L’Affaire de l’Autobus

There is an old Arab saying that describes the playground bully in these words: “Darabani wa baka, sabaqani was shaka,” which approximates the following translation: “He beat the tar out of me and he bawled; he beat me to the principal’s office, and he told.”

This is exactly what Israel’s Olympic team did in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, 2016.

First, however, what would have happened had the US Olympic delegation been already seated aboard their designated  transport bus ready to be whisked to the opening ceremonies and the North Korean, Iranian, or Russian teams attempted to force their way onto the same bus?

Invective, hysteria, and xenophobia would have trumped every news outlet from coast to coast; political candidates on both sides of the aisle would have cashed in with USA, USA, USA  Exceptionalism hype;  and the Olympic organizing committee would have been excoriated for its deliberate attempt to embarrass and humiliate the US for its intentionally premeditated and politically malevolent plot.

On January 18, 2015, Reuters reported that Doron Matalon, Israel’s 2015 beauty queen contestant in the 2015 Miss Universe Beauty Pageant, photo bombed Saly Greige, Miss Lebanon. “Since the first day of my arrival to participate [in] Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel, who tried several times to take a photo with me,” stated the Lebanese contestant. Greige further asserted that  “I was having a photo with Miss Japan [and] Miss Slovenia, suddenly Miss Israel jumped in and took a selfie, and uploaded it on her social media.” (Reuters, 18 January, 2015)

You gotta  hand it to the Israelis. They know how to exploit every opportunity, including beauty pageants, funeral processions, sports events, and anti-terror marches (think Netanyahu racing to the front to join Hollande et compagnie at the January 12, 2015 Paris march) to give legitimacy to their existence and validity to their stealing and occupying Palestine, and parcels of Lebanese and Syrian lands.

That Israel has, like a serial psychopath, repeatedly violated and brutalized Lebanon and its inhabitants in numerous war orgies of massive human and material destruction, with full American financial,  military, diplomatic, and political complicity, does not mean that the emboldened interloper nation has full legitimacy.

Doron Matalon’s photo bombing and uploading was no doubt a politically desperate effort at legitimizing her country’s attempts to use social media as a venue for Israeli hasbara (propaganda). Social media, to which most Americans are addicted, creates a cocoon-like inward-looking enclosure to shut out real world events. Beer, guns, Facebook, diets, SUVs, trucks, and sports trump the insular world of the many bubbas and babbettes from coast to coast.

Right about the time the Olympic teams were boarding their busses to head to Rio di Janeiro’s Macaranã Stadium for the August 5, 2016 kickoff  opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympiad, an  absurd politicized spectacle, a photo bombing of sorts, ensued.

In their attempt to assume a political role a la mode of failed UN Security Council resolutions/decisions, it appears that Olympic organizers pulled a diplomatic snafu of Olympic proportions.  More than 250 busses were employed to transport the teams (by national affiliations) for the evening’s parade of nations in what has traditionally been an evening of national pride for each country represented, and a warm welcome to all the athletes to affirm their dedication and commitment to high-minded competitions in the best and most exemplary sportsman-like spirit. At this mini world community of hopeful contestants politics and hatred are to be set aside.

Unfortunately this year has been marred by drug infractions, two attempted sexual assaults by two boxers, and, like years prior, a few athletes and fans have gotten carried away with excessive nationalistic jingoism. Fortunately this has been counterbalanced by instances in which winners and losers reached out and shook hands/embraced in uplifting gestures and affirmation that these competitions could be salubrious. Perhaps the most uplifting event was the entrance of team Refugees, an affirming nod and acknowledgement of their plight, and to the plight of the 65 million refugees around the world.

On that fateful Friday evening, August 5, 2016, The Lebanese team had boarded their assigned bus, bus #22,  and were waiting to be transported to the opening ceremony.  On 8/6/2016 The Times of Israel reported that even though “the Israelis had their own bus,” they insisted on boarding the already Lebanese-occupied bus. Quoting Israeli athlete Udi Gal (also a member of the Israeli military), the report has him bragging “I kept insisting that we board the bus and said that if the Lebanese did not want us to board as well, they are welcome to leave.”

Some gumption! Did Gal think he was in the West Bank, claiming Palestinian land for his team’s new settlement?  Are Israelis, thousands of miles away from home, entitled to whatever they desire, as they do in Palestine? Was the bus a biblically ordained Promised Land that gave the Israelis a divine right to demand that the already seated Lebanese team vacate their officially designated bus? Did they think the Lebanese team would oblige them as successive US Administrations and Congresses, including team O’Billary, have/will continue to do?

According to the BBC online, Miri Regev, Israeli minister of culture and sports, “reportedly labelled the Lebanese athletes’ refusal to share transport the ‘worst kind of racism’ and called on the International Olympic Committee to condemn the incident.”  Playing the worn-out victim card, she asserted that  “It is antisemitism [sic.] pure and simple, and the worst kind of racism,” she told Israel Radio. She further demanded that “The [International] Olympic Committee, which champions the separation of sports and politics, must condemn this vehemently and work to ensure that such behavior is not repeated.”

The BBC Sport newsletter report added that Lebanese team director  “Haj Nicola insisted that he had the right to prevent another team’s athletes from joining them on the transport reserved for them.” He added that he “asked the bus driver to close the door but the guide with the Israeli team prevented him from doing so.” The Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar quoted Haj as saying “I then stood at the door of the bus to prevent the Israel team from entering and some of them tried to go in and pick up a fight.” Haj has since become a Lebanese folk hero.

