6,000 runners take part in the Palestine Marathon, demand freedom of movement for Palestinians

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The fifth annual Palestine Marathon kicked off on Friday in the West Bank city of Bethlehem—with 6,000 runners participating this year’s marathon was the largest ever in the city. The marathon, which takes place every year to publicize Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, saw runners from at least 65 different countries, according to Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun.

Participation in 2017 grew by 1,000 runners from the previous year, and Baboun boasted that the marathon hosted a diverse crowd—50 percent of participants were women, and 500 were disabled marathoners.

Participants run along Israel’s controversial separation barrier, which divides the West Bank from Jerusalem, in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem during the 5th Palestine Marathon on March 31, 2017. (Photo: Wisam Hashlamoun/APA Images)
Participants run in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem during the 5th Palestine Marathon on March 31, 2017. (Photo: Wisam Hashlamoun/APA Images)

Roads closed down for the marathon across the city. Because Area A in Bethlehem — the only part of the district under Palestinian control — is so small, runners had to make two laps through the city and loop through a refugee camp in order to fit the marathon route inside the city. This confined reality for Palestinians is a central focus of the marathon’s message to the world.

This year’s race was organized by the Palestine Olympic Committee, but it was first organized by the Right to Movement in 2013 with 700 participants. The founding group released a statement that celebrated the turnout.

(Image: Carlos Latuff)

“We wanted to shed light on violations of the basic human rights of freedom of movement of Palestinian people caused by the occupation,” the statement said. “We created an internationally recognized running course, in spite of restraints on movement and by designing a two-loop course through Bethlehem.”

Not all those who wished to participate were allowed. Thirty-six of 50 runners from the Gaza Strip were barred from leaving the enclave to participate in the marathon. Both the Palestine Olympic Committee and the Palestinian Athletics Federation condemned the move, according to Palestinian al-Quds media agency.

In addition, British comedian Eddie Izzard was banned by the marathon’s organizers from running in the race, as he refused to cancel a show he played in Tel Aviv on Thursday—a move in contravention to the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Local BDS activists were also present at the race, holding up signs encouraging runners to join the movement.

Manger Square, March 31, 2017. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)
(Photo: Sheren Khalel)

The event included a “family race” of just 1.2 miles (2 km), as well as a 6.2 miles (10 km race), a 13-mile half marathon (21 km), and the full marathon, 26.2 miles (42 km).

Manger Square, a large courtyard in front of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, acted as the marathon’s starting and finishing line, as well as the gathering point for the festivities of the marathon.

Palestine TV, the official television station of the Palestinian Authority, projected a live feed of the race from the square. Many of the runners from shorter races got to the square before those competing in the full marathon finished.

During the festivities, volunteers and medics passed out water, fruit, dates and granola bars to keep runners’ energy level up.

Palestinian scouts greeted runners at the finish line, awarding them their medals.

Mervin Steenkamp, who hails from South Africa, won the full marathon for the second consecutive year, while Thaer Shanaah, from Gaza, won second place, and U.S. citizen Taylor Broadwell came in third.

In the square DJs played music, while families gathered, enjoying the festive atmosphere.  Youth danced Dakba while waving Palestinian flags and traditional keffiyeh scarves.

Palestinian flags were in abundance at the race, as many runners clutched the national symbol, handing off their flags back and forth to each other throughout the race.

A Palestinian girl holds onto an abacus refashioned by Palestinian artist Rana Bishara to include barbed wire, on display at the Palestine Marathon, March 31, 2017. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

One local artist, Rana Bishara, based in Beit Jala, featured some of her political based art at the marathon, including a piece in honor of Palestinian children an oversized abacus, an educational math toy for children, which was designed with barbed wire as poles to hold the beads instead of thin wooden rods.

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That looks fun, I’d love to do the half marathon one year. For anybody else who likes to run road races, there’s a series of Gaza 5Ks to benefit mental health services for children in Gaza. There’s one in Chicago at the end of April. Also in DC and SF later in the year.

Great to see Palestinians despite the Zio oppression and the Zio restrictions being keen and able to organise their own marathon. Perhaps those foreigners who have taken part in the 26.2 miles of the Hasbara Jerusalem marathon should consider running in the West Bank marathon instead just to get a real world experience of Zio “civilisation” in action . Having said that no doubt at some point the Palestinian marathon will be portrayed by the… Read more »

Ossinev: re Eddie Izzard No it wasn’t a mistake; what would he have seen running the marathon? Not the day to day grind of oppression, humiliation and occupation, that’s for sure. People need to know that it is way past the time when performers “talk” to their Israeli audience; people have been talking for decades to no avail. I am quite sure that had Eddie known how many people had been banned from running by… Read more »