Israel Hayom, widest circulated paper in Israel,
prints in-depth article about PMW's report
on PA Olympic official's terror support
Headline: An Olympic medal in incitement
The Olympics are supposed to be a celebration of the best in humanity. But the Palestinian delegation is being led by a terrorist who still incites to violence against Israel. Even at the highest level, it seems, sport cannot free itself from politics.
By Nadav Shragai, Aug. 5, 2016
Even before the opening ceremony, the Rio de Janeiro Olympics left a somewhat bitter taste in the mouths of Israelis. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict managed to worm its way into the most important sporting event in the world, one that is supposed to be free from politics and certainly from terrorism. Jibril Rajoub -- former head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Force and a contender for the leadership of the Palestinian Authority after President Mahmoud Abbas' time is up, an avowed supporter of terrorism who has incited to murder even during this most recent wave of terrorist violence -- was the man chosen by the Palestinians to head their Olympic committee.
Israel, the International Olympic Committee, and the Olympic Committee of Israel have refrained from taking any action against Rajoub, given the importance of the Arab vote on the IOC. But bereaved families, the terrorist victims advocacy organization Almagor, and the Palestinian Media Watch watchdog organization, which has for years documented and translated Rajoub's statements in the Palestinian press, are finding it hard to stand by quietly in the face of such absurdity: The man who openly supported terrorism and this year congratulated murderous terrorists on Palestinian television broadcasts, the man who swore only a few years ago that if the Palestinians ever had a nuclear weapon, they would use it immediately (against Israel), will be walking around in a tie in the next few days, smiling at cocktail receptions during this sporting event that symbolizes unity among nations and bridges to peace.
The material on Rajoub, some of which held hope for leaders of Israel's security apparatus in the past, is hardly a state secret. The Rajoub File, which researchers from Palestinian Media Watch have spent the last few weeks compiling, was recently placed before Israeli decision-makers. The unprecedented decision by the IOC under its German head, Thomas Bach, to hold the first memorial ceremony for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Games in 1972 stands in contrast to the IOC's refusal to do a thing about Rajoub.
The IOC generally does not interfere in politics, even when it uses them for its own purposes. Some well-known historical examples of that include the Berlin Olympics in 1936, which were opened by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler; and on the other end of the spectrum, during the Cold War, the decisions by the U.S. to boycott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow and by the former USSR to boycott the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
On the other hand, according to a study prepared a week ago by Israel's Wingate Institute, despite the IOC's general disinclination for international intervention, the body has been involved more than once in decisions of a diplomatic nature, when it believes that doing so would truly contribute to Olympic values. Germany and Austria were kept out of the 1920 Olympics because of their responsibility for World War I; Germany and Japan were excluded from the London Games in 1948 because of their responsibility for World War II. The IOC excluded South Africa from the Olympic movement in 1964, an international contribution to the fight against that country's apartheid regime. However, for years, political pressure kept the IOC from recognizing East Germany or Taiwan as separate sporting entities -- and political pressure has, as we know, led it to recognize the Olympic committees of the Palestinians and Kosovo, without either of them having been recognized as a state by the U.N.
The Rajoub case is a different matter. This isn't a country, but a person who represents a political-national entity, and he is a classic example of how politics can influence sports. In a sporting world free from politics, a supporter of terrorism like Rajoub would have been tossed out the door long ago. But Rajoub has backing.
Rajoub was once sentenced to life in prison, but was released under the Jibril deal in 1985. He participated in the First Intifada, was deported to Lebanon in 1992, and returned to Israel in 1994, after the Oslo Accords were signed. As part of his job as head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Force, Rajoub helped Israel thwart several terrorist attacks and prevented his people from taking part in terrorism. However, his command center was destroyed by the IDF after a firefight during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. Over the past few years, he has once again been backing terrorism, or "martyrdom," as he calls it. The Arab bloc on the IOC, comprising 46 Muslim countries, gives him a political screen. Rajoub, 63, is effectively unimpeachable. His roles as chairman of the Palestinian Olympic Committee and the Palestinian Football Association have raised his status with the Palestinian public. In the past, he threatened to keep Israel out of the Olympics, but his efforts were torpedoed. Israel is convinced that any attack on Rajoub could cause immediate harm to the status of Israeli athletes in the Olympic Games and other athletic bodies, too, such as FIFA, the international soccer federation.
