Israel hinders world athletes’ entry to West Bank

Sunday 31/07/2016
Taekwondo fighters spar at the opening of an international com­petition in Ramallah, West Bank.

Ramallah - Palestinians celebrated hosting and doing ex­tremely well at the first Open International Taek­wondo G1 Tournament in spite of an Israeli attempt to foil the sports event by barring athletes from entering the West Bank.
The tournament, which took place in mid-July at Birzeit Univer­sity north of Ramallah, was the first international taekwondo competi­tion on Palestinian soil. Participat­ing athletes came from about two dozen countries, including South Korea, the United States, Spain, Sweden, Russia, Turkey, Iraq, Bah­rain, Kuwait, Qatar, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.
Palestinian participants claimed 60 medals — the most of any partic­ipating countries. Jordan was next with 58 medals while Morocco won seven, Turkey four and the United States one medal.
Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, said the tournament was a perfect opportunity for the Palestinian people to connect with the world through sport, which has become a common language that defies bor­ders.
Although this was not the first in­ternational competition that Pales­tine hosted, it was the first tourna­ment involving an individual sport.
More than 350 participants from 23 countries were expected to com­pete in the tournament but Israel barred dozens of athletes as well as entire teams from entering the West Bank. The Israeli action was viewed as an attempt to undermine an international event many Pales­tinians considered a symbol of in­dependence and sovereignty.
Head of the Palestinian Taek­wondo Union Omar Kabha said Is­rael undermined the event as well as the athletes’ right to practice sports freely.
“Israel is a member of the [In­ternational] Olympic Committee and yet it failed to comply with the Olympic fundamental principles, which state that ‘every individual must have the possibility of prac­ticing sport, without discrimina­tion of any kind and in the Olympic spirit’,” he said.
Kabha said Israel did not issue entry permits for Nigerian and Kyr­gyzstani team members in addition to a number of Jordanians.
“A Turkish and a Jordanian coach arrived at the borders but were forced to turn around and miss the championship,” he noted.
Moroccan athletes spent many hours at the Israeli crossing, which Kabha argued was an attempt to isolate Palestinians from the inter­national sports community.
Israel also prevented 35 team members and staff from the Gaza Strip from coming to the West Bank to participate.
Mohammad Hajaj, media coor­dinator at the Olympic committee, said: “Gaza’s athletes have prac­ticed day and night to compete at the tournament, with the young­est girl being only 9. She and many other kids dream about competing and winning.”
Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank cannot travel freely and have to apply for special Israeli travel and entry permits, a process that proves extremely difficult when criteria and procedures are not clear.
Gisha, the Legal Centre for Free­dom of Movement, said most Israe­li protocols and procedures are not made public, which is in violation of Israeli Freedom of Information Act 5758-1998.”
Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not aware of the criteria according to which their applications are approved or denied. The same applies to for­eigners trying to enter the West Bank.
Kabha said that, while several athletes were able to apply for en­try visas through embassies abroad and others received a visa upon ar­rival at the borders, “we tried to get visas for 250 participants but only 170 were issued. No reason for the rejection was given to the Palestin­ian side.”
Mohammad Yousef, 30, who at­tended the tournament, said Israel partially succeeded in undermin­ing the tournament by barring Pal­estinian and international athletes from entering the West Bank, put­ting several obstacles in the way of those who were allowed entry and delaying teams for hours at bor­ders.