Israel hinders world athletes’ entry to 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.