meaningful action to limit Russia’s and Belarus’s participation this year, seems unwilling to do the same to apartheid Israel.

With officials refusing to uphold Olympic values and exclude Israel, at this year’s games it will, therefore, be our shared responsibility to keep the spotlight on Israel’s continuing crimes against the Palestinians.

Spectators in Paris can speak up about Palestine with chants and protests. Athletes too can use the spotlight that will be on them to draw attention to Gaza. They can hold their own protests, or at least show solidarity with Palestinians by donning a keffiyeh on their shoulders when in front of cameras.

The Olympic Games are valuable because for two short weeks they bring nations of the world together in friendly competition, reminding us of our shared humanity and the beauty of human solidarity.

If Israel is allowed to participate with no protests or opposition, especially this year as it is committing a genocide against a people living under its occupation, the games will lose all meaning and become just another empty spectacle put on to entertain the masses and increase consumption.

With the IOC seemingly unwilling to uphold Olympic values and do the right thing, it is up to us, the citizens of the world, to ensure the games serve their purpose and promote “human rights” and “universal fundamental ethical principles”.

We owe this much to long-suffering Palestinians.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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