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Occupied Lives: A Dream Beyond the Border

Khamis Zakout, with the numerous medals he has won
throughout his career as a wheelchair athlete.

 Khamis Zakout (47) lives in Khan Younis with his wife and their 9
children.  His legs were paralysed after
being injured in 1992, while working on a construction project in Israel.  To prove to himself that he could still
succeed, he decided to engage in sports for disabled persons.  He has since become an Olympic level Palestinian
wheelchair athlete, and earned a spot on the para-Olympic team for 2012.



On 20 May 2012, Zakout and his fellow athletes were to travel to
Jerusalem and Ramallah, to celebrate the 100 days leading up to the
para-Olympian games in London this July, which they will be attending.  They were invited to the special event by the
British Consulate in Ramallah; however, Zakout was the only para-Olympian that
did not make the trip.  At the Erez
Crossing, Zakout was refused entry into Israel on the basis of alleged security
concerns, and was therefore denied access to this solemn preparatory step
before the para-Olympics.  


The trip to the West Bank meant a lot to Khamis Zakout.  The group planned to pray at Al-Aqsa mosque in
Jerusalem, and meet officials of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.  “The objective of the visit was to get
psychological support and moral strength to prepare for the Olympic Games, and
I also wanted to show other disabled Palestinians that it is possible to
succeed, achieve and live a healthy life, despite physical impairment.  I wanted to prove to all people that
Palestinians are strong, that they have will and are persistent through their
hardships. Disability only lies in the mind, not in the body.  Hence, we are not disabled, and nothing is


In December 2011, during an international championship in Dubai,
Zakout won 2 gold medals in javelin and shot put.  He confesses however that he can do better. “I
can throw the javelin even further than I did on that day in December.  I wanted to keep my strength up for the
para-Olympics though, so that other athletes would not feel pressured to beat my


Zakout receives no financial reward or help for his vocation,
unlike other athletes he competes with outside the Gaza Strip: “I have to
purchase my own uniform, shoes, and sports wheelchair as well as arrange my own
transportation to an inadequate training area: a public park in Gaza City.  I have no professional advice on particular
training techniques or specific diets for my athletic condition.  Even if I had, I would rather provide my
family with adequate food, than find for myself the special vitamins I need I
am convinced that moral strength is worth the best equipment and training in
the world.”  This is why he was so deeply
discouraged by the failed trip to the West Bank.


The security reason for why Zakout was refused entry into Israel
seems unfounded.  The athlete was never detained
in an Israeli prison and he cannot think of any reason why he would pose a
security risk to Israel: “They deny us entry, but we are disabled and cannot
fire at Israel.  We just want to
participate in sport activities.”  The
athlete has travelled numerous times outside of the Gaza Strip prior to this
incident, for international championships as well as to undertake his medical
operation in Israel in 2000. His electric chair was personally sent to him by
the Israeli authorities, as a compensation for his accident in Israel.  This time, he believes he was denied because
it is “Their goal is to break our moral, because they cannot accept the
potential success of Palestinians.”


Zakout will use his invitations from the para-Olympian Union and
the British Consulate in Ramallah to apply again, as he still hopes to see
Jerusalem before the para-Olympics.  Fortunately,
his participation in the London para-Olympics should not be a problem, as the
head of the Palestinian team made the official arrangements.  Nevertheless he notes that “here, promises are
rarely realized.”


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Article 13 states
that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to
return to his country.”  Similarly, Article 12(1-3) of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights sets out that an individual has the
right to freedom of movement at the border of their country.  UDHR Article 27 also provides that everyone
has the right to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy
the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.  Ultimately, the closure of the Gaza Strip constitutes a form of collective punishment
against a civilian population living under occupation, in contravention of
Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. 

 To see a video
narrative given by 
 Khamis Zakout, please click here.

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