All that the bereaved families, groups like Almagor, and Palestinian Media Watch can do now is lift their voices and cry out. This week, they urged the IOC to remove Rajoub from his role as head of the POC and cut off contact with him. It was a moral cry, not a pragmatic one. Even they know that Rajoub isn't going anywhere. But the hefty documentation in the Rajoub File tells the story of the man who, starting tonight, is a guest in Rio de Janeiro. It's also the story of the ties between sports and politics, and sports and terrorism.
Sponsorship of the 'Martyrdom Tournament'
Rajoub, who also serves as undersecretary for the Fatah Central Committee, marked his path in the latest terrorism wave very clearly on the day Israel released the bodies of 17 Palestinian terrorists for burial. The head of the POC noted that the terrorists' actions had been a source of "pride for us all," "acts of heroism by individuals," and "a crown of glory on the heads of the Palestinians."
"We in the Fatah movement welcome them and encourage them [terrorists]," he said. "There is a group of people, starting with our brother Muhannad Halabi [who stabbed Rabbi Nehemia Lavie and Aharon Bennett to death near the Western Wall last Sukkot] and down to the latest martyr ... there is competition between individuals. This is one issue we need to focus on -- are we for it, or against it? I say, we on the Central Committee have discussed this matter. We are in favor." Rajoub said. He also honored Halabi by naming an athletic event after him.
The POC chairman remains consistent in his outlook. He reiterated: "We say to the 145 martyrs [Palestinians killed between October 2015 and January 2016, mostly during terrorist activity] -- you are heroes and we congratulate you. ... You are a crown upon our heads."
The terrorist attacks, Rajoub clarified on the official PLO television station, are "acts of heroism by individuals and I am proud of them. I congratulate everyone who carried them out."
Palestinian Media Watch Chairman Itamar Marcus notes that Rajoub is very calculating in his support of terrorism.
"He calls on the Palestinians [to commit] acts of murder as individuals, against Israelis in 'occupied territories,' a term the Palestinians sometimes use to denote all of Israel, and sometimes just in the West Bank or Jerusalem," Marcus said.
Rajoub himself put it this way: "The international community doesn't accept buses blowing up in Tel Aviv, but it doesn't question what happens to a settler or a soldier who is in the occupied territories in the wrong place at the wrong time. No one asks about that. Therefore, we want to fight in a way that keeps the international community on our side."
Rajoub, who worked alongside PLO founder Yasser Arafat in Tunisia, has continually sponsored athletic events in the memory of terrorist killers, such as the "Martyr Dalal Mughrabi Tournament." Mughrabi led a terrorist attack on an Israeli bus in 1978, in which 37 civilians, including 12 children, were killed. A fencing tournament was named after arch-terrorist Abu Jihad, who according to the PLO was responsible for the deaths of 125 Israelis. Another event was named for Abu Ali Mustafa, former secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who was responsible for a number of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada. A few years ago, Rajoub also attended a sports event in honor of Ali Hassan Salameh, chief security officer of the PLO, who was among the planners of the attack on the Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972.
Rajoub insisted that Hamas keep its "weapons of resistance" and in future join forces with Fatah in its fight against Israel, saying, "My brothers [in Hamas], we see your weapons, your weapons of resistance, as sacred. We won't harm them. We won't pursue them or track them, but could you put them away? At the moment of truth, we'll all fight together."
