“If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”. – (Act III, scene I).” William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
The only revenge Israeli wrestler Ilana Kartysh exacted on her Egyptian opponent, Enas Mostafa, in the Golden Grand Prix tournament in Italy – after Mostafa refused to shake her hand and, during the match, reportedly bit her on the neck – was emerging victorious in the bout and, having secured the gold, basking in the sound of her national anthem as she stood on the podium.
Kartysh, 22, who competed in the the 67-kilogram (147.7 pound) weight category, experienced an incident unlike any other in her career.
“In wrestling you must shake hands at the beginning of a match,” Kartysh said. “But not only did [Egyptian wrestler Enas Mostafa] refuse to shake my hand, she even broke my fingers and bit me until I began bleeding.”
However, she continued, “Because of her dirty behavior my desire to beat her grew stronger.”
Kartysh said she felt “some kind of hatred” directed at her by Mostafa, but that she did not know whether it was political or personal.
“It’s never happened to me before,” the 22-year-old wrestler said. “She really attacked me.”
The gold medal that Kartysh won was Israel’s first in a Golden Grand Prix tournament.
At the end of the match, the Egyptian again refused to shake hands with her.
Unlike other sports-related news in the region which is contextualized as possessing wider political significance, this story of racism during an athletic competition wasn’t reported in the Guardian. Moreover, as I have argued previously, it is simply impossible to accurately understand the politics of the Middle East, and Israel’s relations with its neighbors, without fully appreciating the antisemitic venom which courses through the veins of otherwise sober Arab citizens.
No, this ugly episode on a wrestling mat in Italy was not, to be sure, merely an act of poor sportsmanship. Mostafa is the product of a culture with anti-Jewish racism so pervasive that the country’s President could, with total impunity, refer to Jews as “sons of apes and pigs” and sermonize to parents on the importance of “nursing their children” with Jew hatred .
The Jewish community in Egypt, which numbered 80,000 in 1948, is now all but extinct.
Indeed even such serious domestic problems as food shortages and an erosion of political freedoms post-Mubarak haven’t seemed to redirect the focus of their animosity. The ’Arab Spring’ hasn’t even minimally unhardened their hearts.
Kartysh’s comments after the match included the following.
“I can’t even describe how proud I felt hearing ‘Hatikva’ (Israel‘s national anthem) playing in the end.”
The Egyptian wrestler learned that when an Israeli Jew is pricked, she indeed bleeds, and that when she is so wronged she will avenge such an indignity by persevering and – in a display of pride, defiance and resilience – emerging victorious.