Swimming South Africa: Don’t Swim in Apartheid Israeli Waters

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Don’t Swim in Apartheid Israeli Waters: Swimming South Africa Must Boycott 2023 World Junior Swimming Championship! 

This year the World Junior Swimming Championships is being held on 4-9 September in Apartheid Israel. 

How can South Africans cheer on their Junior team when they are forced to compete in a tournament hosted by an apartheid regime that has so far this year murdered more than 200 Palestinians, including at least 34 children, making 2023 the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005? 

The championships are to be hosted in the Israeli town of Netanya, built on the ruins of the Palestinian villages of Umm Khalid, Khirbat Bayt Lid, Bayyarat Hannun, Ghabat Kafr Sur, and Khirbat al-Zababida. The ruins of this last village stand in the shadows of the Wingate Sports Institute where the event will take place. These Palestinian villages, together with more than 500 others, were destroyed and ethnically cleansed during the 1947/48 Nakba.  The Indigenous Palestinian inhabitants of this area that survived are now refugees, unable to return.  Meanwhile Israel, like apartheid era South Africa, uses sporting events to hide its crime against humanity of apartheid. 

Hosting an international swimming competition on colonized land, violently stolen from its Palestinian inhabitants, ‘sportwashes’ Israel’s ongoing system of apartheid, settler colonialism against the Palestinian people.

Are our young swimmers aware that they are being hosted by a country that has imprisoned 165 children, and issued demolition orders for 57 schools in the occupied West Bank that will leave 6,550 Palestinians without education?  A country where government ministers are proud of being “fascist” and incite illegal settlers to destroy Palestinian towns and villages in violent pogroms assisted by Israeli occupation forces?

There is no level playing field in an apartheid state.  Former Palestinian backstroke champion, Amjed Tantish, is fighting the odds to bring a Palestinian swimming team to the Olympics. From a family made refugees by Israel in 1948, the first pool he built in Gaza port was polluted from sewage pipes destroyed by Israeli forces in 2004.  Undeterred he built an improvised pool on the beach that was destroyed by Israeli bombs in 2006.  Tantish then built a pool on his family farmland to continue giving swimming lessons to children.  In Israel’s 2008 military assault on Gaza, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, including 288 children, Tantish’s home was hit, killing two of his nephews, destroying the house and pool. Another attempt to create a pool in the port was thwarted by Israel’s 2014 military aggression against Gaza, which killed over 2200 Palestinians, including 550 children, and again destroyed sewage pipes polluting the sea and rendering the water supply undrinkable. Finally, using the rubble from bombed out buildings, he has created a pool in the port upstream from the sewage spills.  Palestinian children who have been traumatised by Israel’s constant military assaults and ongoing siege of Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison, can again enjoy learning to swim and hope to live Tantish’s Olympic dream.  At least until Israel’s next Gaza bombing.

This is the reality of swimming in Apartheid Israeli waters.  Just as we mobilized the world for a sports boycott of apartheid South Africa, we must now refuse to play sports in Apartheid Israel.

We call on Swimming South Africa to demonstrate its commitment to anti-racism and genuine transformation by pulling out of the World Junior Championships and refusing to be complicit in Israeli apartheid.

We yet again urge the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture to implement policy guidelines on a sports and cultural boycott in line with the call made to us and the rest of the international community by the Palestinian people.

We make a particular call on our own South African, Sam Ramsamy, Vice President of World Aquatics, former member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Honorary President of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC):

Mr Ramsamy, we remember how you worked tirelessly to achieve our anti-apartheid sports boycott culminating in the 1977 Gleaneagles Agreement. You were key in providing information to the Register of Sports Contacts with South Africa, initiated by the UN Special Committee on Apartheid in 1980, so that sports bodies maintaining ties with apartheid South Africa faced action.

We call on you, Mr Ramsamy, to yet again stand on the right side of history and ensure World Aquatics, the IOC and all international sporting codes implement an international boycott against apartheid Israel in solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle.

South African BDS Coalition



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