The last year has seen the Palestinian struggle enter the global consciousness at a new level.
Whereas the United States has put a strangle hold on the United Nation’s recognition of Palestinian statehood, the world community has moved to recognize the rights of Palestinians through organizations such as UNESCO. One additional step is that of Palestinian athletes joining the rest of the world community at the forthcoming Olympics.
It is significant that one of the most important sports periodicals in the country, Sports Illustrated, recently featured the first Palestinian athlete to become an Olympian on his own merit: The Palestinian Judo champion, Maher Abu Rmeileh.
The piece at SI.com by Jon Wertheim is worth reading, and has brought Abu Rmeileh to the attention of the world community.
The article by the leading Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman, on Abu Rmeileh, on the other hand, made explicit the political context of why the Olypian champion has not worked out against Israeli Judo athletes:
“Abu Rmeileh’s coach, Hani Halabi, who is also the head of the Palestinian judo union, said that as long as there was no peace agreement with Israel there could be no cooperation. “The Israeli union tried many times to arrange joint events but we have refused ... I cannot ask a Palestinian boy to compete against an Israeli while his father is in jail, or his house has been demolished and he can’t go through checkpoints,” Halabi said.”
You can see a brief interview with the champion here. Abu Rmeileh is a devout Muslim, and even in the brief interview it is easy to sense how his faith inspires him to acheive his best.
Abu Rmeileh will carry the hopes and the flag of his people, even as Palestinians continue to hold out hope for independence from occupation.
May the lofty ideals of the Olympics soon be reflected in the Palestinian people, and their champion, being liberated after 60 years of occupation and second-class citizenship.