More than 100 Gaza athletes were unable to participate in the fourth annual Palestine Marathon in Bethlehem, after Israel refused to give them permits to exit the blockaded Gaza Strip. The organizer condemned the action as a “blatant violation” of international laws on freedom of movement.
Among the 103 athletes barred was star runner Nader Masri, who represented Palestine at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Joining him on the banned list were members of the campaign group Right to Movement and Right to Play – the organizing body behind the event, together with the Palestine Olympic Committee.
It is the third time such a situation has happened, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA. In the first and second marathons in 2013 and 2014, Israel refused to grant the athletes permission to join the sporting event. In 2015 it only allowed a very small number of Palestinians to participate.
The move by Israel was blasted by the marathon’s organizer, I’tidal Abdul-Ghani, as “a blatant violation of all international laws and norms pertaining to athletes’ freedom of movement.”
The symbolic event is a 42km (26-mile) run organized every year in protest at the restrictions on movement imposed by Israel on Palestinians across the occupied territories. It kicks off at the Church of the Nativity in the old city area of Bethlehem and runs the length of the city, as well as past two refugee camps and along the Israeli-constructed wall.
Winners are given a medal fashioned out of a local-growing olive tree and a certificate.