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More than 3,000 runners compete in second Palestine Marathon

By Jan Walraven - April 12, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Culture]
Tags: [freedom of movement] [Bethlehem]

Last year’s winner, Abdel Nasser Awajneh, a Palestinian from Jericho, placed third after two Danish runners in the second annual Palestine Marathon in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, April 11, 2014 | Dylan Collins

Under the banner of "Right to Movement,” about 3,000 runners competed in the second Palestine Marathon on Friday 11 April, starting and finishing at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. 

Representing 39 countries, competitors had the option of choosing between 10 km, 21 km or the full marathon, 42.195 km. Although a success in terms of attendance, the event was overshadowed by Israel’s refusal to grant Palestinian Olympian, Nader Al-Masri, permission to travel to Bethlehem from Gaza. 

The Palestine Marathon is organized to raise awareness about the restricted freedom of movement in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli refusal directly demonstrated the challenges Palestinians regularly face.

Supreme Court upholds travel ban

Al-Masri, who has participated in over 40 events outside of Gaza, represented Palestine during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. On of Al-Masri’s behalf, Israeli NGO Gisha petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to reverse the military's decision to not grant him a permit, but to no avail. 

The Supreme Court decided it could not interfere in decisions made by the Minister of Defense, meanwhile stating: "that, even according to security officials, passage for the purpose of athletic activities is worthy of consideration." Although Israel only allows "humanitarian hardship cases" to leave the Gaza Strip, football players and athletes on the Olympic team are normally allowed to travel to the West Bank as well. 

Since 2007, when Hamas took over power in the small coastal enclave, Israel has closed off the strip completely. In its 2013 overview of access and movement in Gaza, Gisha stated that the "criteria for travel of people remained stringent and appear to have been enforced with greater severity." 

Israel places severe restrictions on the entrance of construction materials into Gaza and maintains "a ban on the exit of goods from Gaza to its traditional markets in Israel and the West Bank."

Two loop course

According to the Right to Movement campaign, as much as 1,500 local runners registered in the last week before the race. Of the 3,000 competitors, 2,500 were Palestinian, showing the rising interest in running. One of the newcomers this year was Saali, originally from Gaza, but living in Ramallah and studying in Birzet. She ran the 10 km, together with a group of seven friends. It was the first time she ran in this kind of event. "Actually it's the first time I've ever run such a long distance. It is certainly not something I do regularly," 19-year-old Saali explained. "It was actually easier than I expected, and I think I'm going to run more in the future. Hopefully I can compete again next year."

The race had to be held on a course shorter than 42 km, with runners having to run back on the same course in the middle of the race, once again demonstrating the restrictions in Palestinian freedom of movement and the continuous loss of land. It is almost impossible to find a continuous 42 km stretch of road in the West Bank, due to countless Israeli checkpoints. 

The course in hilly Bethlehem, which kissed the separation wall and passed by Aida refugee camp, was a challenge even for the most experienced of runners. 

Abdel Nasser Awajneh from Jericho placed third in the full marathon competition, finishing after two Danish runners, Andres Roemer and Moaten Hvidtfeldt.

As members of a running club in Copenhagen that is involved in organizing this year’s Palestine Marathon, it was their first time in Bethlehem. "It's a very good cause. It is our way to show support for the Palestinian people. And it's also a beautiful place to run," they agreed. 

Roemer and Hvidtfeldt also touched on the importance of having female participants. This year, about 35% of the competitors were women.  

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