By Susan Abulhawa and Ramzy Baroud
We build playgrounds for Palestinian children. It’s our way of using love to resist Israel’s miserable occupation of Palestine. Love of children. Love of play. Love and admiration of the dauntless Palestinian heart that continues to endure, year after worsening year.
There are many ways we could have chosen to raise money for another playground, but this year two of us – Susan Abulhawa and Ramzy Baroud – decided to run a marathon. Our doctors advised us against such a grueling physical task, and our friends called us “crazy”.
Both of us have had serious injuries that should preclude endeavoring to run a marathon – two bodies with herniated lumbar disks, back surgeries, multiple knee surgeries, and frayed cartilage in crucial joints set to pound the pavement on a seemingly endless 26.2 mile path on foot. Palestine has serious injuries, too, that should preclude another day of existing – an impoverished, battered civilian nation struggling against an imperialist nuclear power backed by the world’s only remaining superpower on a seemingly endless path home.
We knew the run would be difficult, but imagination in this case was insufficient to appreciate the magnitude of it. By mile 12, Susie’s right knee had swelled to the size of a small grapefruit. Her back shot pain down her legs. From mile 15 on, she came to understand a new definition for the phrase “physical depletion” and learned how to go the distance only on will and heart. It was the lesson she carried to the finish line. The lesson she will continue to carry the distance home to justice. To Palestine.
Ramzy knew his knee would begin to ache, but he expected it to start well into the race. When he felt the first pangs during mile 2, he worried. When the sun made a brief appearance, he thought it was safe to discard his gloves, but the mistake of that act burned his hands with cold for more than half the marathon.
Mile after mile, we waddle on along the frozen streets of Philadelphia. Spilt water and Gatorade soon turned into sheets of black ice. Running the distance is hard enough. Running the distance while performing a balancing act is extremely challenging. It’s after mile 15 that one resorts to mental games to justify every step, every movement and every breath. It’s around mile 20 that neither music, nor repeating mantras can propel the exhausted body much further. Only mental resolve and determination. For both of us, Gaza is the uncontested inspiration. A remarkable people who have endured what no other people could, and yet somehow survives, somehow manages and even finds a reason to hope. But so is the nature of the Palestinian people, strong in their resolve and stubborn and tenacious.
When Susan arrived to a devastated scene following the Jenin massacre in April 2002, one thing struck her most: the children; their friendly, loving faces, giddy and full of laughter. She organized a workshop for the camps’ kids as the grown ups busily dug mass graves to bury their friends and family.
Ramzy grew up in a refugee camp in Gaza. He would eagerly await the withdrawal of Israeli tanks from his camp, so that, he, along with many peers could dash to a leveled field of dirt and kick and a soccer ball around till dark or the next Israeli raid, whichever came first.
It’s these memories and more that made running 26.2 miles possible.
In the West Bank, in Gaza or in South Lebanon, Palestinians have learned the virtue of running: resilient West Bank farmers are habitually chased away from their farms to make way for a new Israeli settlement, or room for the Israeli wall; Palestinian mothers in Nahr al-Bared flee with their children to escape the whiz of bullets and the whistles of bombs; Gazan children chasing after a UN aid truck.
What is most painful is the sight of Palestinian children chased away at so many corners. In Gaza in the last two years, they have suffered the most.
We fully appreciate the struggles of Palestinian children, and understand that one playground will not bring an end to their suffering. But we didn’t embark on our marathon to raise money for one more playground as a symbolic gesture either. What we meant to convey is that making a difference is an awesome task, a marathon-like feat, if not harder. It requires commitment and dedication, and despite the exhaustion, it has its rewards.
Our hope is that you will get involved, in your own way and in whatever capacity. And that you will join us by taking the first step in the long journey of our collective fight for justice and peace. True, we intend on building a playground, but more, we want to assemble hope, construct unity of purpose, and dare to imagine, and, as cliché as this may sound, make a difference.
We ran the Philadelphia Marathon and successfully so because we our hope is relentless, a hope that we didn’t obtain by the seemingly endless pounding over Philadelphia’s frozen asphalt, but by the will and resolve of Palestine, its people, and more so, its children.
-Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London).