Saturday, December 15, 2018

Thousands run in Palestine Marathon for the right to movement

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By Marta Feirra - April 02, 2016
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Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES]
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Photos by Bao Yen.
Four thousand Palestinian and international participants took the streets of Bethlehem on Friday, running along the separation wall, refugee camps and military infrastructure, to compete in the fourth annual marathon for the right to movement.

The marathon was organized by the Right to Movement collective, founded in 2013 by two Danish aid workers to promote the rights of Palestinians. “Restriction on movement is one of the major challenges for the Palestinian people living under occupation. Palestinians cannot move freely on roads, or from one city to another,” the group wrote.

Because the Palestinian Authority does not control 42 contiguous kilometres in the Bethlehem district, the distance of a full Olympic marathon, the run was organized in loops. The runners looped through a route that took them from the Nativity Church, considered Christ’s birthplace, along Israel’s separation wall and two refugee camps.

“We came because we wanted to tell a different story about Palestinians,” said Salma Shaheen, a high-school student from Hebron participating in the annual race for the second time with her friends. “To go to school in Hebron we have to pass through checkpoints and security. I hope one day we will be able to run without any checkpoints or restrictions,” she told the Palestine Monitor.

As a reminder of the movement restrictions faced by Palestinians, no runners from the Gaza Strip were able to participate this year, despite requests from the Palestinian Authority to allow around 100 runners to leave the blockaded coastal enclave.

COGAT, Israel’s ministry responsible for the Palestinian territories, said the forms of more than 100 runners from Gaza were rejected for being “submitted in too short notice”, accusing the Palestinian Authority of deliberately delaying application process to prevent the runners from participating and thus to “delegitimize Israel.”

“I am sorry that Gazan runners, including last year’s marathon winner Nader al-Masri, have not been granted permits by the Israeli authorities,” said Robert Piper, the UN’s Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities. “As many of us join this celebratory event, we remain acutely aware of the many barriers to freedom of movement faced by Palestinians everyday.”

Despite restrictions for Gazans, around 4 300 runners from 64 different countries took part in this year’s marathon, with a record of 45 percent female participation, according to the Right to Movement organization.

Minna Saarnivaara, a Finnish aid worker participating in the race, travelled to Bethlehem with a group of 16 people in what she described as an “advocacy” trip. “We want Finnish people to come and see how Palestinians live,” she explained. “The right to movement is a basic human right, and what is happening to Palestinians is a constant violation of their rights. It is absolutely immoral,” she added.

Ahmad Taha, a student in Birzeit University, has been participating in the race since its first edition in 2013. “It is liberating to be here, to be able to run and not to be stopped,” said Taha, who has a passion for running and the dream of representing Palestine in the Olympics one day.

“Running in Ramallah is not easy. I’ve ran thousands of miles around it, because running near settlements is very dangerous, so my movements are very limited,” he told the Palestine Monitor.

“I hope one day I will be able to win a marathon,” he said. Not for personal glory, but to be able to go up to the podium to “tell people about the situation in Palestine,” he explained.

George Zeidan, one of the marathon’s organizers and co-founders, said the race started as a way to “bring attention to the violations of our rights,” but also to challenge the representation of Palestinians.

“We like to run, and dance, and do everything normally just like everyone else,” he said. “But our daily life includes checkpoints, walls and countless restrictions. We are not terrorists. We resist the occupation our own way, by running,” he told the Palestine Monitor.

“We will keep running, until we can go from the Nativity church in Bethlehem to al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem without restrictions,” he said.  

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