By Giorgos Mourgis
Translated from Greek by Loukas Stamellos
In Slovenia at the beginning of WWII, young twelve-year-old Metod Klemenc, witnessed both his parents die because of a murderous air strike by Nazis. The horror caused by the atrocities of the bloodthirsty Nazis was recorded in History as the greatest crime against humanity. Klemenc, being a survivor of this horror, as an adult decided to devote his life so that “no other child in the world would experience his tragedy”. He founded International Children’s Games (ICG) that began in Slovenia in 1968 with participants from all over Europe, and became gradually a global event, recognized and supported by the International Olympic Committee.
Klemenc’s idea was based on pure athletic ideals, aiming to bring together children between 12 and 15 years old, from different nationalities, countries, cultures and languages, and help them communicate with each other, regardless of their skin colour or religion. That way he established that athletic competition can unite children beyond rivalries and created an opportunity for them to understand that all human races have the same potential and the same rights, regardless of differences in their physical or mental performance. All this under a main message of fellowship towards a peaceful world, without the barbarity of war, without innocent dead like his parents, and the parents of millions of other children.
This vision is the main reason behind the admittedly successful course of the International Children’s Games over the years. Surpassing all expectations, they have taken place in over 50 cities with more than 50.000 children participating from 800 different municipalities, helping shape their conscience with the anti-war sentiment that saturates the Games.
Bad surprise: This year’s Games
This year’s International Children’s Games will take place from July 29 to August 3, and the surprise lies in the country hosting them, the policies of which are not in accordance to the message and the spirit of the Games.
The municipality of Jerusalem organizes this year’s Games. Cities, including Andorra, Bratislava (Slovakia), Cleveland (USA), Coventry (UK), Geneve (Switzerland), Hamilton (Canada), Udine (Italy) Logrono (Spain), Patras and Sparta (Greece), seem to support the organization as members of ICG’s General Assembly. According to an article, following the recent appearance of Nikos Tzanakos, member of the International Children’s Games committee, in Israeli television, “the Greek mission is the largest, with 7 municipalities participating until now” in Jerusalem’s ICG.
But why did these municipalities, along with others from all over the world (80 in total) hurry to participate in this year’s Games, in Israel and Jerusalem, while the blood of innocents – including children – is still warm a few kilometers away, in the soil of the suffering Gaza Strip? What kind of anti-war message the organizers think is conveyed while they practically legitimize and whitewash the murdering practices of the State of Israel?
What kind of fellowship message they convey, when they ignore the tragedy of 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza, under the land, air and sea blockade imposed by Israel for more than 10 years, an inhumane siege aiming at the elimination of the Gaza Strip inhabitants?
How do they promote the ideal of friendship, when they forget the mass murder of Palestinian civilians, including children, that took place in Gaza during this year’s demonstrations of the 45 days leading to Nakba Day? Or when they forget the outrage caused a few days ago by the video of two Israeli snipers celebrating the shooting of an unarmed Palestinian civilian protester, on the other side of the fence?
How do they think that the athletic spirit is exalted, when they forget that, in the days between the Day of the Land (March 30) and Nakba Day (May 15), the Israeli army committed murders daily, leaving behind an indescribable atrocity of 12.000 wounded and 150 dead, including children of the same age as those sent by the municipalities to participate in the Games? Or when they forget that between those murdered are 8-months-old Laila al-Ghandour and the disabled hero of the Palestinian resistance, Fadi AbuSalah, who had previously lost his legs during an Israeli air raid?
How do they think they advocate human rights, when Ahed Tamimi, another symbol of the Palestinian struggle, was arrested last year when she was 16 years old – in the same age group of the participants in the Games – and is still jailed in an Israeli prison?
Organizing this year’s ICG in Jerusalem could not possibly advance any of the goals and ideals conceived by the Games’ founder. The only function they serve is to whitewash Israel and its murderous practices against Palestinians through public relations. Municipalities from all over the world are also complicit in this whitewashing. The worst part of it is that this whitewashing is committed using young children who will participate in the Games believing that they promote a message of peace and fellowship, a few kilometers away from where children are being murdered.
The real anti-war message
The long-standing and continuing atrocity of the occupying Israeli military forces in Palestine and the mass-murdering military strikes with women, infants, children and unarmed men as victims – unless slings count as lethal weapons against an army – are the definition of war crimes according to international law, but, sadly, the international community has done nothing to stop Israeli aggression and elimination of Palestinians.
While some claim, hypocritically, that they are dedicated to peace and the anti-war ideal by sending children to “legitimize” the murdering of innocent women, children and civilian population by the State of Israel, some others show the way of resistance and the real message, by boycotting the State of Israel.
Significant on this part is the reaction of well-known artists, such as legendary Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, who recently stated that “Where governments refuse to act people must, with whatever peaceful means are at their disposal. For me this means declaring an intention to stand in solidarity, not only with the people of Palestine but also with the many thousands of Israelis who disagree with their government‘s policies, by joining the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel”, (BDS).
There was a similar reaction recently from talented football players, idols of young children, such as Argentines Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuaín, who proposed to their country’s Football Association that the international friendly match with Israel’s National Team in Jerusalem be cancelled – a proposal that was accepted. Palestinian footballer Muhammad Khalil Obeid had appealed to Messi. Obeid was shot in both legs during recent demonstrations in Gaza against the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, an event that abruptly terminated his career.
But if there was a single important reason to hold the International Children’s Games in the area, so that children from all over the world can experience and transmit a real anti-war message and the precious ideal of peace, that would be if the organizers of the Games and the municipalities would join in the “World Cup on one leg”, which is taking place these days 750 meters away from the barbed wire between Israel and Gaza. There, 14 players, amputated either because of recent Israeli fire during the weekly demonstrations that followed March 30 or during the three wars on Gaza in the last decade, played a match beside the tents of the “Great Return March”.
Children and Sports as a fake shield against war
56% of Gaza Strip’s population are children living under an exhausting blockade that restricts their access to water, medical supplies, education and a peaceful life. This unimaginable situation is not far away from where ICG are scheduled to take place in Jerusalem. In Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, a few tens of kilometers from the barbed wire and just a few minutes from the stadium where the Games are scheduled to take place, children are being abducted from their homes, in violation of international law, and are subjected to interrogations, not being able to contact their parents or lawyers. Really, can municipalities participate in this year’s ICG, side-by-side with the ethnic cleansing and murders of innocent Palestinians?
Until the blockade against the 1.7 million people in Gaza is lifted, until the Palestinian land is returned to its rightful owners, until the lives of millions of refugees are restored and they have a chance to a peaceful future, until the murdering military operations stop, until the Israeli apartheid is no more, boycotting Israel is a necessity.
The anti-war nature of the International Children’s Games does not justify children – who obviously don’t know about the latest murders by the Israeli Army in Gaza – to co-exist in Jerusalem with the atrocity of a senseless bloodbath. International outcry – from time to time – against the participation in various cultural or sports events organized in Israel might be the ultimate means to cancel them. Lasting dedication to human rights, democratic values, peace and to a genuine anti-war message, may be the most important reason to cancel participation, and would dismiss any misinterpretation of the intentions of municipalities that initially chose to participate. The recent tragic events, with innocent dead in Gaza and the bloody atrocity against the Palestinian people is a choice of strategy by the State of Israel, which continues to murder. And history is not whitewashed, even if some are attempting to use the children of the world and sports as a fake shield against war, closing their eyes ostentatiously before the murdered children of Palestine.