As the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympic games celebrated the spirit of competition and camaraderie that captures the hearts and eyes of millions around the world every four years, the festivities were momentarily darkened by a short and stabbing reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. And as usual, it was all Israel’s fault. Introducing the Palestinian swimmer Mary al-Atrash, media outlets were quick to note that the young athlete was challenged not only by the rigors of training for the Olympics but also by the fact that the occupation had cut off her access to a proper 50-meter-long pool, the standard Olympic size. Such stately facilities, the media informed its outraged viewers, were simply not available in Palestine.
If we were blessed with journalists who had the ability to use advanced research tools like the internet, we might’ve benefited from knowing that the Israeli government office for coordinating activities in the West Bank, or COGAT, issued a statement last month on its Facebook page, making it clear that it would’ve gladly considered accommodating al-Atrash had she bothered applying for a permit to train in Jerusalem—which, like Palestinian athletes before her, she refused to do—and wishing her the best of luck anyway. It might’ve also been helpful to note that plenty of athletes around the world, including here in the United States, train, like al-Atrash, in semi-Olympic 25-meter pools, and that to qualify for the Olympics, al-Atrash had to have qualified in a regulation-size pool, which makes the whole access question a rather minor one. But never mind all that, because the Palestinian Territories, you see, have not one Olympic pool but several.
There’s this luxurious one in Gaza, built, maybe, with some of the leftover cement Hamas could spare after squandering billions on its terror tunnels; there’s one in Nablus; and when I called the folks over at the Murad resort in al-Atrash’s native Beit Sakhour, they assured me that their pool, too, was properly Olympically endowed. Water, water everywhere, then, and not a drop for swimming.
In 2010, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent a condolence note to the family of the recently deceased Abu Daoud, the mastermind of the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. He might have done more for al-Atrash and other Palestinian athletes by spending as much money on facilities as he does richly rewarding the families of those terrorists who had murdered innocent Jews. And he’s hardly alone: Just last week, a senior official at the World Vision charity was arrested for funneling millions meant for humanitarian aid to Hamas’ murderous regime. With such skewed and bloody priorities, Palestine’s dream of Olympic gold remains dim.
Which cannot be said for the Lebanese: Israel’s other neighbor proved that the Olympic spirit is alive and well by trying to block the Jewish State’s delegation from boarding its bus. And this is only Day One of the games. Still, if the Olympics teach us anything, it’s that excuses and accusations and dirty politics are always in play, but, thankfully, once it’s all over, the better always win.
Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.