Israeli police are calling Palestinian activists in Israel and threatening them should they protest against the first stage of the Giro d’Italia bicycle race that started in Jerusalem on Friday.
The threats were revealed by PACBI – the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel – which tweeted that “activists will hold Giro d’Italia responsible if anything happens to them.”
Israeli authorities have boasted that their full repressive apparatus, developed over decades to enforce military occupation and other restrictions on Palestinians, was being deployed to secure the race against protests:
As the race starts, PACBI is urging use of the hashtags #ShameOnGiro and #Giro101 to express opposition to how the Giro d’Italia is “whitewashing or sportswashing Israel’s ongoing war crimes, including the deliberate murder of peaceful Palestinian protesters in Gaza, just kilometers away from the race.”
Palestinian activists in Israel released this video highlighting how the race route passes close to sites where Israel has committed atrocities:
The race will run in different parts of present-day Israel through Sunday, before moving to Italy next week.
“Glitz” won’t distract from crimes
Organizers of the Giro d’Italia ignored months of appeals from campaigners arguing that holding the opening stage in Jerusalem would serve to reward and whitewash Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.
But Amnesty International said on Thursday that Israel would be wrong to think that hosting the prestigious race would take the eye off its violations.
“The authorities in Jerusalem may have thought that the glitz of Giro d’Italia might have a ‘sportswash’ effect, removing some of the stain of Israel’s human rights record,” Kate Allen, the human rights group’s UK director said. “Instead, it’s likely to bring it back into focus yet again.”
“The Giro d’Italia riders will begin the race only weeks after the Israeli security forces unleashed excessive, deadly force against Palestinian protesters in Gaza, including children,” Allen added. “The race will set off right next to East Jerusalem where Palestinians are facing house demolitions, illegal settlement building and a host of restrictions on their movement.”
Israeli leaders, Italian diplomats and European Union officials see the staging of the race in Jerusalem as a major coup for Israel’s propaganda.
This is the first time the start of the race is being held outside Europe.
Israel has reportedly paid millions of dollars to bring in Giro d’Italia promoter RCS and Tour de France champion Chris Froome.
Snipers and bicycles
The start of the race coincides with the sixth Friday of the Great March of Return protests in Gaza.
Over the last five weeks, Israel has killed 50 Palestinians in Gaza as occupation forces implement a shoot-to-kill-and-maim policy against unarmed civilians protesting the siege of the territory and demanding their right to return to lands from which Israel has expelled and excluded them because they are not Jews.
Meanwhile, Giro organizers have been open about the propaganda goals of holding the race’s first stages under Israeli auspices.
“We are hosting sports events in Israel, this is the most democratic, safest country that can host such a safe event,” race official Daniel Benaim told media.
Arab states normalization
Palestinians have expressed dismay that as dozens have been killed and thousands more injured – with hundreds likely to suffer lifelong disabilities – in the Israeli assault on civilians in Gaza, teams from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are openly taking part in the Giro d’Italia.
Activists are pointing out that while these teams flaunt their presence in Jerusalem, millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as millions more exiled Palestinian refugees, are not even allowed to enter the city due to Israel’s severe movement restrictions on non-Jews.
The director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry Yuval Rotem welcomed the Emirati riders to Jerusalem:
Arabic-speaking social media users have been tweeting their outrage about the Arab teams’ participation using the Arabic hashtag #اسحبوا_دراجاتكم – meaning “withdraw your bicycles.”
As well as warming ties with Israel, Bahrain has an additional interest in helping defeat sporting boycotts of pariah states that violate human rights.
For years Bahrain has faced calls for boycotts of the flagship Formula One motor race it hosts over its violent crackdown against anti-government protests.
Derailing Israel’s propaganda
Israel’s propaganda aims to present the country as “normal” – an open society vibrant with cultural and sporting activity and technological “innovation.”
So while activists have not succeeded in stopping the race, they have generated enough controversy around it that Israel has been unable to use the Giro d’Italia to escape from its reputation as a military occupier, colonizer and apartheid state.
In an article for Cycling Tips on Friday, sports journalist Shane Stokes explains why he is boycotting, and refusing to cover the start of the Giro d’Italia, amid Israel’s massive, violent repression of Palestinians.
“When the Giro was first confirmed for Israel, inevitable criticisms came. In response, there were some who insisted sport and politics should not mix,” Stokes writes. “The same defense was used decades ago when sportspeople and others broke the boycott to compete in South Africa.”
For Stokes, staying away also sends a message of solidarity for Yaser Murtaja, one of the two Palestinian reporters killed by Israeli snipers in recent weeks.
Stokes points out that the Giro d’Italia’s slogan is Amore Infinito – infinite love.
“It’s an admirable theme, without question,” he writes. “Yet the phrase seems empty when, 100 kilometers from the race start, snipers aim their bullets at protesters and press members, then pull the trigger.”