Palestinians say ‘let us move’ as Bethlehem Marathon kicks off amidst severe movement restrictions

Israel/Palestine
on 10 Comments

Runners woke up at dawn on Friday in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, ready to take on the Freedom of Movement Marathon in the city.

The marathon has taken place for the past four years in Bethlehem, with a distinct message – give us movement.

The marathon stretches across the city, quite literally running through two refugee camps, and circles around twice. As locals will ready explain, there is not space for a 42 kilometer route through Bethlehem, so unlike most marathons, the track has to double over two 21 kilometer paths.

This year, the Freedom of Movement Marathon is of particular importance to Palestinians, who have seen stifling Israeli restrictions on their everyday movement since the start of upheaval in October.

Since October, the West Bank has seen countless flying checkpoints and continuous city closures, including complete temporary closures of Ramallah city, Nablus city and the large towns of Qabatiya and Beit Ummar, to name a few.

Bethlehem city is one of the only districts in the occupied West Bank that has not seen a complete closure during the past six months, many would say, due to the city’s popularity with foreign tourists. However the city’s neighbor to the south, Hebron, has seen a severe and continuous crackdown on movement.

The H2 neighborhood of Tel Rumeida in Hebron’s city center in particular has been closed to non-residents for nearly five months.  Residents were given numbers, and have only been allowed through to their homes by presenting said numbers to Israeli forces that surround the area with checkpoints. Visitors and volunteers are barred entry completely, as the area has been named a “closed military zone.”

In addition, more villages in the Hebron district have seen complete closures than any other in the occupied West Bank.

One runner, Reham Abu Aita, from Bethlehem city, told Mondoweiss that she trained and ran in the marathon for those people whose lives have been severely affected by the closures during the past six months.

“The checkpoints during the past six months and the new procedures from the occupation has made life very difficult for Palestinians, we feel it a lot, but you can see how many people are here to support Palestine, and we just want to say, ‘lets us move’” she said.

Participants wore a variety of gear advocating for the Palestinian right to movement. (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

Participants wore a variety of gear advocating for the Palestinian right to movement. (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

More than 4,000 runners participated in the marathon this year, organizers reported.    

In a prime example of the marathon’s message, more than 100 Gazan runners were barred from traveling to the city to participate in the marathon, including Gazan Olympian runner Nader al-Masri who won last year’s event.

While Palestinian leaders have accused Israel of discrimination against Gazan runners, Israeli officials said Palestinian coordinators did not submit the names of the runners in time, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

Streets closed down in Bethlehem on Friday, as the marathon snaked through the city. (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

Streets closed down in Bethlehem on Friday, as the marathon snaked through the city. (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

Nearly 1,000 of the runners in the marathon were foreigners.

Maria Todnon, a runner from Argentina, said she has participated in the marathon for the past two years in a row.

Todnon lives in occupied East Jerusalem, but works in Ramallah at the Argentinian Embassy, explaining that under an agreement between Argentina and Israel, embassy workers must live in Jerusalem, not the occupied West Bank.

“Because of this, we know part of the struggles that Palestinians face,” Todnon said. “We deal with the closures, the checkpoints and the clashes on a daily basis, and this idea of freedom of movement is so important.”

She went on to explain that in general, she is not an active person “I never exercise a day in my life,” she laughs. “But I participate because the cause is so important, and the message is so important to share with the world. I think the marathon sends a great message about the Palestinian cause and their everyday struggles just for regular movement and life.”

Groups ranged from families with small children, NGO workers, locals and youth groups to make for a diverse event. (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

Groups ranged from families with small children, NGO workers, locals and youth groups to make for a diverse event. (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

Some runners took the marathon with the upmost seriousness, while others had a bit of fun, like these women buying a cup of coffee in the middle of the race. (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

Some runners took the marathon with the upmost seriousness, while others had a bit of fun, like these women buying a cup of coffee in the middle of the race. (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

People were very supportive of each other, which hoards of people sticking around until the final runners came through, cheering runners on. (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

People were very supportive of each other, which hoards of people sticking around until the final runners came through, cheering runners on. (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

 

About Sheren Khalel

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

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10 Responses

  1. Walker
    April 1, 2016, 3:58 pm

    If only this story was an April Fools joke.

  2. Boomer
    April 1, 2016, 6:56 pm

    With regard to freedom of movement for Palestinians, as far as I’m aware, they seem to be trapped in reservations on the West Bank and Gaza. Is that correct? Syrians, Afghanis, Iranians, and many others who become desperate enough seem to be able, somehow, to make their way to Europe these days. I don’t recall hearing about any Palestinians doing that.

    I’ve read that Egypt has sealed the border with Gaza more tightly since the military took over from the Muslim Brotherhood. And my understanding is that Israel controls all access and exit from the Palestinian reservations, and that it aims to keep the Palestinians “on a diet.” If so, then Israel’s theft of their lands and livelihoods seems doubly cruel. All the Palestinians can do is wait for the next time Israel decides to “mow the grass.”

    • El Cazador
      April 2, 2016, 6:11 pm

      Your awareness and understanding are right on the mark. And yes, they mow the grass, and if sometimes they «feel» that mowing is too long and especially costly a chore and less spectacular, they instead burn it with giant inverted totally illegal white phosphorus fireworks.

