By Stuart Littlewood
Palestine’s Olympians have gone home, and not even ardent supporters like me were aware they’d been here.
That’s a slight exaggeration.
We caught a brief glimpse of them on TV in the opening parade.
But the first real indication that they were living, breathing, approachable people was an email from the General Union of Palestinian Students saying: "The Palestinian Olympic team will be at Hyde Park at 1pm today," giving just a few hours’ notice. Not much use to us folks living outside London. And by then there were only 4 days of the Olympics left.
It played like a re-run of last year’s extraordinary effort by engineering students from the Gaza Strip who took on the cream of Europe’s technical universities in a competition to build a race car. Construction had to conform to nearly 30 pages of rules and regulations. The cars then went to Silverstone, the home of Formula One racing, to be scrutinized. They were also put through performance and endurance trials on the track.
The lads from Khan Younis Training Centre (KYTC) in the Gaza Strip finalized the plans for their car, identified the parts they needed and contacted various suppliers around the world, only to be turned down time and again. Eventually a firm in Italy agreed to help, but the parts they sent were blocked by the Israelis from entering Gaza.
Undaunted, the team improvised by salvaging parts from old cars and machinery. The engine came from a used Honda motorcycle and the chassis was fabricated with domestic hot water pipes. Nevertheless they did so well at Silverstone that Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at IMechE (the Institution of Mechanical Engineers), which runs the Formula Student competition, declared: “It really is inspirational to see a team working so hard with the odds stacked against them like this… Working with almost entirely recycled parts in one of the most deprived areas in the world is remarkable. These students epitomise the spirit and inventiveness of those who take part in Formula Student.”
What had the Palestinian embassy in the UK done to promote the team and its astonishing achievement? Nothing. I only heard about it months later. Even then the embassy ignored requests for names and contact details, so I had to salvage what I could of this remarkable story through UNRWA.
The embassy has shown the same lackadaisical attitude to its brave Olympic team, who similarly took on the best in the world with (so to speak) one hand tied behind their backs.
No lessons have been learned.
The embassy has my name and email address and sends me endless invitations to inconsequential social events. But no invitation to meet and write about the Olympic team. So I emailed the ambassador, Manuel Hassassian: "What is the embassy doing, please, to make sure full advantage is taken of the Olympic Team’s presence in London and to impress upon the world and especially Palestine’s sympathizers the team members’ achievements, the difficulties they face at home under occupation, their hopes for the future and how exposure at the London Games might impact on the future of sport and its funding in the OPT. How long are they staying in the UK? Will they be touring the country?"
A reply came from an unnamed individual. "This is a great opportunity to showcase Palestine. Our participation is a clear message to the world that we are a united people… Our team was able to defy occupation despite the limited facilities. We are positive that you have been keeping up with all the media coverage and attention that our team has received. Most of the media coverage was liaised through our office. The team is accompanied by a press officer… We have had a wide coverage from local and foreign news channels, media and even filmmakers… The team was meant to go to Sheffield but due to time constraints the event was called off. Unfortunately the team have left on Friday…"
What media coverage? Fellow campaigners tell me they too have seen little if any, although some mentioned an Al Arabiya report. British and American audiences matter most – they are the ones Palestinians need to influence.
I also emailed the team’s press officer: "Do you have a press or media pack for journalists? Photos? Where do you get your contact list? I would suggest in future that you make sure people like me who write regularly about Palestine in numerous international news and opinion sites are kept fully in the picture…”
Needless to say, I haven’t had a reply.
I would have loved to hear first-hand the stories of those five Olympians – Maher Abu Ramila the judo veteran, Waroud Sawalha and Bahha Farra the two 400 metre runners, and Ahmad Jibril and Sabine Hazboun the two freestyle swimmers. They all battled against unimaginably poor training facilities and a serious lack of competition, but their exceptional grit and determination brought them to the London Games.
And now that the 2012 Games have finished Palestinians need to decide what they really want of their small handful of Olympic athletes and where they go from here.
For starters let’s see all those destroyed sports facilities rebuilt. And let’s see Israel drummed out of the Olympic movement if it dares to touch them again.
The London ambassador and his bosses in Ramallah have been urged many times to take lessons in media skills. But they refuse to do so and remain media slouches, allowing Israel’s well-honed propaganda machine to run rings round them and bury all hopes of freedom, advancement and statehood. Ignorant and lazy, they are despised by pro-Palestinians and are no match for the resourcefulness and sheer determination of their young people.
It won’t matter how hard Palestine’s Olympic and other sporting teams train and perform, what sacrifices they make in going for gold, or how superhuman their efforts to do something for Palestine… the Palestinian Authority’s good-for-nothing politicians will always let the side down.
I’m told the students union, which was housed at the embassy, got so fed up it moved out. They say the place is full of overpaid people who do nothing. True or false?
By your deeds (or misdeeds) shall ye be judged.
I have my own theory: the Fatah-controlled PA/PLO and its embassies, as vassals of Washington and Tel Aviv, are under strict orders not to make waves or embarrass the Israeli regime. Silence and incompetence are the required skills.
One is left to speculate what sort of Palestinian embassy the Hamas government would have run if the Western Enlightenment had accepted its democratic credentials.
– Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can now be read on the internet by visiting www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.