Interview. We spoke with the Palestinian cyclist Malak Hasan about athletics under occupation. “Sometimes during an athlete’s career one must also live in the real world in which they find themselves, and should be an example of respect for everyone.”

Palestinian cyclists challenge Giro d’Italia over Jerusalem decision

She is a cyclist, but also a boxer. Malak Hassan loves sports — every sport. She is particularly fond of cycling, and because of this she has been one of the stars of last year’s “Freedom Ride,” a 500 km route between Palestine and Jordan. It’s a long ride, more than just an ordinary race, conducted in the name of the rights of the Palestinians and of Arab women.

In recent years, Hassan has traveled hundreds of kilometers on her bike, but always in the tiny Palestinian autonomous areas in the West Bank, never in Jerusalem. “I wish I could see the Tour of Italy (Giro d’Italia) and ride around the old city of Jerusalem, which is also our city. Unfortunately, the organizers of the Tour have thought only of collecting the millions of euros made available by Israel, without regard to our rights over the city and our rights as a people under occupation,” she says.

Hassan is one of the Palestinian activists of the #RelocateTheRace campaign, which for months has been asking the organizers of the 2018 Tour not to start the first stage of the race in Jerusalem, without success. We interviewed her in Ramallah, where Friday, in Manara Square, there was a demonstration to protest the Tour.

You have been fully engaged in the campaign, along with Italian and international activists, yet the Tour in 2018 will still start from Jerusalem.

The attitude of the Italians who took the Tour here is irritating. On the one hand, they say to the Palestinians not to read a political meaning into this sporting event, because it is just cycling. On the other hand, they moved the Tour to Jerusalem with the intention, clearly proclaimed by the Netanyahu government, of celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel. And that is a clear political move. The Tour is celebrating a state that keeps millions of Palestinians under military occupation and violates their human rights, as many international institutions are saying. Even more, the race begins with a timed race in Jerusalem, which is at the center of a political conflict, which has international status as proclaimed by the United Nations, and which Israel is occupying in its entirety, including the Palestinian side.

The organizers of the Tour have chosen to close their eyes to all that. And if I remember correctly, Italy was one of those countries that at the UN voted against Trump’s statement on Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. So starting the Tour in Jerusalem is also going against the Italian state’s official policy [in the Israeli-Palestinian issue]. The organizers have done the exact opposite of what they claim, and they have transformed a major sporting event into a political one.

How much would you like to be able to ride in the streets of Jerusalem?

Oh… I dream of doing that, like my friends and colleagues from the cycling team to which we belong. But the army won’t let us enter. And it is deeply unfair that Israelis and foreigners can do it, but we Palestinians cannot. Jerusalem is our capital as well. The Israelis want it all for themselves, while we, by giving up a part of our demands, have made a choice: to give the western [Jewish] area to them, and keep the eastern [Palestinian] area for us. One capital for two states, to achieve the peace everyone is talking about. On their part, however, one always hears nothing but stark rejection. And unfortunately, the Tour of Italy is here to celebrate this rejection, and the denial of our rights and history.

What would you like to say to the cycling champions who are taking part in the Tour and who will compete in the time trial in Jerusalem?

I admire them as athletes. I love sport, I know the sacrifices they are making, and thus I am proud of them. But sometimes during an athlete’s career one must also live in the real world in which they find themselves, and should be an example of respect for everyone. Cyclists most of all appreciate space and freedom, and who better than a cyclist to understand the plight of the Palestinians: closed off between military checkpoints, the Wall (on the West Bank) and the many Israeli restrictions on movement from a place to another.

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