Meet Palestine's first Olympic flag-bearer who was once shot in Israel
In the year 1996, Majed Abu Maraheel stood at the centre of Centennial Olympic Stadium, Atlanta with a Palestinian flag in his hand. He was the flag bearer of the first ever Palestinian contingent at the Olympics
The Israel-Palestine conflict has been going on for years. Whatever the world witnessed in the past couple of weeks between the two is probably just a tip of the iceberg.
The socio-political issues between the two entities have been in existence since the year 1948. A lot has been said and done, but no one has succeeded in bringing complete truce between the two.
Much like everything else, sports too have been affected badly due to this; most notably during the 1970 Munich Olympics when a Palestinian terror group held nine members of the Israeli contingent hostage after killing two.
Israel has been participating in the Olympics since the 1952 Helsinki Games and has been a constant at the quadrennial event, with the exception of the 1980 Moscow Games when they joined the American led boycott of the Olympics.
Palestine, on the other hand, competed at the Olympics for the first time much later in the year 1996. They sent a two member contingent to Atlanta and have since had representations at every edition of the Olympics.
The flag-bearer in the two member contingent at the Atlanta Games was, Majed Abu Maraheel – a 10,000m runner.
Majed was born in the year 1963 at a refugee camp in Gaza. His family owned about 15 acres of land in the Negev desert, around 100km east of the Gaza city, before they were forced to flee in the year 1948 by Israeli troops.
Growing up Majed – a football fanatic, was forced to drop-out of school at the age of 12 but continued to dream of representing Palestine in football someday. He was firmly supported by his father who was a sports enthusiast to achieve his dreams!
While his football dream did not work out due to obvious reasons, Majeb started to work as a labourer in the rival country of Israel. And just to keep himself fit he would jog around 20km daily from his home in Gaza to the border checkpoint of Erez – that's how he started running.
Those 20km jogs might just seem to be a hobby for everyone, but it was something more for Majeb. He dreamt of running and winning medals for Palestine while those long runs!
He soon started running in competitions within the city of Gaza and won the Olympic day festival in the year 1995. This run pushed him to prominence as he was awarded by Yasser Arafat – one of the most influential leaders in middle-east during those times.
In a brief interaction with Majed, the leader joked as to how he would be amongst his personal bodyguard when he comes to Gaza next time.
Majed soon gave up his job as labourer in Israel and joined Palestinian National Security Forces. He was recruited in 'The 17' which was the personal guard for Arafat. It was a dangerous job, for the Hamas – a terrorist organisation, were working towards uprooting Arafat from his position then but, Majed continued because he was paid and he had enough time to run!
It was during one such practice session that Majed was shot. He was just 27 then.
He had left his home in Gaza with his running shoes for practice at a nearby sports ground when clashes broke out between Palestinian children and the Israeli forces.
The children were pelting stones, while the Israeli forces had captured some children. The children somehow managed to escape and ran; Majed ran along with them. Suddenly the Israeli forces started firing and he was shot right under his upper arm from the distance of about 300 meters.
Five years later in the year 1996, Majed Abu Mahareel stood at the centre of Centennial Olympic Stadium, Atlanta with a Palestinian flag in his hand. He was the flag bearer of the first ever Palestinian contingent at the Olympics.
Majed could not achieve anything extraordinary in the track, finishing a lowly 21st and failing to qualify for the final. But, he sure paved a way for fellow athletes from Palestine to follow in the future.