Tokyo 2020: Do the Right Thing
What many are trying to market as an issue of formality is actually an intrinsic part of the struggle for the Palestinian cause.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics have not gone unnoticed on the international level: Not only due to the importance of the sports events themselves, nor the implications of its organizing during the pandemic, but also given the humanistic and political implications within its matches.
What came as a natural sequel to the "Jerusalem Sword" ("Seif Al-Quds”) events which occurred in Palestine recently was painted as a vile act of racial and religious prejudices; Arab players withdrawing to avoid facing any Israeli opponents has been an unwelcomed move by the mainstream media.
Yet suddenly, a new Arab player charges in, this time to break the stereotype!
Tahani al-Qahtani, a 20-year-old Saudi Judoka, has decided to face her Israeli opponent without any display of remorse and with the official support of her country’s ruling regime.
So, is Tahani on the right side of history here, or is this decision simply a sports extension of the much-maligned Abraham accords?
To Forfeit or Not to Forfeit
The postponed Olympics edition came this year amidst a wave of controversies, health restrictions, and a heated diplomatic situation around the globe, thus it became expected from the games to have political repercussions.
As usual, the Palestinian cause, with its humanitarian and universal values, is strongly present in this international event, notably after the recent confrontations between the Israeli occupation forces and the Palestinian Resistance during last May, which reshaped the mainstream narrative regarding who the oppressor is…and who the rebellious oppressed is.
At the early stages of the sports competition, two sportsmen have displayed an unwillingness to be a part of the legitimization of “Israel”: Fathi Noureen and Mohamed Abdellatif, Algerian and Sudanese judokas respectively, forfeited their participation after it was revealed that the winner will face an Israeli player.
To understand the significance of this resistance act, it is important to comprehend the essence of the Israeli-Arab conflict: Any form of recognition of the enemy, any friendly act perpetrated, is a certificate of legitimacy.
Of course, this is a direct result of the uprooting of Arabs from all walks of life in Palestine to establish the so-called “Israel state”. Itself a manufactured artificial entity made by countless colonial agreements aimed at disrupting the unity of the region and securing a steadfast military portal for Western powers, “Israel” is always adamantly seeking recognition from its neighboring state to legitimize its presence. When not granted, it hides behind a façade of victimhood and proceeds to point fingers at its own victims even whilst massacring them.
After all, as has been proven countless times by Muslims, Christians, Jews, and seculars alike, the whole debacle is a colonial one and not an ethnic one. The crux of “Israel’s” problem is its need for recognition so it could have a semblance of authenticity to its artificial constructs.
Hence the question becomes: Is the Saudi player’s approach an attempt to tarnish the sanctity of this act of resistance?
To Normalization & Beyond
In the wake of the Abraham accords, inked by Trump and his Arab cronies, many regimes have unmasked their desire to “fully normalize” their ties with “Israel” in the hopes of reaping economic and political benefits. Amongst these nations were the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. Yet, these four nations had one sponsor in common: Saudi Arabia.
Since Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s ascension to power, Riyadh's rapprochement to Washington and 'Tel Aviv' has never been this indiscreet: From flights heading to occupied Palestine passing over Saudi airspace to reports of the Crown Prince’s meeting with then-Israeli PM Benjamin Netenyahu in 2020, a new chapter has been unfolding between Washington's closest regional allies.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Saudi Arabia has been cheering on its Olympic representative, Tahani al-Qahtani, to face her Israeli opponent on July the 30th, an act that will certainly legitimize further interactions with the colonial entity.
Al-Qahtani is currently being depicted as a champion, a fearsome player who will wreak havoc upon her rival. Yet if the opposite turns out to be true, what narrative shall pervade the current discourse? That Raz Hershko, the Israeli opponent, is a real modern-day Ari Ben Canaan, a symbol of Zionist superiority?
Were it not for the Israeli politicization of every aspect of daily life, one might have mocked this projection. Yet the recent accusation of an ice cream brand as being anti-Semitic for refusing to continue selling its products in illegal settlements showcases a very different and shrewder way of thinking by “Israel".
A Judo match, as most sports matches, begins with a respectful bow, an action that could only be performed towards an equal and not the representative of an illegitimate, genocidal entity whose sole raison d’être is the fulfilling of a mystical prophecy and the extermination of “inferior races.”
This decision is not only an attempt at trampling over Palestinian rights, it is also a blatant disregard for the losses the Algerian and Sudanese players have suffered from as a result of their moral stance.
The matter is plain and simple: The only legitimate battleground is one in which the combat is head to head with the Israeli army. Any other approach will imminently lead, directly or indirectly, to a disgraceful normalization.
As the great Palestinian thinker Ghassan Kanafani once wrote:
“Sitting with the enemy, even in a television studio, is a radical mistake in our struggle. And thus, it is wrong to consider this issue a matter of formality.”