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World Games: Activist waves Palestinian flag next to Israelis during opening ceremony

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As the Israeli delegation made its way to the opening ceremony of the 2022 World Games on July 7 in Birmingham, Alabama, there was an unexpected intrusion when an activist who was volunteering for the games was able to stand next to team and walk beside them waving a Palestinian flag for a few seconds.

Jeff Emerson, a spokesperson for the World Games, said “this behavior is not in line with the training that all volunteers have undergone to show respect to our guests, and this volunteer was immediately removed from the volunteer program. The 2022 World Games have apologized for this incident to Israeli Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon and apologize to the Israel delegation.

In an Instagram post, Hekmat Aboukhater, a Syrian living in Birmingham, said he was “about to piss off some people”.

In the message, which began in the room where the delegation’s flags were standing, he noted that Ghana had to pull out of the games, so he was going to take the opportunity.

“I hope you are happy that your flagpole now bears the Palestinian flag,” he told the Ghana delegation in his message. He then apparently hid in the bathroom with the Palestinian flag until it was time to go to the Parade of Nations, and made his way alongside the Israelis.

The moment Israel was announced, he started waving the Palestinian flag in front of the Israeli flag, then noted “I was kicked out.”

He added “Peace for the Palestinians” and the name of Shireen Abu Akleh, a AlJazeera journalist who was killed in the crossfire between Palestinians and the Israel Defense Forces during an anti-terror raid in Jenin on May 11. Palestinian activists have accused Israel of intentionally targeting the journalist, but it remains unclear which side fired the fatal shot.

As the Israel team made their way to the protective stadium during the opening ceremony of the World Games, an activist was able to approach and wave a Palestinian flag, July 7, 2022. Credit: Courtesy courtesy of Larry Brook/Israel Insight.

“No attempt at provocation will diminish our pride”

Aboukhater said he was waving the flag for “freedom and peace for the Palestinians”, claiming that Israel was trying to ban the raising of the Palestinian flag “in Israel and occupied Palestine”, and he wanted to show that “the Palestinian flag will always have a place on American soil.

According to his LinkedIn profile, he is a 2020 graduate of Boston College, now living in Birmingham and a Venture for America fellow.

All World Games volunteers must be vetted by the FBI. The World Games have received a Tier One Special Events rating, making them comparable to events like the Super Bowl and providing resources from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, among others.

Security is always a particular concern for Israel, given that 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

Arik Kaplan, president of Ayelet, the Federation of Non-Olympic Sports in Israel, said it “shouldn’t have happened, and in another situation it could have ended in a much more unfortunate way.”

Nonetheless, he noted that the Israeli delegation was received “with applause and great love” as they entered the stadium, receiving one of the loudest standing ovations of the evening.

Kaplan also noted that one of the Israeli coaches, an Arab Christian who had not yet arrived at the games, said he saw the footage of the ceremony and “felt insulted”.

Sultan-Dadon, who is based at the Israeli consulate in Atlanta and was attending the opening ceremony with several consulate officials, dismissed the protest, saying “no attempt at provocation will diminish our pride.”