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.
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.
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.”