In April 2013, Rajoub gave an interview to a Lebanese television station in which he declared: "I swear that if we had nuclear weapons, we would have used them [against Israel] this morning." Even after his remarks were published in the Israeli media, Rajoub did not retract them and told a Palestinian interviewer: "When someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first, and don't be killed. ... I'm certain that if Hitler would rise again, he would learn from them [the Israelis]."
Ziyad and Mustafa Ghneimat, who murdered Meir Ben Yair and Michal Cohen near the Massua Forest in 1985, were embraced by Rajoub after their release from prison and given certificates of commendation. Rajoub also praised Hamas' abduction of Israeli soldiers as a method of freeing "prisoners," praised the abduction of Gilad Schalit, and said he saluted Schalit's kidnappers.
One of the principles of the Olympic Games, Marcus and the bereaved families remind us, is for sports and competition to serve as a bridge to peace and unity between nations. One of the missions of the IOC, as explicitly stated in the Olympic charter, is to "place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace." Nevertheless, Rajoub and the Palestinian Authority absolutely refuse to hold athletic events designed to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and threaten to take legal action against Palestinian athletes who participate in sporting events with Israel. The PA considers such events "normalization" with Israel and collaboration with "the occupation."
Normalization is a crime
Rajoub plays a major role in blocking athletic events between Israel and the Palestinians, in a manner that blatantly contradicts the Olympic spirit. After Operation Protective Edge in 2014, children from Sderot and the Gaza Strip took part in a friendly soccer match organized by the Peres Center for Peace. Rajoub was infuriated and called the match a "crime against humanity." He made it clear that "normalization with the Zionist occupation in the field of sports is a crime."
According to Palestinian Media Watch, Rajoub is aware that preventing sporting events designed to foster peace goes against the underlying principle of international sports, the Olympic Games in particular. Therefore, he adopts different language when dealing with senior international sports officials. In a letter in English to former FIFA head Sepp Blatter, Rajoub writes that sports can serve as a bridge to connect people.
When speaking to Arabs, however, he expresses himself differently: "This country, Israel, is a country of punks. The fascists could learn from this country. ... Anyone who takes part in any sporting activity with Israelis, I'll erase him from the lists of the [athletic] federations, whether it's a player, a coach, a referee, or heaven forbid a team. ... I won't allow or agree to any match between the Arabs and Israel."
In another instance, Rajoub stressed that "the term normalization does not exist in the Palestinian sports dictionary. ... I say to you, there will never be normalization in sports."
Rajoub also called for Israel to be kicked out of international sports federations and for Palestinian sports to be set up as "a method of resistance against Israel."
Hillel Appelbaum, cousin of Dr. David Appelbaum, who was murdered along with his daughter Nava in a suicide bombing at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem 13 years ago, made a formal appeal to the IOC about Rajoub, aided by the Mattot Arim advocacy movement. He asked the IOC to cut all ties with Rajoub. His appeal was rejected.
Although material from over two years ago supposedly shows Rajoub -- not using his title as chairman of the Palestinian Olympic Committee -- saying that the POC under his leadership was working to improve relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority through sports, documentation exposed in the report by Palestinian Media Watch shows up the opposite: Rajoub has been inciting to terrorism over the past two years; he uses his title as chairman of the POC when doing so; and the POC under his leadership opposes, and even works assiduously, to normalize sporting activity with Israel.
President Reuven Rivlin, to whom Appelbaum sent a copy of his letter to the IOC, characterizes the appeal as "of the utmost morality," and noted in his reply to the Appelbaum family that he was "sorry to learn of the expressions of incitement coming from the man who heads the [Palestinian] Olympic Committee."
Zvi Warshaviak, who headed the Israeli Olympic Committee for 16 years until 2013, said the Muslim bloc's strength on the IOC makes any Israeli protest or action against Rajoub irrelevant.
"I'm a right-winger, but I know the reality of that organization," Warshaviak said. "Even the German chairman, Bach, who is a supporter of Israel, would be happy to clear his organization of politics, but he also realizes the limitations to his power. Rajoub himself learned what he knows in Israeli prisons. He formed close ties with the country's top security echelon and apparently made deals with senior Israeli officials. Today, to improve his position in the fight to inherit the PA leadership, he is radicalizing his positions and trying to make headlines. I would suggest we not respond to him."
