Palestinians are calling on organizers of the Giro d’Italia to scrap a plan that would see the 2018 cycling race start in Jerusalem.
Israel has been announced as a host of the most prestigious cycling event after the Tour de France.
For Israel to host one of the world’s most observed sports events “will serve as a stamp of approval for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians,” according to an action alert posted by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, the steering group for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign for Palestinian rights.
“Just as it would have been unacceptable for the Giro d’Italia to start from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, it is unacceptable to start the race anywhere under Israel’s control,” the action alert urges activists to tell race organizers.
The race is planned to start in Jerusalem, and then diverge on to two routes, one from Haifa to Tel Aviv and the other from Bir al-Saba to Eilat. This is the first time the Giro d’Italia will start outside Europe.
The event is meant to celebrate 70 years of “Israeli independence” and is being coordinated by Canadian-Israeli real estate tycoon Sylvan Adams.
The race will start just 10 days before the Nakba commemoration, marking 70 years since Zionist forces expelled 750,000 Palestinians, emptying or destroying hundreds of cities, towns and villages in the process.
Open to all?
Yariv Levin, Israel’s tourism minister, has said that this is part of efforts to “revolutionize” Israel as a normal “destination of leisure and tourism.”
This is not the first time sports events have been used to whitewash Israel’s crimes, distract from military occupation and normalize its image.
These efforts also aim to reinforce Israel’s claim to Jerusalem.
The Israeli mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, who oversees the ongoing destruction of Palestinian homes and forced displacement of Palestinians to make way for Jewish settlers, appeared with other Israeli officials at an event to announce plans for the 2018 Giro d’Italia.
“Our message to the world is clear: Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel, is open to all,” he declared, emphasizing that he sees the Giro d’Italia as an endorsement of Israel’s political claims.
Jerusalem is not, however, open to all. Zionist militias occupied the western part of the city in 1948, expelling its Palestinian residents and seizing their property. They have not been allowed to return.
Israel occupied the eastern part in 1967, and since then has been aggressively building settlements there in violation of international law.
Israel’s restrictions also mean that Palestinians living elsewhere in the occupied West Bank are frequently blocked from visiting the city.
Patients from Gaza have also been denied medical treatment in Jerusalem’s hospitals by the Israeli authorities.
Israeli home demolitions in the West Bank – including in East Jerusalem under Barkat’s supervision – hit a new record in 2016.
The Israeli government is giving strong backing to the cycling event. Part of the route will take the riders around to see Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, the Israeli high court, the Israel Museum and the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Israeli government is also said to be providing the biggest security operation in Israel’s history.
It is also covering the total costs of hosting the Giro d’Italia, amounting to about $14 million for the event, about a third of which will go directly to RCS MediaGroup for hosting rights.
RCS MediaGroup is the Italian company that organizes the race.
Israel’s investment in the event is part of efforts to boost its public image. Since Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, the Israeli tourism industry has been in decline, despite well-funded marketing efforts.
A recent BBC poll ranked Israel as one of the four least popular countries in the world.
Sharaf Qutaifan, from PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, recalled Israel’s continuous abuse of Palestinian athletes and destruction of sports infrastructure.
“To claim this race will somehow ‘unite’ is ludicrous and an affront to Palestinians forced for decades to navigate Israel’s lethal obstacle course of bombs, bullets, checkpoints, roadblocks and walls,” he said.
But Giro d’Italia director Mauro Vegni has suggested that any difficulties the event encounters will be purely logistical and not political.
Palestinian activists have launched the #RelocatetheRace campaign to push back against Giro d’Italia’s organizers, reminding them of Israel’s human rights violations along the planned route and urging them to take the event elsewhere.
The Italian embassy in Tel Aviv and the Christian Zionist lobby group Christians United for Israel have applauded the decision to start the race in Jerusalem.
Despite Italian leaders’ hostility to the Palestine solidarity movement, Italian activists are among those in Europe stepping up their efforts to fight complicity with Israel’s apartheid and efforts to whitewash its crimes.