Three-time olympic-medalist shot putter Ramzi Talal Abanesh was supposed to attend the UN’s climate talks in Katowice, Poland, as a Palestinian delegate, but had to cancel his trip last week after he complained about the lack of accessibility for wheelchair users in the nation’s conference center.
Now the British government has apologized to Abanesh and his family for the incident.
“Our understanding is that the UK government is determined to get to the bottom of this problem and I personally have been working closely with delegates from different delegations to ensure that the pavilion can be made wheelchair-accessible and that we can discuss how the event could be improved,” German delegate Andreeu Holst said Thursday in a tweet. “However, this is only possible in the short term. The UK talks with the Palestinian Delegation urgently on what the diplomatic mechanisms are for this urgently needed solution.”
Abanesh, who was born in Israel, lived in the West Bank, and has worked with a Palestinian youth organization, said in an op-ed that he couldn’t get a wheelchair that fit into his travel bag to enter the facility.
“It was clear they made me take multiple risks in order to get into the conference center for the Israeli-Palestinian meeting,” he wrote. “I did not want to make any extra risk. I respect and appreciate them for taking up such a high position on the issue.”
The Jerusalem Post published a photograph of the wheelchair he used in his first visit to the venue.
On Twitter, Abanesh thanked Holst.
“Mr. Holst you went above and beyond everything for me and for Palestine and I thank you very much. A message to Mr. Marcus Hyde — British Foreign Minister — from Palestinian people!” he wrote.
Abanesh has been tweeting about his experience since he cancelled his trip.
Last week, UK Foreign Minister Mark Price wrote on Twitter that the UK government was working with its international partners to solve problems for wheelchair users at the UN climate talks in Poland.
“I have a full meeting at the UK government hotel for Palestinians on this issue tomorrow!” Price wrote.
Israeli Environment Minister Doron Avner also criticized the UK government’s lack of accessibility at the conference center.
“I understand that they are disappointed by this situation, as were I, when we were in the same situation a year ago. That is why the Israeli Foreign Ministry offered to cooperate with the UK to coordinate the problem with the organizers and the infrastructure and help in this issue,” Avner said.
Update: Dec. 9 — The Jerusalem Post published a tweet Sunday confirming that a meeting took place Thursday evening with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the conference center to discuss the issue. The details are a bit vague, but the Post said it also includes the participation of a British envoy, which had previously been unclear.