That there are no diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Israel, that Lebanon had been repeatedly war-raped by Israel, that Israel is occupying a sliver of Lebanese territory matter not. As Semites, the Lebanese were within their legal rights. To have allowed the Israeli team to board would have been tantamount to sanctioning the many Israeli transgressions.

Lest us assume, for the sake of argument, that the director of the  Lebanese team exhibited poor judgement.

The irony is that Israeli spokesmen and their apologists are the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.

Here is what the Israeli team’s government did prior to this mini L’Affaire de L’Autobus.

Prior to the Palestinian team’s departure for the Olympics the Israeli customs and airport officials held up the gear of the miniscule six-member Palestinian Olympic team. “Palestinian Olympians may find themselves competing in Rio next week without any uniforms or equipment after Israeli customs authorities held their gear.”  So, reported the Associated Press. And “The Secretary-General of the Palestinian NOC Munther Masalmeh said that the gear had yet to clear customs.”

Was this “pure and simple” anti-Semitism “of the worst kind” reported by the media? And shouldn’t  the “Olympic committee, which champions the separation of sports and politics … condemn this vehemently and insure that such [Israeli] behavior   is not repeated?”

And thus the playground bully screams: “Darabani wa baka, sabaqani was shaka.”

It is apropos to parse the terms “Darabani,” (beat the crap out of me) “Baka,” (bawled) and “shaka” (told on me) as they pertain to long-standing official Nazi-like Israeli policies that exasperate and thwart everyday life, including sports events, across Palestine. And the best parsing method is to diagram this aphorism by citing concrete examples, examples that have been ignored by all the international sports governing bodies and the media.

The Palestinian National Olympics committee reports that “Israeli authorities have a history of interfering with Palestinian sports.”  Further, “The Palestinian NOC’s official website published a report under the title “Israeli Occupation Transgressions against Palestinian Sports,” a report that “illustrates a series of unexplained detentions of the national team, athletes and sports personnel.”

Palestinians have “previously asked football’s governing body FIFA to ban Israel for hindering the movement of Palestinian athletes based on alleged security reasons. These efforts have  been unsuccessful.”

The following meager list of official Israeli Apartheid policies to harass and discourage Palestinians from participating in sports include: arresting, without cause, three members of a football team; confiscating equipment, lap tops, cell phones, and personal belongings; confiscating currency and or claiming that the exit tax paid by athletes is forged currency (and then stealing the money); delaying, for hours, competing teams from travelling from one Palestinian location to another, including the outright denial of passage. The arrest of a Gaza resident on his return home after knee surgery at a Jerusalem Palestinian hospital; accusing athletes of terrorism; the throwing of  “gaz [sic.] canisters [by Israeli soldiers] in the vicinity of the Palestinian Football Association that caused the employees who were there and inhaled that gaz [sic.] to get sick”;  arresting football player Samir Daour by force, detaining  and interrogating him for a week; holding athletes for weeks and months without charges so as to destroy team, community, and national morale.  “In 2007, 18 members of the Palestinian national [football] team were denied exit visas to play a World Cup qualifier in Singapore. The Palestinian team was forced to forfeit because of those restrictions.”   And “Players, coaches and referees are blocked from moving between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and frequently are barred from tournaments” (Abu Gharqoud blog) How about “Sarsak, a Gaza resident, [who] was detained at Erez crossing in 2009, while traveling to the West Bank for a training session. He endured three years in Israeli prison without charge or trial. His family was not permitted to visit him throughout the time of his detention.”   Israel “uses that practice to hold Palestinians without charge or trial for terms that can be renewed indefinitely.”

And finally, the horror of horrors, a repeat of 1939 Nazi Germany Fascism. This super Israeli nationalism is best seen at soccer games; Israeli citizens’ frequent chanting of “Death to Arabs” at football matches are not censured by rabbinical or governmental entities. And the US State Department? It rewards this belligerent racist behavior by gifting 5 billion-dollars-a-year checks of hard earned taxpayer money to its Israeli overlords. Until and unless Israel changes its official racist apartheid policies,  the Palestinian sports teams will continue to swim against the tide of hatred and run into the winds of oppression, brutality, humiliation, murder, and apathy.

To the Palestinian people: I admire your tenacity, and I admire how, against a tsunami of Nazi-like oppression in myriad forms, you continue to hold onto the social fabric that keeps our culture, albeit beaten to tatters, in a threadbare kaffieh of pride, resilience and Sumoud (perseverance).

To the Israelis: Stop playing the schoolyard bully in our neighborhood. Stop your racist, anti-Semitic policies of hatred and destruction. Stop hiding behind the victimhood card and, because you are forever destined to live with those you occupy, demean and hate, it behooves you to read your Talmud and Torah, especially  the plethora of passages that address justice.

A Jewish rabbi once stated that “the midrash [ancient rabbinical commentary] affirms the centrality of justice as a Jewish calling. We cannot consider ourselves [he affirmed] pious Jews without a firm commitment to making the world a more just and righteous place. How we treat the weakest in our midst (the “widow” and “orphan,”) is still the irreplaceable core of our identity.”

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said it best: “If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?”

And some two thousand years ago  the Nazarene Jewish Rabbi said: “Go ye and do likewise.”

Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus of English and Art. He is a writer, photographer, sculptor, an avid gardener, and a peace activist. halabys7181@outlook.com