Controversial plans to stage the opening leg of one of the world’s most prestigious bicycle races on the streets of Jerusalem are drawing criticism from both Palestinian rights groups and Israeli government ministers.
Palestinian rights groups have accused organisers of the Giro d’italia of “whitewashing Israel’s military occupation [of East Jerusalem and the West Bank] and grave human rights violations”, over their decision to hold the opening three stages of the May 2018 race in Israel.
The Giro is one of cycling’s three grand tours, along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta de Espana, and often starts outside Italian borders. Taking the race to Israel marks the first time it has ventured beyond Europe.
But Israeli government ministers threatened to withdraw support for the race after organisers RCS Sport said in marketing material released on Wednesday that the opening stage, an individual time trial, would take place in West Jerusalem and unveiled a route that remains inside Israel’s internationally recognised 1967 borders.
The race route unveiled on Wednesday stays inside Israel's internationally recognised borders (RCS Sport)
Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the Palestinian West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, but the occupation is considered illegal by the United Nations and the international community. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
In a statement, Israeli sports minister Miri Regev and tourism minister Yariv Levin said that the government would not support the race unless the wording was changed and said the use of the term “West Jerusalem” breached agreements reached with organisers.
“In Jerusalem, Israel's capital, there is no east or west. There is one unified Jerusalem,” they said. “If the wording does not change, the Israeli government will not be a partner in the event.”
A Palestinian coalition of rights groups last week wrote to RCS Sport and others, including Pope Francis, to call for plans to stage the race in Israel to be dropped, warning that holding the Giro would serve to “cover up Israel’s military occupation and discrimination against Palestinians and increase Israel’s sense of impunity”.
An official video for the race produced by the Israeli tourism ministry and promoted on the Giro d'Italia's YouTube channel on 18 September features footage of Jerusalem's Old City, which is part of East Jerusalem.