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Palestinian Olympic chief wants Israel Olympic ban

Jonathan Crane | Dana Sumlaji
June 24, 2024

With just over one month until Paris 2024 begins, Jibril Rajoub told DW that Israeli athletes should have no place in Paris. It is the first time he has explictly made such a demand.

Jibril Rajoub holds up a piece of paper during a press conference
Jibril Rajoub has called for Israel to be banned from the upcoming Paris OlympicsImage: Shurooq Alsharif/DW

The president of the Palestinian Olympic Committee has called for Israel to be banned from the 2024 Paris Olympics over the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

In an exclusive interview with DW, Jibril Rajoub highlighted several examples of how he said Israel had broken the Olympic Charter, the set of rules governing the Olympic Games.

Rajoub, who is also head of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), claimed that around 300 sportspeople and officials had been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza since Israel declared war in response to the Hamas-led terror attacks in Israel on October 7, 2023.

Sports stadiums used for 'arrest and humiliation'

All of Gaza's sports facilities have been destroyed, Rajoub said, while some stadiums were used as "centers for arrest and investigation and for the humiliation of people in a shameful way."

In December 2023, footage circulated on social media of detained Palestinians stripped to their underwear, blindfolded and kneeling in rows inside Gaza City's Yarmouk Stadium, one of the biggest and oldest stadiums in Gaza. Palestinians at the stadium had reportedly been seeking refuge from the Israeli bombardment, before Israeli forces took it over.

Under international law, detainees must not be exposed to unneccesary humiliation. At the time, the Israeli military told British broadcaster Sky News that it is often necessary to search the clothes of terror suspects.

"All of these incidents put Israel in a position where it should be prevented from participating," Rajoub said. "This is our position here. We hope that the Olympic movement shuts out Israel.

"As long as the Israeli side is not willing to confront the government about its transgressions, they are part of the system."

The Israeli Olympic Committee's president, Yael Arad, declined a request to be interviewed for this article.

Israeli Olympic judoka Paltchik in spotlight

Rajoub also criticized links between Israeli athletes and the Israel Defense Forces. He singled out judoka Peter Paltchik, who will compete at his second Olympics in Paris, as an example of an athlete who he says is "encouraging" the Israeli army.

At a press conference earlier this month, Rajoub held up a printout of a social media post by Paltchik, which showed a photo of several signed missiles accompanied by the words: "From me to you with pleasure."

"He is signing missiles and sending them as a gift to the children of Gaza," Rajoub told DW.

Responding on Paltchik's behalf, Israel's judo federation said: "We are not mixing politics and sports, but Rajoub (as usual) is lying to the world. Peter didn't sign anything himself.

"Hamas is the one who targets civilians and uses them as human shelters [sic], not Israel's army. In the picture, the words are: 'Hamas is ISIS,' nothing about children and civilians."

However, in an email to DW, the federation said they could not say who signed the missiles or why they featured the term "ippon," which is the highest score in judo and signifies an immediate victory.

Rajoub briefed IOC chief Bach on 'violations'

Asked to comment on Rajoub's interview and Paltchik's social media post, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) referred DW to a Palestinian media report that summarized a recent phone call between Rajoub and Thomas Bach, the IOC president.

According to the report, Rajoub "briefed Bach on the violations being committed against the rights of the Palestinian sports movement by the Israeli war machine, in addition to violations committed by some Israeli athletes and official Israeli sports institutions."

Bach, meanwhile, was said to have "expressed his support for Palestinian athletes in light of the difficult situation in the occupied Palestinian territory."

Thomas Bach holds the microphone during a press conference
Thomas Bach has said he supports Palestinian athletes but will not be drawn on a ban for IsraelImage: Laurent Gillieron/dpa/KEYSTONE/picture alliance

The IOC said that there was "nothing to add" to the summary of the call.

Bach had previously told reporters in March that there was "no question" of Israeli athletes not taking part in the Games.

Rhetoric escalates over Israel's Olympic participation

While Rajoub has long taken a tougher stance on Israel when wearing his other hat as head of the PFA, his comments mark an escalation in the rhetoric used by Palestinian Olympic officials.

In an interview with French international broadcaster France 24 in April, Nader Jayousi, the Palestinian team's technical director, said that "we avoid talking about political issues. Our field is sports … Israel's presence at the Olympics is not a matter we discuss."

And although Rajoub told DW that "I separate politics from sports," he questioned whether Israel was following the IOC's rules that say the practice of sport is a human right.

"If they are really committed to the rules, why do they ignore the violations that are occurring from their army and its aggression against our athletes and sports facilities?" Rajoub asked.

"I'm sure that Israel's participation will be a political burden, a security burden and a moral burden on the Olympic Games."

Edited by: Matt Pearson

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