Even before the opening ceremony here in London tonight, Palestine’s Olympic team has triumphed. Not only does the team of five include the first-ever athlete, judoko Maher Abu Rmeilah, to pass the stringent qualification tests, the group of five, their coaches and Palestine Olympic Committee officials are winning hearts, and minds, in one of the world’s largest, and most sophisticated, cities. Over the next two weeks, as some 4 billion people around the world follow the Games, the team, whose first event starts Saturday, 28 July, can expect to score even more victories as they help to put Palestine “on the map.” (See the schedule, below.)
Not long after their arrival in the capital, the group was met by a huge crowd in the west London borough of Hounslow, as it hosted the Olympic torch relay, on the final days of its tour around 95 per cent of Great Britain. Hounslow is twinned with Palestine’s administrative capital, Ramallah, and both the borough’s mayor, Councillor Pritam Grewal, and its residents seemed eager to combine their moment in the UK’s spotlight with the team. Scores of pictures were taken as Palestine’s athletics coach, Majed Abu Marahil, officially presented the Mayor with a gift on behalf of all Palestinians. On Friday, the Olympians were received by about 60 enthusiasts at no less a centre of attention than London City Hall itself.
The team consists of Abu Rmeilah, and four others who have been invited by the International Olympic Committee: Baha Al-Farra, a 400-metre runner; Woroud Sawalha, an 800-metre runner; Sabine Hazboun, a 50-metre freestyle swimmer and Ahmed Jibril (Ahmed Gebril, in Egyptian), who is also competing in the 50-metre freestyle swimming. Like all of his teammates, Al-Farra, who lives in Gaza, has had to train despite the lack of proper facilities and financial resources, as well as Israel’s restrictions on movement in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories, a situation that means many cannot reach their full potential. But he is happy to be representing his nation.
“It’s a beautiful feeling, both as an athlete and a Palestinian,” he told The Guardian in London. “I will be taking a message from the Palestinians to the greatest games on earth: that Palestine exists despite our difficult circumstances.” Continue reading