A few days ago, I posted about claims of palestinian swimmer Mary al-Atrash that she had no Olympic-sized pool to train in. As the story went, she could not train in Israel “due to the long-standing conflict with Israel”, nor in the palestinian territories where no such facilities exist.
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As I posted, Tablet rebutted the claims, pointing out that she could train in Jerusalem if she bothered applying for a permit. But more contentious was their rebuttal to the claim there are no Olympic-sized swimming pool in the Palestinian territories.
There’s this luxurious one in Gaza, built, maybe, with some of the leftover cement Hamas could spare after squandering billions on its terror tunnels; there’s one in Nablus; and when I called the folks over at the Murad resort in al-Atrash’s native Beit Sakhour, they assured me that their pool, too, was properly Olympically endowed. Water water everywhere, then, and not a drop for swimming.
This was followed by a Jerusalem Post report, in which they said pretty much the same thing.
Reuters’ Luke Baker took issue with basically being called a liar, and posted a number of rather defensive and childish tweets (some of which he seems to have since deleted).
Incidentally, he has also made the laughable claim that when Reuters blames her inability to get to a Jerusalem pool on “the long-standing conflict with Israel,” they are not blaming Israel.
Funny, but I do not recall any Reuters piece on palestinians opposing athletes training in Israel.
In any event, the Jerusalem Post then did a follow-up piece to put to rest the issue of whether or not there are Olympic-sized pools in the palestinian territories.
So, on Wednesday, we decided to do what the critics didn’t. We went to a number of pools throughout the West Bank – in Beit Sahur near Bethlehem and just north of Ramallah, in the town of Bir Zeit.
All claimed to be the “largest in the West Bank.” All claimed to be used regularly by the Palestinian swimming federation for competitions. And all claimed to be of Olympic size. The pool at the Murad Resort, for example, is 25 meters in length, 12.5 m. in width and ranges between 1 m. and 3.5 m. in depth. It also costs NIS 40 to use.
The pool at the Beit Sahur YMCA is also 25 m. in length, 1 to 2.2 m. in depth and 12.5 m. in width. This is the pool where Atrash did most of her training. Then there is the Ain al-Hamam pool in Bir Zeit, which the Palestinian Olympic Committee told us is the biggest in the area. This pool is also 25 m. in length, with a depth ranging from 80 cm. to 2.2 m. It costs NIS 25 to enter.
But while these pools claim to be Olympic sized, are they? That is where it gets complicated. Reuters was right in its report that there are no 50-m. pools in the West Bank. The Palestinian Olympics Committee told us that it is planning on breaking ground for one in the near future and has already decided to name it for Sepp Blatter, the former head of FIFA and a friend of Jibril Rajoub, the Fatah official in charge of the Palestinian Olympics Committee.
But there are clearly several 25-m. pools in the West Bank. They are what are known as half-Olympic-sized pools. And while many professionals train in 25-m. pools around the world – even in the United States – they are not used in the Olympics or world championships. In addition, length is only one of the criteria by which to determine whether a pool is Olympic standard. There is the width, the depth, the amount of water, the width of the lanes, the number of lanes, the use of touch panels on the walls and even the water temperature.
So, can we put “Pool-Gate” to rest? I think so.
So it turns out there may not be any Olympic-sized pools in the palestinian territories after all. But as the Jerusalem Post was correct to say:
But here is one point that everyone needs to remember and that unfortunately has been overlooked. Whether there is an Olympic-sized pool in the West Bank or not, in this case it has nothing to do with Israel or the so-called occupation. The Palestinians control large parts of the West Bank and can just build one.
So why haven’t they? Maybe to get stories written like the ones above.
There is no doubt the palestinians are definitely exploiting the situation for their propaganda against Israel. But I’d argue there’s another reason: they prefer to spend the money on other things. Sport just doesn’t seem to be a priority for them.
Just to illustrate how the palestinians could easily have built at least one of these pools by now if they do chose to, let’s say for argument’s sake, a simple Olympic-sized pool to FINA specifications could be built for around $5 million.
- The PA’s annual budget supporting palestinian terrorists was roughly $75 million in 2014. That could have built 15 Olympic-sized pools.
- Each Gaza terror tunnel built by Hamas costs around $3 million. During Operation Protective Edge, the IDF destroyed 32 of them, meaning Hamas spent at least $100 million on its vast tunnel network. That could have built 20 Olympic-sized pools.
- The new (empty) Palestinian Museum cost $24 million – or almost 5 Olympic-sized pools.
- At least tens of millions of dollars of palestinian-embezzled funds have still not been recovered. That could have built at least 2 Olympic-sized pools.
You get the idea.
It is absolutely criminal that the palestinians do not have even one pool to train in for the Olympics. But none of the blame lies at Israel’s feet.
In the meantime, they’ll just have to bother applying for a permit to train in Israel.