Cycling fans around the world were shocked by the news in September that the first of the three great annual bike races– the Giro d’Italia, which kicks off in May — would start in occupied Jerusalem. The first three stages of the three-week race are to be “in Israel,” before the race moves on to Italy, Cyclingnews reported. It said the stages would be the biggest security operation in the country’s history, and the Israeli government would likely pay for much of the race costs at the start. Because it “would be a big political coup for the country, which has been striving to paint a picture of ‘normal’ life in everyday Israel.”
Since that announcement, a coalition of sport fans and other groups has initiated a call on the Giro to move the start, saying that the arrangement is an effort to mask Israel’s human rights record on its 70th birthday, and normalize the occupation– and as a boycott group says, “institutionalize” Israel’s hold on Jerusalem in violation of international law. Here is the statement, first published here on November 22:
Today, more than one hundred twenty human rights organizations, trade unions, ethical tourism associations, sports and faith-based groups from over 20 countries issued an international call urging premier cycling event Giro d’Italia to move its 2018 “Big Start” from Israel due to its grave and escalating violations of international law and Palestinians’ human rights.
Renowned linguist Noam Chomsky, prominent jurists former United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Palestinian rights John Dugard and Richard Falk, Italian playwright Moni Ovadia, European Parliament members Eleonora Forenza, Curzio Maltese and Sergio Cofferati, and former vice president of European Parliament Luisa Morgantini also signed the call.
The call was issued ahead of the official race presentation set for November 29 in Milan, which coincides with the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
The signatories stress that holding the Giro d’Italia in Israel will both cover up Israel’s military occupation and discrimination against Palestinians and increase Israel’s sense of impunity, encouraging continued denial of Palestinians’ UN-stipulated rights.
Giro d’Italia is working with Israeli company Comtec Group, the organizer of the “Big Start” event, which has activities in illegal Israeli settlements. In official race imagery, maps and videos, Giro d’Italia is deceptively portraying East Jerusalem, which has been under Israeli military occupation for fifty years, as if it were part of Israel and the unified capital of the State of Israel.
The final stage planned for southern Israel will pass by dozens of Palestinian Bedouin villages Israel refuses to recognize or provide with “the most basic of services, including electricity, water, clinics, schools and roads,” one of which Israel has demolished over 100 times.
The statement’s endorsers also condemn Giro d’Italia plans to “celebrate” 70 years since the establishment of the State of Israel as Palestinians commemorate 70 years of dispossession, forcible displacement and denial of the rights of Palestinian refugees as set forth in UN resolutions.
Just days before the Giro d’Italia is to take place, the Israeli national cycling team, which is vying for one of four wildcard slots to compete in the Giro d’Italia, will participate in a race through occupied East Jerusalem to the illegal settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev. The Israel Cycling Federation sponsors and holds national league competitive races in areas under Israeli military occupation.
The call urges race owner RCS MediaGroup “to move the start of the race to another country to ensure no involvement in Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.”
The signatories also reminds RCS, participating teams and sponsors of “the legal consequences and reputational damage stemming from collaborating with Israeli institutions and companies involved in violations of human rights and international law.”
While RCS claims the race has nothing to do with politics, the race start in Israel has been described by journalists and sportswriters as a “masterstroke of ‘soft diplomacy,’” a “public relations coup” and “valuable image-polishing” in exchange for millions of euros in Israeli official sponsorship.
Palestinian civil society groups also wrote to Pope Francis urging him to reject the invitation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to launch the race in Israel next year and not to “lend [his] name in any way to the 2018 Giro d’Italia cycling race because of its unfortunate insistence on whitewashing Israel’s military occupation and grave human rights violations.”
Thousands of human rights supporters and cycling enthusiasts have written to RCS urging it to move the start from Israel.
Cities across Italy will hold demonstrations on two wheels November 25-26, in protest of the use of a sport closely associated with freedom to mask Israel’s brutal military occupation and apartheid regime.
* Signatories include cycling groups Wilde Pedal in Belgium and The Big Ride UK, bike shop Biciclettaro in Italy, and the Fédération omnisport de Seine-Saint-Denis in France; trade unions Union Syndicale Solidaires in France, Christian Workers Movement in Belgium, FIOM-CGIL and USB in Italy, Craigavon Council of Trade Unions in Northern Ireland and the Confederación Intersindical Galega in Galicia; Association pour le tourisme équitable et solidaire, representing 35 organizations in France promoting ethical tourism, including 25 tour operators; faith groups Pax Christi and the Rome Grassroots Christian Community in Italy, Kairos Britain and Friends of Sabeel UK, Friends of Sabeel Norway and Kairos – Sabeel Netherlands Foundation; Jewish groups Jewish Voice for Peace in the US, Union of Progressive Jews in Belgium, Italian Network Jews Against the Occupation, Jews for Justice for Palestinians UK.
* The UN Human Rights Council recently warned 150 Israeli and international companies over unlawful involvement in Israeli settlements, which constitute a war crime under international law.
* UN General Assembly resolution 181 (1947) established Jerusalem as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and has repeatedly maintained that « any actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem are illegal.” In 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, unilaterally annexing it as part of its united capital. No country in the world recognizes any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
* May 2018 will mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (“catastrophe”), when approximately 800,000 indigenous Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homeland.
* The Israel Cycling Academy (ICA), Israel’s national team, was created just three years ago with the stated goal of promoting “normal Israel.” The team is backed by Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adams.
* The Giro d’Italia is a World Tour event of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world governing body for the sport of cycling. Israel’s cycling federation and national team are both UCI members.