|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by President of Palestinian Olympic Committee
Promoting the ethics and values of sport in youth was a strategic choice for Palestine, the President of the Palestinian Olympic Committee told reporters today at a Headquarters press conference.
“Instead of throwing grenades, let us throw balls,” said Major General Jibril Rajoub, who also oversees the rest of Palestine’s sport and youth programmes. Sport represented a peaceful means of resisting Israel’s occupation and was part of a Palestinian recognition that military resistance was not the best way to end it, he said.
Mr. Rajoub was joined by Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, who described the severe effects and disruptions to Palestinian life caused by the occupation. In one instance, Israeli soldiers had stopped a soccer match under the pretext that it posed a security threat.
There were many other examples of transgressions by Israel, Mr. Rajoub said, pointing to restrictions on the movement of Palestinian athletes, coaches and officials from sports associations, as well as foreign experts, instructors and representatives of bodies, such as the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA), and sporting equipment from entering Palestine. He also described how Israelis prevented the building of sporting facilities on Palestinian territory if they were constructed too close to Israeli settlements.
He called on the international community to intervene “on the right side” and prevent Israel from further “suffocating” violations of the Olympic Charter and FIFA statutes, saying it was “sickening to target youth and sport”. He promised to remain committed to the Olympic Charter and to abide by the statutes of the International Federation and other relevant sporting and youth organizations, and urged the international community to “give power and momentum” to the Palestinians to help them continue their struggle through peaceful means.
Israel, he said, should recognize the right of the Palestinian “sports family” to enjoy sport just as Israelis did, in accordance with the International Federation of Football and the decrees of other sporting bodies.
Asked whether the upgrade of Palestine’s status at the United Nations had any impact on its membership in sporting organizations, he noted that Palestine had been a full member of the International Federation since 1998 and of the International Olympic Committee since 1993. It was acting in accordance with the Olympic Charter.
In response to a question about Israelis attacking a soccer field in Gaza believing it to be a rocket launching site, he said there was an agreement in Palestine not to entangle sport in politics and that the bombing of the stadium and offices of the Olympic Committee was without reason because neither had ever been used by militants to launch rockets.
Asked about the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes in Munich, Mr. Rajoub reiterated his condemnation of that attack, adding that Palestinians faced many attacks comparable to Munich and “digging in the past for civilian casualties” would reveal that the vast majority of those had been Palestinians.
On a question about joint sporting events with Israelis, he suggested that that was better answered by Israeli officials, but noted that a recent initiative by the Barcelona Football Club had unravelled because Israel had been unwilling to display the Palestinian flag or to play the national anthem. Longer term, he said, “the ball is in the Israeli court”.
Asked about Palestinian involvement in future Olympics, he said he was not yet sure about the 2014 Winter Olympics, adding that qualification for the 2016 Rio Summer Games was not finalized yet.
To a follow-up question about whether Palestinian athletes would be prepared to compete against Israeli opponents, he said there was no reason for a Palestinian to refuse to compete against any other athlete, however, he could not force an athlete to do so.
To a series of questions concerning the political situation in the Middle East, Mr. Mansour highlighted an incident in the Golan Heights that had provoked Austria to threaten a troop withdrawal. He said he supported all United Nations efforts towards peace and stability in the region, but added that any troop withdrawal was a sovereign decision for Austria to make.
Responding to a question about the bigger picture in Syria and the occupied Syrian Golan, he said that the Palestinian leadership was following a responsible policy of non-interference, with its only priority being to save Palestinian refugees from further agonies.
On the appointment of Samantha Power as the new United States Ambassador to the United Nations, he said he knew her background and looked forward to working closely with her, as with all United Nations members. He hoped she would contribute to advancing the cause of justice for the Palestinian people and work closely with the United States Secretary of State to achieve his mission.
Mr. Rajoub, replying to a question about United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to return Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table, said a trusted third party was needed. He would continue to cooperate closely with Mr. Kerry, he said, adding that he would not be made a “scapegoat” by the Israeli Government’s “extremist policies”. It was up to the United States whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be allowed to “continue leading the world by the nose”, he said.
Concerning whether a one-State solution was viable, he said the two-State route was the only option. An independent Palestinian State was vital to regional stability and to global peace, he added.
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