Syrian teen who saved 18 lives, wins Olympic heat (& Facebook snubs Israeli Olympic team)

August 07, 2016

Yusra Mardini, who helped save the lives of 18 other refugees and migrants last summer, yesterday became the first ever athlete representing a refugee team to win an Olympic heat



1. Syrian teen who saved 18 lives, wins Olympic heat
2. Facebook snubs Israeli Olympic team
3. Official Olympics website: Jerusalem capital of ‘Palestine,’ not Israel (2012)
4. BBC uses London Olympics to attack Israel (2012)
5. Lebanese Olympics team stops Israeli team from boarding bus to opening ceremony
6. Saudi judo competitor forfeits her opening match, in order to avoid Israeli
7. International media repeat lies about Palestinians not having Olympic swimming pools
8. Dozens of large swimming pools in the West Bank



[Notes below by Tom Gross]

There are many wonderful athletes at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, but perhaps the most amazing is Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini, who is competing under the International Olympic Committee flag as part of a new “refugee team”.

Together with her older sister Sarah (also a remarkable swimmer), Yusra helped save the lives of 18 other refugees and migrants last summer after their dinghy (which was designed to carry only 6 people) began to sink in the Aegean sea during their crossing from Turkey to Greece.

After the motor on their boat failed, the two sisters jumped overboard into the cold waters and spent the next three hours pushing the dinghy to prevent it from capsizing before eventually making it to the Greek island of Lesbos.

Mardini, 18, now lives in Germany. Yesterday, she became the first ever athlete representing a refugee team to win an Olympic race, winning the first heat in the women’s 100-meter butterfly. She will also compete in the 100-meter freestyle.

Mardini is one of ten athletes selected for a special Olympic Refugee Team, which will compete under the Olympic flag and represent 60 million refugees worldwide.


Here is a short interview with her.

She was also profiled in the New York Times last weekend.


I also highlighted pieces such as this one, which provides striking photos of Syrians, having fled the ethnic cleansing campaign launched against Syria’s Sunni Arabs by Iran and Hizbullah last year on Assad’s behalf (after Iran was effectively given carte blanche to do so by the West as part of its ill-judged nuclear deal), have to endure once they reached Europe:


Among many other dispatches on this list concerning Syrian refugees:

* Israelis save Syrian refugees off Greek coast

* “I will always remember where I was when Cecil The Lion was killed” (By “Mohammed,” a Syrian war refugee)

* Saudi Arabia’s 100,000 unused air-conditioned tents denied to refugees; will build 200 new mosques in Germany instead



The Israel Olympic Committee has sent a letter of protest to Facebook after Israel was taken out of its place on Facebook’s Olympics “Profile Frames” feature, and instead listed last of all countries in the world competing in the Rio Olympics.

All other countries were in alphabetical order, with their flags alongside them. Israel appears at the end, after Zimbabwe, without the Israeli flag, which has been replaced by Facebook with the flag of the Israeli Olympic Committee.

Israelis have repeatedly complained to Facebook that it has allowed posts praising and encouraging Palestinian suicide bombers. There are several legal actions currently ongoing against Facebook by groups representing Israeli victims of terrorism.



In a dispatch in 2012, I drew attention to the fact that the official website of the 2012 London Olympics portrayed Israel as a country without a capital, while Jerusalem was listed as the capital of “Palestine.”

Following the intervention by British politicians who subscribe to this email list, the London Olympics website was changed to show Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as well as the capital of “Palestine”.

Unlike dozens of other disputed territories throughout the world, such as Tibet, Kurdistan or Baluchistan, Palestine is invited to participate in the Olympics as if it were already a nation state.



Also in 2012, following criticism by myself and others (and a private email exchange by me with one of the most senior executives at the BBC who subscribes to this list), the BBC website changed the photograph representing Israel on its list of “country profiles page” in the run-up to the London Olympics to be in more in line with other countries.

As I wrote at the time:

The BBC has now replaced its photo of a very aggressive-looking member of the Israeli border police shouting at a Palestinian with a picture of Tel Aviv’s famed Bauhaus architecture.

