Nearly 2,200 children and 500 adults took to the streets of Gaza today to participate in a marathon that aims to raise money for a United Nations-organized sporting event for Palestinian children.
Professional athletes as well as amateur runners from the Middle East and around the world ran along the Gaza Strip, which is 42 kilometres long, exactly the length of an official marathon.
The main aim of the race, which was organized by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), was to raise funds for the UNRWA 2012 Summer Games.
The Games allow some 250,000 Gaza children “to have fun and express themselves freely and safely, an experience that is rare for children growing up in the territory under an Israeli blockade,” the agency said in a news release.
“We ran three kilometres. We were so happy to run, and of course we helped each other out, and we are tired now,” said 13-year-old Sahia Al-Hawajery. “We ran and we are tired because our Palestinian people are poor and need money, and we are working for the Summer Games to have fun and enjoy our rights, like the rest of the children in the world.”
Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA spokesperson, said the agency needs $9.9 million to cover the costs of the Summer Games.
“Today is a big day for the residents of the Gaza Strip, it is a message to the world that Gaza is like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and Cairo, and it is possible to organize such a big and huge marathon here,” he stated.
“This is an important message, that here, in this place, despite the blockade, there is insistence on life, and insistence on playing. It is a message to the world that we grow hope here in Gaza,” he added.
This was the second UNRWA Gaza Marathon, and this year the event drew the participation of two Olympic competitors: Nader Al Masri, running the full marathon, and Bahaa al-Farra, a 400-metre 2012 London Olympic athlete, running the 10-kilometre race.