The Palestinian Olympic Committee (POC) says the participation of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the 101st Giro d'Italia cycling competition which launched in Israel is a “disgrace”.
The POC called on the national committees of the two Persian Gulf Arab countries on Sunday to withdraw their two cycling teams from the event which it described as "a disgrace to anyone who stands behind it or participates in it".
The world-famous race, which began in Jerusalem al-Quds on Friday, is held outside Europe for the first time in the event's history.
After its launch in al-Quds, the 21-day race continued over the weekend from Haifa to Tel Aviv and from Be'er Sheva to Eilat in the south. Some 176 cyclists from 22 teams are participating in the event which is now set to continue in Italy where it will wrap up in the capital, Rome.
The decision to kick off the event in Israel has sparked widespread condemnation from Palestinian officials and activists who accused organizers of "whitewashing Israel's ongoing crimes".
Also in its statement on Sunday, the POC slammed the Arab cyclists for their "disloyalty" and for taking part in a "free service for the [Israeli] occupation that does not recognize international laws, resolutions and charters of the United Nations on the rights of the Palestinian people and continues to deny the right of the Palestinian Arab people to establish their independent state on their land with al-Quds as its capital".
Activists created a website, outlining Giro d'Italia's route that passed by ruins of historic Palestine, where more than 500 Palestinian villages and towns were ethnically cleansed during or following the Nakba (catastrophe), when the Israeli regime came into existence in 1948.
"Israel is reportedly paying 10 million euros ($11.9 million) to host the Giro as part of its propaganda efforts, mimicking those of the apartheid regime in South Africa, to use sports to hide, or sportswash, its decades-long military occupation and apartheid system imposed on the Palestinian people," reads a statement from the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) website.
The competition took place just kilometers away from the besieged Gaza Strip where Israeli forces killed 45 Palestinians and injured about 7,000 others during the "Great March of Return" protests, which began on March 30.
Earlier this week, Amnesty International UK also condemned the launch of the race right next to East Jerusalem al-Quds where Palestinians regularly face house demolitions, illegal settlement building and restrictions of movement.
"The authorities in Jerusalem may have thought that the glitz of Giro d'Italia might have a 'sportswash' effect, removing some of the stain of Israel's human rights record. Instead, it's likely to bring it back into focus yet again," Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said.
"The Jerusalem launch inevitably means Israel's dismal human rights record is going to be in the spotlight."
The entire Jerusalem al-Quds is currently under Israel’s control, while the regime also claims the city’s eastern part, which hosts the third holiest Muslim site.
The city has been designated as “occupied” under international law since the 1967 Arab War, which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.
Arab states, especially those in the Persian Gulf, have traditionally been depicting themselves as Israel’s enemies and supporters of the Palestinian cause against Tel Aviv’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.