Despite the fact that all these countries have been engaged in bloody crackdowns and appalling human rights abuses, the BBC has for a long time been using a picture of smiling children for its Syria country page, a mosque to represent Egypt on its country page, a storekeeper to represent Libya, and a race track to represent Bahrain. Only Israel was subjected to different treatment by the BBC.

Last week there was much criticism of the BBC after it listed the capital of every country in the world on its “BBC London Olympics 2012” webpage except one – Israel.

The anti-Israel bias is so engrained throughout the staff and culture of BBC News, the world’s biggest broadcasting network, that (as I noted in a dispatch last week) a BBC news anchor referred to last week’s deadly suicide bombing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria as an “awful accident”. The New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune also wrote the day after the Bulgaria terror attack that it may have been an accident.

By contrast, they didn’t say that the shooting in a Colorado cinema of 12 people the following day “may have been an accident”.



The Rio 2016 Olympic games began on a sour note for the Israeli delegation, when they were physically prevented from boarding the bus to the Maracana stadium on Friday, where the opening ceremony was to take place. The Olympic organizers had paired Lebanese and Israelis in the same bus. Eventually, Olympic organizers had to arrange another bus to transport the stranded Israeli athletes.

The head of the Lebanese delegation, Saleem a-Haj Nacoula, was praised in the Lebanese press and on social media as a hero yesterday.

Earlier today the Lebanese delegation chief was summoned by the Olympic Committee and given a severe warning not to repeat the discrimination against Israelis or any other athletes.

Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev called the Lebanese athletes refusal to travel on the same bus as Israelis “anti-Semitism and racism of the worst kind.”



Saudi Arabian competitor Joud Fahmy today forfeited her first-round judo match against Christianne Legentil from Mauritius at the Rio Olympics, in what is being reported in the media as a maneuver to avoid facing Israeli judo fighter Gili Cohen in the next round.

Behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia is growing much closer to Israel. Several leading Saudis that I have met at events in third countries at which Israeli government advisors were also present, have asked to join this Middle East email list.



Several international media outlets, who have once again been fed misinformation by local Palestinian employees of international news agencies, and (as usual) failing to do the most basic fact checking, have highlighted in their general Rio Olympics coverage stories claiming that Palestinian swimmer Mary al-Atrash didn’t have access to an Olympic-size swimming pool for training because Israel didn’t let her use one.

A simple Google search would have revealed that al-Atrash was able to train in many such pools.

There are four Olympic-size pools in this resort alone in al-Atrash’s home town, Beit Sahur:

I have noted in these dispatches before about lies told in western media that there are no Olympic-size pools in the West Bank and Gaza.

For example, the opening of this Olympic-size pool was widely reported in Palestinian media in 2010.



There are dozens of other pools in the West Bank.

For example, Haaretz reported on several here:

W. Bank Swimming Pools Help Palestinians Brave the Heat

Lifeguard Ahmed Rajoub notes that “Swimming pools have become trendy in the West Bank.”

Haaretz reports: “Nowadays, every city in the West Bank has a pool or a recreational complex: Bethlehem has one similar to Al-Khahuf, while Ramallah has more than 10. One of Jenin’s swimming champs committed a suicide bombing at Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant in August 2001. Nablus has a pool reserved for women, and an Olympic pool. Another pool and recreation complex sits between Nablus and Tubas.

“Al-Khahuf draws about 2,500 people on an average weekend day, Rajoub says. Abdullah Abu-Znayid, the owner’s brother, gives us a tour of the small caves hewn into the mountainside. The first is for VIPs. ‘This is where important people come to drink coffee. Jibril Rajoub and Mustafa Barghouti have been here,’ he says.

“Despite the heat, the women are fully clothed. ‘Arabs do not allow mixed swimming,’ the owner, Abd al-Karim, explains. Most of the women are sitting near the ferris wheel, looking longingly at the bathers. Al-Karim says he would soon be opening a pool for women, by popular demand.”


(Since that Haaretz story was published, several other pools have opened in the West Bank.)


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All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.