Palestinian civil society groups have accused Giro d’Italia cycling race, which started its first leg in Israel, of covering up Israel’s war crimes in Gaza and its secret police’s repression against Giro protests.
As the Giro d’Italia got underway in Jerusalem Friday, 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, including 21-year-old cyclist Alaa Al-Daly, whose leg was amputated after being shot by Israeli snipers, ending his cycling career.
Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank gathered in Ramallah and headed to Jerusalem to protest the competition and the occupation. The march was stopped at the Qalandia Checkpoint, an Israeli military base between Qalandia and Jerusalem.
“The message of the cyclists’ protest is to tell Giro d’Italia: Stop your support for the [Israeli] occupation,” Boycott, Divesment and Sanctions, BDS, Movement activist Zaid Al-Shoabi told the Turkish agency Anadolu. He said the race choice had the aim to support the idea of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Activists argue that the choice of Jerusalem as a starting point for the international competition is no coincidence at all. Xavier Abu Eid, spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said that “Israel is trying to show that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”
Elsewhere, Israel’s secret police were busy oppressing and threatening Palestinians engaged in protesting the Giro d’Italia in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and within present-day Israel, despite race director Mauro Vegni’s assurances of no curbs on protests.
This year's Giro d'Italia kicked off outside of Europe for the first time, choosing Jerusalem as its starting point. The competition also includes a Haifa-Tel Aviv route and cyclists ended Sunday after the Beer Sheva-Eilat route.
Israeli secret police made threatening phone calls to Palestinian activists in the Galilee. An activist who received a phone call has given the following testimony:
“They tried to pressure us by all means to prevent the protest but our response was clear. We are planning legal, peaceful protest activities and do not need any permission from the police for them. We shall not ask [for any permission] as long as we are not required by law to do so," the unnamed activist was quoted as saying by a press release from the BDS movement.
The Israeli police closed down Palestinian towns along the Giro Stage 2 route, Haifa-Tel Aviv, for six full hours, according to a statement from the Tamra Popular Committee, a community grassroots organization from the Palestinian town in the north of Israel. Jewish towns in the same area were closed for slightly over two hours, highlighting Israel’s racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens and what U.N. experts have described as its apartheid system.
The Tamra Popular Committee condemned Giro’s sports-washing of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and asserted its right to peaceful protest. The Giro route passes through dozens of destroyed Palestinian villages and towns ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias and later the Israeli army during the 1948 year, when the state of Israel was founded, a year known as Nakba or "catastrophe" for Palestinians.
A key slogan raised by Palestinian refugees protesting the Giro is, “Don’t trespass on our stolen land.”
In the occupied Palestinian West Bank, a group of Palestinian cyclists organized 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 team leaders of Cycling Palestine, the organizers of the protest for “trespassing,” despite the event taking placing on occupied Palestinian land.
The day before the race started, Giro director Vegni claimed that there would be no restrictions placed on anyone and that “with regards to absolute freedom of expression, if anyone wants to protest they will do so.”
Sharaf Qutaifan of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel said:
"To claim that somehow Israel’s well-oiled oppression machine would not be put into motion against Palestinians peacefully protesting the Giro shows just how far the race organizers will go to sports-wash Israel’s record of violent human rights abuses. Israel’s 10 million euro bribe is buying Giro’s conscious complicity at more than one level!
Has Vegni not read about the dozens of Palestinians killed and thousands wounded, many for life, by Israel’s occupation forces in Gaza in the last few weeks? Did he really think Israeli forces would not crack down on Palestinians peacefully protesting the race?
Since the race’s Israel start was announced, Giro has made one dishonest statement after another. From falsely presenting the Old City of occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem as if part of Israel, to claiming that the race would serve to “unite,” to maintaining that the race has nothing to do with politics, Giro has shown that Israel’s millions of euros in hush money was well spent."