- Published on Friday, 10 August 2012 06:30
After painting each finger nail with a small Palestinian flag Woroud Sawalha achieved a first for her occupied country of Palestine running the 800 metres in London’s 2012 Olympics.
Finishing just 21 seconds behind the winner of her group set an example for Palestinian women that will lead many aspiring young athletes to follow in her footsteps.
The 20-year-old university student from the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank ran in a long-sleeved blue shirt, long pants and a white hijab. She’s one of two women competing for Palestine at the Olympics, which has never sent female athletes before.
Palestine never has it easy when it comes to participating in world sporting events due to several impeding factors. An obvious issue is that Palestine is yet to be officially recognised as a state by the United Nations because of Israel’s occupation and insistence to follow dead-end negotiations that Israel itself regularly sabotages or makes impossible.
Olympics are supposedly meant for sporting cooperation and peace rather than a political agenda yet throughout the time Palestine has been permitted to take part there has been constant difficulties, pitfalls and opposition by Israel.
Thankfully the International Olympic Committee recognized the Palestinian Olympic Committee in 1993, following the Oslo accords between Palestine and Israel which gave Palestinians an identifiable albeit vague territory for the IOC to recognise in Jericho and Gaza.
A myriad of complex problems however still exist when it comes to Palestinian Olympians and every day Palestinian civilians. Inhumane travel restrictions form part of Israels occupation strategy and are perpetuated by the irrational fears some Israeli’s hold. Such ideological mindsets are unfortunately common and contribute to a society in Israel that readily justifies and accepts their countries “self-defence” justification for abusing Palestinian Human Rights.
Israeli government officials who claim such restrictions are part of a necessary “wider security apparatus” are assisted by anti-Palestinian activists that continually seek to deny Palestines right to exist.
Although Woroud Sawalha has stated she and her fellow Palestinian athletes had no trouble getting to London for the Games it could have easily been a nightmare with the present system of checkpoints and permit requirements faced by Palestinians.
Despite the Olympic committees of Palestine and Israel having met a couple of times this year to work out travel arrangements for Palestinian athletes and coaches no agreement has been reached to this date.
Training for Sawalha isn’t easy, she has previously spoken about the difficulties of finding places to work out because of travel restrictions imposed by the Israelis. It is beyond most Londoners and Olympians understanding of just how difficult some competitors have it.
Hitting the track last night Sawalha ran 2:29.16, breaking her best time of 2:40.12. Shortly after finishing she ecstatically exclaimed “My target was to make a new record for myself and for Palestine. I got it,”
This is the first time women have taken part in the Palestinian Olympic team just like several other nations such as Saudi Arabia. Speaking of how far she has come and the progress made Sawalha said “My parents called me before the race and said ‘all Palestinians are watching and hoping you get a good result’, I hope I will do well in the future. This Olympic Games is a first step for me.”
A first step that is massively significant, I look forward to seeing a Palestinian Gold medalist in the future but for Palestine Woroud Sawalha is already an Olympic Champion.