Palestine is running (March 2014)
Boasting 3,093 runners and 450 volunteers, the third annual Palestinian Marathon was held this past March and ended delivering a great message: We believe in the right to movement.
“The message of this marathon applies to all the Palestinian Marathons so far,” says founder of Right to Movement Signe Fischer, “Everyone has the basic human right to freedom of movement but not everyone is granted and allowed that right especially in Palestine. This marathon puts a focus on the violations of the rights of the Palestinian people and, by bringing people from all over the world, this event wants to show how life is under occupation”.
Conceived in 2013 under the theme of ‘Right to Movement’ by Danish aid workers Signe Fischer and Lærke Hein, the race became a concrete fixture on the social calendar and provides today a whirlwind tour of the impact of conflict and military occupation on the city.
Starting opposite the Church of the Nativity — the alleged birthplace of Jesus Christ — runners sped past a section of Israel’s 708-kilometer separation wall, which entirely surrounds the city’s northern and western sides, before passing the Duheisha refugee camp, and the town of al-Khader, near the Gilo military checkpoint.
“It was not possible to find a 42-km stretch within the Palestinian Territories without passing through Israeli checkpoints, so we decided to hold the event on an 11-km stretch and then to let the marathon participants run that stretch 4 times. The starting and finishing point is always in Manger Square, just opposite the Church of the Nativity”. The route went along Manger Street through the Aida Refugee Camp and then along the Jerusalem-Hebron Street through the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, ending in the city of Al-Khader where the runners made a U-turn to run the same route back towards Manger Square. Along that route the participants were also running just next to the Israeli Separation Wall. The full marathon participants had to complete the loop twice, while the half-marathon runners only once.
“In Denmark we just put our running shoes on and go out for a run. There is no wall, barrier or checkpoint to stop us. Many of us can’t even imagine what it means not to be able to move freely. About 2,955 signed runners took part in the event, people from more than 50 countries, mostly Palestinians, and then Danish, also some members of the Danish Parliament, the Philippines, Sudan, Italy, Finland, France, England.
People want to do something, like running for Palestine. We are tired to just sit and hear the political statements: people can move societies and act to change things”.
Due to a number of restrictions affecting Palestinian movement and access across the West Bank — there are 99 fixed checkpoints and hundreds of physical obstructions.
Indeed, 85 percent of the Bethlehem district is classified as Area C, under full Israeli control, and organizers wanted to limit any risks and stay within the Palestinian Authority-controlled Area A.
Despite the restrictions, the marathon is growing in size, and in this occasion an estimated 3,100 people from 51 countries took part in the event, compared to 687 in 2013.
“This is an official international marathon, just like the one in London or New York. We measured the distance to the Olympic standard, that is 42.195 kilometres; everyone gets a number and a chip to put in their shoes, then we also have electronic chronometres along the route, so that every time a runner passes it, his or her time is registered. Once crossed the finishing line, they will have their specific time whether they run the 10 km, the half or the full marathon”.
Most of the runners are Palestinian, over 40 percent are women and organizers secured permits for 50 Palestinians from Gaza to run the race — around 30 were denied entry by Israel in 2014 — a showcase for inclusiveness and Palestinian unity.
Among them there were the winner of the marathon, Nader al’ Masri, as well as Yousef Obaid and Omar Abusaid, respectively first and second place in the half marathon, and finally Muhaned Rabah and Marsil Abu Shedig, who came in respectively first and second on the 10 distance..
“This victory is for Gaza, it is for my family, my teachers, my friends and all those that suffer and resist in my country”, said Marsil.