  3. JLewisDickerson
    April 2, 2016, 4:42 am

    RE: “Runners woke up at dawn on Friday in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, ready to take on the Freedom of Movement Marathon in the city. The marathon has taken place for the past four years in Bethlehem, with a distinct message – give us movement.” ~ Sheren Khalel

    MY COMMENT: Somehow, I don’t think that is quite what Rafi Eitan had in mind!*

    * IDF CHIEF OF STAFF, RAFAEL EITAN, IN 1983:

    The Arabs will never win over us by throwing stones. Our response must be a nationalist Zionist response. For every stone that’s thrown–we will build ten settlements. If 100 settlements will exist–and they will–between Nablus and Jerusalem, stones will not be thrown. If this will be the situation, then the Arabs will only be able to scurry around like drugged roaches in a bottle. ~ Rafael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces

    SOURCE – http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=21&x_article=775

    P.S. EITAN’S CURIOUS DEMISE: “Former Israeli army chief drowns” | news.bbc.co.uk | 23 November, 2004
    Former Israeli Army Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan has drowned after being swept into the Mediterranean Sea at the Israeli post of Ashdod.
    LINK – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4034765.stm

    • El Cazador
      April 2, 2016, 6:21 pm

      The Eitan reported comment:

      * “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.” Raphael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, New York Times, 14 April 1983.

      From: http://www.rense.com/general77/disturb.htm

      Many more, and easily much worse here:

      http://monabaker.com/quotes.htm

      In the link above you’ll find my FAVORITE, a kind of reality check and the expression of a need to put an end to it:

      “I would have joined a terrorist organization.”
      — Ehud Barak’s response to Gideon Levy, a columnist for the Ha’aretz newspaper, when Barak was asked what he would have done if he had been born a Palestinian.

      If Benny lived in 2016, would he have made such declarations?

      “We must expel Arabs and take their places.”
      — David Ben Gurion, 1937, Ben Gurion and the Palestine Arabs, Oxford University Press, 1985.

      “There has been Anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?”
      — Quoted by Nahum Goldmann in Le Paraddoxe Juif (The Jewish Paradox), pp. 121-122.

      • jon s
        April 3, 2016, 4:15 pm

        El Cazador’s link is to rense.com, an Anti-Semitic website.

        The quote from Ben Gurion is phony. In fact BG wrote the opposite (“we must not expel…”)

      • JLewisDickerson
        April 13, 2016, 2:59 am

        WIKIQUOTE.ORG (David Ben-Gurion) :
        David Ben-Gurion
        In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.
        David Ben-Gurion (16 October 1886 – 1 December 1973) was the first Prime Minister of Israel. He was a leading Zionist campaigner before the establishment of the Jewish state, and played an instrumental role in Israel when the British Mandate in Palestine ended. He carried Israel through the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and lead the country in its first years of existence, not retiring until 1970.

        Quotes [EXCERPTED]

        • “We do not wish, we do not need to expel the Arabs and take their place. All our aspirations are built upon the assumption — proven throughout all our activity in the Land — that there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs.” ~ Letter to his son Amos (5 October 1937), as quoted in Teveth, Shabtai, Ben Gurion: The Burning Ground; and Karsh, Efraim (2000), Fabricating Israeli History: The ‘New Historians’; this has been extensively misquoted as “[We] must expel Arabs and take their places” after appearing in this form in Morris, Benny (1987), The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949, Cambridge University Press, p. 25.

        • “The acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce Transjordan: one does not demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today, but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.” ~ Speech in 1937, accepting a British proposal for partition of Palestine which created a potential Jewish majority state, as quoted in New Outlook (April 1977)

        • “The debate has not been for or against the indivisibility of Eretz Israel. No Zionist can forgo the smallest portion of Eretz Israel. The Debate was over which of two routes would lead quicker to the common goal.” ~ As quoted in Chomsky, Noam, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (Updated Edition) (South End Press Classics Series).

        • “A partial Jewish State is not the end, but only the beginning. … I am certain that we well not be prevented from settling in the other parts of the country, either by mutual agreements with our Arab neighbors or by some other means. . . [If the Arabs refuse] we shall have to speak to them in another language. But we shall only have another language if we have a state.” ~ As quoted in Chomsky, Noam, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (Updated Edition) (South End Press Classics Series).

        SOURCE – https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/David_Ben-Gurion

  4. farhad
    April 2, 2016, 10:35 am

    Any way we can buy those Run for Palestine T-Shirts in the U.S.?

  5. Ossinev
    April 4, 2016, 7:21 am

    @jons
    The quote from Ben Gurion is phony. In fact BG wrote the opposite (“we must not expel…”)

    Well spotted sunshine – what he actually said was “we must not expel them as that would be too complicated and costly. We must exterminate a few hundred men women and children at a time and that will frighten all the others into expelling themselves”

    And hey what do you know it worked up to a point.

    BG was such a lovely kind hearted man in private apparently , just like one of his famous contemporaries AH.

    • MHughes976
      April 4, 2016, 10:32 am

      I hadn’t thought that BG was in the habit of being quite so self-incriminating.
      The 1937 handwritten private letter is notoriously difficult to read, with some of the text scratched out.
      There was an exchange between Morris and Siegman in the NY Review of Books – 2004? – which I think Siegman conspicuously failed to lose – about the intentions of 48.

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