Mon Jan 30, 2023
January 30, 2023

In the struggle against apartheid, Egyptian judoka is gold

After refusing shaking hands with his Israeli opponent Or Sasson, once finished the competition, the Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby was excluded from the Egyptian delegation by the local Olympic Committee, last August 15. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and conventional media condemned the attitude of El Shehaby as “contrary to the ‘Olympic spirit’”. Nothing more false.

By Soraya Misleh.


El Shehaby did not refuse to shake hands with Sasson because he lost the competition or because he did not like him. His gesture was of resistance. The athlete, in the Olympics, is not acting as an individual. Except some, competing under the Olympic flag –which is the case of the ten refugees-, the athletes represent a State. In this case, Sasson held, as his colleagues of the same delegation, the flag of Israel, the country that imposes the Palestinian people an institutionalized regime of apartheid and occupies their land. For this reason, during the opening of the ceremony, the Libaneese delegation refused to share the bus with the Israeli competitors. It is also thought the Saudi judoka, Joud Fahmi, desisted to compete with her Rumanian competitor Christianne Legentil, because if she won she would have to compete with an Israeli judoka on the next stage.

As El Shehaby affirmed during an interview, published in UOL news, “to shake hands with the opponent is not an obligation written in the rules of judo (…)”. “I have no problem with Jewish people or people of any other religion. But for personal reasons, you cannot demand that I shake hands with someone from that State (…)”.

If Rio 2016 were to be a space with no apartheid, the Egyptian judoka would not have been punished for this. No one would be forced to compete with someone representing Israel as El Shehaby was, by the authorities of his country. Israel should be expelled from the Olympics. It was what was done with South Africa for more than 30 years, which only had permission to compete again after the end of the Apartheid regime, in 1994.

Unfortunately, Israel, which does not even represent International Rights, its not only present as it guaranteed agreements to provide security technology to the Olympics. Israel is in fact an institutionalized State of Apartheid, violating fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people. In the West Bank, military occupied territory since 1967, there are exclusive highways for Israeli settlers; different license plates and identification documents; prohibition of circulation from one city another; checkpoints; a dividing wall, among other apparatuses serving segregation. In the Gaza Strip, an inhuman fence impedes the children of receiving scholar materials unless they have permission of Israel. The discrimination against Palestinian people existed also inside the borders of Palestine until 1948, year of creation of the State of Israel, through an ethnic cleansing of the native Arab population (the nakba, the catastrophe). The Palestinians faced back then more than 60 racists laws.

The boycott in a situation like this is not only legitimate but fair and urgent. To not participate of such action would be to refuse the main international solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people –the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions)-, which has as its base a similar model to the one that helped putting an end to the Apartheid Regime in South Africa. El Shehaby called the attention to this.

The Olympic face of Apartheid

Even before the beginning of the Olympics 2016, it was evident the Israeli apartheid reached all aspects of life under occupation. The Palestinian delegation, initially conformed by 22 people, had 3 of its members, currently living in the Gaza Strip, impeded of traveling to participate in the Games Rio 2016. It is not the first time this happens in sports: in 2014, the marathoner Nader Al-Masri, also from Gaza, was forbidden to cross the Israeli blockade to go to Betlehem, in the West Bank, to participate of an athletic event.

Participating for the sixth time of the mega-event –first one was Atlanta 1996, when it finally got recognized by the IOC to do it-, the Palestinian delegation shows the marks of apartheid. This time, due to the restriction, the Palestinian team arrived jagged. Of the 19 members able to come to Brazil, six are athletes. Of those, four were born and live outside their land –since the nakba, this is a reality for most Palestinian population, divided into refugees’ camps in the Arab world, and the Diaspora-. The other two are from Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The barriers were too many. The Palestinian delegation had their uniforms held at the occupied frontier. The fact won repercussion, so after a lot of international pressure and demonstrations in solidarity, Israel “allowed” the liberation of the necessary clothing for the competition, although just in August 2, three days before the opening.

Not in vain the delegation considered a victory the simple fact of being present in Rio 2016, as a proof of resistance. There is no infrastructure whatsoever to train in the occupied Palestine, and there are all kind of restrictions. The swimmer Miri Al-Atrash, for example, from Betlehem, in the West Bank, did not get permission to use the Olympic pool in Jerusalem. She was forced to train in Jordan and Algeria. Due to the difficulties, she could not achieve the rate to guarantee her classification to the Olympics. She was accepted anyway, like other 3 athletes of the Palestinian team, thanks to a special quota given by the IOC. Despite the difficulties, she performed wonderfully.

In the struggle against apartheid, El Shehaby is on top of the podium; like the Palestinian athletes, in the rate of persistence.


Translation: Sofía Ballack.

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