Giro 'sports-washes' Israeli apartheid

Palestinian civil society groups have accused Giro d’Italia cycling race, which started its first leg in Israel on May 4, of covering up Israel’s war crimes in Gaza and its secret police’s repression against Giro protests, said Kerry Smith.

Hundreds of people also delayed the start of the fourth stage of the Giro d’Italia in the Sicilian city of Catania on May 8 in protest at the race starting in Israel, The Electronic Intifada said.

TeleSUR English noted that as the Giro d’Italia got underway in Jerusalem, Israeli forces were implementing a shoot-to-kill-or-maim policy, firing tear gas and live ammunition at Palestinian protesters in Gaza, wounding hundreds — 83 from live ammunition.

Thousands have been injured since March 30, many for life. They include 21-year-old cyclist Alaa Al-Daly, whose leg was amputated after being shot by Israeli snipers, ending his cycling career.

Palestinians from the West Bank protested in Jerusalem against the race and Israeli occupation. TeleSUR English said the march was stopped at the Qalandia checkpoint, an Israeli military base between Qalandia and Jerusalem.

The race took place in Jerusalem in defiance of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which calls for boycotts of Israel over its apartheid policies towards Palestinians.

“The message of the cyclists’ protest is to tell Giro d’Italia: Stop your support for the [Israeli] occupation,” BDS activist Zaid Al-Shoabi told the Turkish agency Anadolu. He said starting the race in Jerusalem was part of the move to make the city Israel’s capital.

Xavier Abu Eid, spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said: “Israel is trying to show that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

Israel’s secret police threatened Palestinians aiming to protest the race, despite race director Mauro Vegni’s assurances of no curbs on protests.

Israeli police closed down Palestinian towns along the Giro Stage 2 route, Haifa-Tel Aviv, for six hours, a statement from the Tamra Popular Committee said. Jewish towns in the same area were closed for about two hours, highlighting Israel’s racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens, United Nations experts have described as an apartheid system.

The Giro route passes through dozens of destroyed Palestinian villages and towns ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias and the Israeli army during 1948. The Israeli state was founded on such ethnic cleansing, known to Palestinians as al-Nakba or “the catastrophe”.

A key slogan raised by Palestinian refugees protesting the Giro is: “Don’t trespass on our stolen land.”

In the occupied Palestinian West Bank, Cycling Palestine organised a peaceful protest ride from the city of Ramallah to Qalandia, where Israel’s sprawling military checkpoint and apartheid wall blocked their way. Heavily armed Israeli forces detained one of the leaders for “trespassing”, despite the event taking placing on occupied Palestinian land.

Meanwhile, in Catania, Sicily, protesters sought to shut the prestigious cycling race down, but were blocked by riot police. The Electronic Intifada said that as members of the Israeli government-backed Israeli team went past, protesters threw out flyers and carried banners with slogans including, “Israel kills, Italy is an accomplice.”

Protest organisers said “We made everyone hear our dissent against the exploitation of sport by a state that has for decades practiced apartheid against the Palestinians and which does not respect UN resolutions regarding occupied territories.

One activist, Simone di Stefano, told Catania Today that activists had gathered to send the message that “we don’t want this Giro d’Italia that is stained with blood of the Palestinian people.”

Renzo Ulivieri, the head of the Italian football managers association, posted on Facebook that he would not be watching the Giro this year.

“I could have remained indifferent, but I fear I would have been despised by the people I respect,” Ulivieri wrote. “Viva the Palestinian people, free in their land.”

At a recent meeting of new Italian left-wing group Power to the People, Ulivieri said: “The true sporting spirit calls for the unity of people and condemns discrimination and abusive occupation like Israel’s apartheid.”