Friday, March 23, 2018

Palestinians run for their rights in 3rd Annual Right to Movement Palestine Marathon

By Leila Nasr - April 03, 2015
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Bethlehem] [freedom of movement] [the Wall]

For the third year in a row, thousands of local and international runners have descended on the West Bank town of Bethlehem to show their support for Palestinians right to movement. On March 27, approximately 3,000 runners took part in the event along with hundreds of volunteers, attracting national and international press attention for all the right reasons. Runners had the opportunity to participate in 10-kilometer, 21-kilometer (half marathon) or 42-kilometer (full marathon) race lengths.

Originally founded as a tool to create awareness about the challenges that Palestinians face in their everyday movements, the marathon has grown significantly since the inaugural event in 2013, and now challenges not only physical restrictions, but social ones too.

Despite Palestinians theoretically possessing the internationally guaranteed Right to Movement, as per Article 13 of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Charter, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has said that this right is severely curtailed by Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. This is largely due to Israel’s Separation Wall, as well as an arbitrary movement permit system, and the presence of more than 59 permanent checkpoints and multiple other 'flying’ or pop-up checkpoints that, collectively, mean Palestinians are routinely stopped, humiliated and detained by Israeli soldiers, and are often exposed to physical violence.

These combined challenges are perhaps best evidenced in the efforts made by organisers to find a single 42km stretch of accessible, safe land on which to conduct the race. Being unable to find such a route due to Israeli constraints meant that competitors in the full marathon were forced to complete the same 21-kilometer loop twice. Despite this difficulty, event organisers ensured that the route of the race was specifically designed to best highlight these restrictive realities to all involved.

Runners began their journey at 8am from Bethlehem’s world-famous Church of the Nativity, and made their way towards the nearby Aida refugee camp, where more than 4,700 registered refugees reside on just 0.71 square kilometre of land. From here, participants continued courageously, past gun-bearing Israeli soldiers to the Dheisheh refugee camp, home to more than 13,000 Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes following the 1948 declaration of the Israeli state. Due to the poor economic conditions in the West Bank, as well as Palestinians inability to access the Israeli labour market due to restrictions on movement, approximately one-third of the camp’s residents are jobless.

During the race, the athletes swerved their way along sections of the Separation Wall, which severs many students from their schools, cuts off countless farmers from their lands, divides villages into halves, and prevents millions of Palestinians from living normal lives.  

One avid runner, Rawan Bannoura, completed the 21km route on Friday as a means of tangibly challenging the daily movement restrictions that she faces. “When I walk in the streets, I can’t simply go everywhere I want to go like normal people because of all the checkpoints and the wall,” she told the Palestine Monitor. 

Bannoura, 27 years of age and born in Bethlehem, competed in the 2014 Right to Movement Palestine Marathon as well, in addition to the Copenhagen marathon in 2014, where she ran as a proud representative of the Right to Movement Palestine group.

“Running for my right to movement in this marathon is important for me because the event is a tool that I can use to show the world the restrictions that we face, without getting too deep into the politics of it all,” she remarked.

In addition to challenging the physical limitations placed on Palestinians’ movement, the marathon also challenged social and cultural limitations – particularly in relation to female participation in sports.

Speaking on the topic, Bannoura said, “As a female runner, I am proud to participate in the marathon because it means that women here are challenging the norms created about us in life and in sports.”

Bannoura notes that when she first began running outside, she felt uncomfortable because people would stare at her and talk about her negatively. Now, however, she says that people are getting increasingly used to seeing her and her female friends running through the streets during training: “I want to show people that I can run side by side with my male friends, and that I can even beat them sometimes!”

Most of all, Bannoura values the way that the marathon enables outsiders to see Palestinians as normal human beings who like to have fun and enjoy their lives, rather than seeing them merely as pawns in a political game that rarely bothers to consult them.

“We Palestinians are amazing people; we are determined, smart, strong and creative, and we remain positive in the midst of the bad situation we are in,” she said.

While the future often remains uncertain for Palestinians, Bannoura, like many of her friends, has one central message to share with the world by running in this year’s marathon: “We are here and we plan to stay here, and we will practice our rights to show the world that, despite the injustices we are facing, we will make the most of our lives every single day”.


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