Why did it take 44 years for the IOC to agree to hold a ceremony in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered in Munich?
"Arab states opposed any ceremony. They argued that the people who killed most of the athletes were the Germans, in their failed attempt to free the hostages, and that the Germans were the ones who killed the terrorists, and that if a ceremony is held, it should be in memory of the terrorists, too. Of course, we didn't agree to that, and their majority blocked any other possibility for years," Warshaviak said.
If so, how did the IOC's position change?
"Thomas Bach, who four years ago held a very respectful ceremony at the airport where our athletes were murdered, which included a commitment to establish a museum in the victims' memory, found a solution: There will be a stone memorial plaque on which the names of our 11 murdered [athletes] will be inscribed, along with the names of two of the spectators at the Atlanta Olympics, who were killed by a bomb, and the name of another athlete from the Republic of Georgia, who slipped and died during the Winter Olympics. The plaque will be moved from one Olympic Games to the next. It will be set up in the middle of the athletes' village, and a ceremony will be held around it every four years," he said.
'Blood on his hands'
Ilana Romano, widow of the Israeli weightlifter Yossef Romano who was murdered at the Munich Olympics, refuses to discuss the scandal of Rajoub, a supporter of terrorism, heading the Palestinian delegation to the Games.
"Any discussion by me will simply serve his [interests]. I don't want to turn him into 'poor thing' or give him media attention," Romano says. However, she expects Rajoub to "condemn the murder of the athletes in Munich and the continuation of terrorism. As long as he doesn't do that, he has blood on his hands."
Romano notes that the families of the murdered athletes are satisfied with their gain: the IOC holding the first memorial ceremony for their murdered loved ones, "despite our original demand -- a minute of silence in memory of the murdered athletes at the opening ceremony -- being blocked by the Arab states on the IOC."
Dvora Appelbaum, who lost her husband and daughter in the suicide bombing at Cafe Hillel, is not willing to stay quiet about Rajoub and the Olympics. Appelbaum calls the IOC both absurd and hypocritical.
"For over 40 years, the organization that did nothing to initiate a memorial ceremony for the Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics is now giving legitimacy to a person, a former terrorist, who even today continues to use his public position to glorify and back acts of terrorism against Israelis," she said.
Yossi Tzur, the father of Assaf, one of the 17 people murdered in the No. 37 bus bombing in Haifa 12 years ago, who is currently a pillar of the Almagor Terror Victims Association, says that Rajoub's statements over the years are equivalent to those of the greatest enemies of the Jewish people throughout the generations.
"It would be best if the sponsors of the Olympics would let the scales fall from their eyes and realize that it isn't possible at the same event to hold a memorial ceremony for the Israeli athletes murdered in Munich by Palestinian terrorists while at the same time hosting a delegation head who is currently glorifying Palestinian terrorism," Tzur says.
Yehezkel Lavi, the father of the late Rabbi Nehemia Lavi, says the honor the PA gives to a person such as Rajoub and other inciters who support terrorism is a source of pain and sorrow to the bereaved families.
"The murderer of my son had a monument erected in his village. His act is glorified and he and those like him become an example for Palestinian society. It hurts us that no real steps are being taken against that incitement. Now that one of the biggest inciters to terrorism is serving as head of an Olympic delegation, at an event that is supposed to build bridges of peace between people and nations, it pains us even more. This man should have been expelled from the Olympics," Lavi said.
The Rajoub File, the report that documents his many statements supporting terrorism over the years, was submitted to Israel Hayom this week, as well as to the PA Spokesperson's Office, which said it handed it over to Rajoub. Israel Hayom tried to reach Rajoub on his cell phone twice, and finally reached an aide, who said that Rajoub was not interested in commenting.