Palestenians were not particularly pleased when they discovered teams from Bahrain and United Arab Emirates seem to be taking part of the prominent Giro d’Italia cycle race to take place in Israel this year. They added this “undermined” hopes for Arab solidarity, especially since it may have just broken some political expectations.
According to Reuters, the appearance of the Gulf teams in the premier cycling race have just broken Israel’s boycott on various matters since the start of the conflict between the Arabs and the Israeli in 1948. The Palestinian Olympic Committee added that the participation of the Gulf state teams was “a stab in the back” to the sacrifices of the Palestinians.
Officials from the United Arab Emirates nor Bahrain’s ministry of information have yet to respond to queries made on the statement. When the teams were asked for comment, replies were not immediately cascaded. Profiles from the event’s official website, which listed all the cyclists from both teams, said none of the members of UAE Team Emirates and Bahrain-Merida “appeared to be Emirati or Bahraini citizens.” They were also “almost all European.”
What perhaps garnered attention, however, was that the riders actually donned jerseys not only with national colors of their respective teams, but also with their sponsors’ brand names – namely, the Bahrain Petroleum Company and Emirates Airlines. This is a break from traditional protocols for Arabs when participating in Israeli events.
It can be noted that sometimes individual Israeli athletes participate in Gulf Arab state-based sporting events. These included the Qatar Open last January 2018, where a tennis player from Israel participated. However, team-based participation, with showing of flags no less, were extremely rare.
Perhaps part of what lighted the fire for Palestinian outrage was the move of the United States to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem. This year is also the 70th Anniversary of the “Catastrophe,” or the event when thousands were driven away from their homes when Israel as a state was created back in 1948.
Some see the participation of the Gulf teams as thawing ties between United States-allied states who see a “common enemy” in Iran. Others think this is a sign that they may be “abandoning” Palestine’s cause. Malak Hassan, founder of Cycling Palestine, a 3,000-member Palestinian cycling club, decried the move and added Israeli checkpoints have in fact barred her and her members from travelling freely.
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