The banning of Palestine's only Olympian from running in the Palestinian Marathon is very revealing about Israel's disingenuous attitude towards any peaceful relationship with the people it keeps under illegal occupation.
The second Palestinian Marathon went ahead on Friday as planned.
What was not planned was the depth of Israel’s fear of people running in a race themed “Right to Movement”, based on Article 13 of the UN Human Rights Charter.
In order to protect itself from the threat of these marathon runners, Israel took the brave step of banning Palestine’s only Olympian from taking part.
Israel unilaterally deemed that because the Palestinian Authority supported the (hopefully) now annual marathon, the event was politically tainted and that, for those of you who are having trouble following the ‘logic’, apparently delegitimizes the State of Israel.
Watching an alJazeera panel debate on this position of Israel’s seemed at first to be so far down the rabbit hole in its absurdity that it deserved an ‘oh for god’s sake what will they come up with next’.
But actually there’s a very disturbing function behind the banning of a Palestinian sports hero from participating in the Marathon.
Nader al-Masari lives in Gaza along with 1.7 million other Palestinians locked in behind barbed wire in what is the world’s largest open air prison. All movement by land, air and sea is controlled by Israel which unilaterally disengaged from the territory and locked the gate behind it leaving the inhabitants/prisoners to rot.
Because al-Masari is a Gazan, he has to apply to leave to participate in any...yes any sporting event. Gazans are allowed out for medical emergencies - sometimes - and precious little else.
They can’t even travel to the occupied West Bank without permission.
When the Palestinian Olympic Committee made a request on behalf of al-Masari, it was told simply that there were political overtones to the Bethlehem based marathon and it wasn’t a qualifying sports event.
Israel has had much practice at destroying the hopes and goals of Palestinian sports people.
When an occupying force targets the youth of those it controls it is a deliberate manoeuvre in order to destroy the aspirations of the next generation.
It is a powerful tool in the wider shattering of Palestinian society.
The history of the 47-year old occupation is littered with examples. Here are a few.
In 2009, 22-year-old Mahmoud Sarsak, a member of the Palestinian National Soccer team, was arrested while on his way from Gaza to a national team contest in the West Bank. He was deemed by Israel to be an illegal combatant and held without trial for three years under Israel’s Unlawful Combatant Law.
So prevalent is such practice that it took prompted a letter from FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter to the Israelis expressing “grave concern” about the illegal detention of Palestinian football players.
Sarsak’s situation was finally given international attention by a powerful man who just happens to be very much committed to football in Palestine.
Blatter’s intervention followed a desperate plea from Sarsak’s mother, forbidden from visiting her son who by that stage was on the 83rd day of a hunger strike - the only form of resistance left available to him. He was eventually released, but his football career was over.
In February this year Israeli troops shot and wounded two Palestinian footballers - 19 and 17 - when they were walking home from training in the central West Bank. The damage caused by the 13 bullets, the dragging by dogs and beatings administered by the soldiers meant the two youths will never play again.
Targeting sports doesn’t stop with individual athletes.
As the Palestine Football Association documents so clearly in its booklet ‘Sports Under Siege: Israeli Transgressions against Palestinian sports’, officials, coaches, visiting players, shipments of sports gear and infrastructure are all vulnerable to random sanctions.
A good example took place in 2013 on the Jabal Al-Zaitun pitch in Al-Tur village near Jerusalem.
An official U 14 league match was underway when fully armed IDF soldiers arrived and threatened the children and their parents with force and arrest if they did not immediately clear the premises. The IDF then closed the pitch and issued an official prohibition on all from returning in the future.
The PFA told me the children were terrified. The photos of the incident leave no doubt of that.
As Dave Zirin wrote in The Nation, “if you degrade the national team, you degrade the idea that there could ever be a nation”.
In his article referring to Sarsak, Zirin asked what would happen if say Kobe Bryant was traveling to an international tournament, seized by a foreign government and held in prison for three years without trial or even knowing the charges for which he was imprisoned?
Targeting Palestinian sports is no accident. It is an insidious tactic in the overall strategy of crushing the resolve of the Palestinian people to remain steadfast on their land.
The ridiculous cry from Israel that a marathon in an illegally occupied territory delegitimizes the State of Israel says so much about the mentality of the occupier.
The obvious extrapolation of that is any sports event held by a government that Israel doesn’t like is a delegitimization of Israel.
As runners in the “Right to Movement” Palestinian Marathon wove in and around the massive and illegal Apartheid wall Israel erected, the cause of any delegitimization was obvious. It is Israel’s latest achievement at delegitimizing itself.