Thousands of Palestinians and internationals took to the streets of Bethlehem on Friday, winding past historic churches, refugee camps, and Israeli military infrastructure to compete in the third annual marathon hosted by the ancient Palestinian city.
Conceived in 2013 under the theme of ‘Right to Movement’ by Danish aid workers Signe Fischer and Lærke Hein, the race is now a concrete fixture on the social calendar and provides a whirlwind tour of the impact of conflict and military occupation on the city.
Starting opposite the Church of the Nativity – the alleged birthplace of Jesus Christ – runners sped past a section of Israel’s 708 kilometer long separation wall, which entirely surrounds the city’s northern and western sides, before passing Duheisha refugee camp, and the town of al-Khader, near the Gilo military checkpoint.
Due to a matrix of restrictions affecting Palestinian movement and access across the West Bank — there are 99 fixed checkpoints and hundreds of physical obstructions — race organizers were unable to find a contiguous stretch of 42 kilometers for the race and instead runners do loops of an 11 kilometer track.
Indeed, 85 percent of the Bethlehem district is classified as Area C, under full Israeli control, and organizers wanted to limit any risks and stay within Palestinian Authority controlled Area A.
Despite the restrictions, the marathon is growing in size, and this year an estimated 3,100 people from 51 countries took part in the event, compared to 687 in 2013.
– Read more: Palestine Marathon Defies Israeli Restrictions on Movement – Charlie Hoyle, Maan