More than 3,000 runners from around the world took part in the second annual Palestine Marathon on Friday, passing the Israeli separation wall and curbing around checkpoints on the 42-kilometer (26 miles) course.
The marathon is held under the banner “Right to Movement” in order to highlight Israeli obstacles to freedom of movement in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The marathon took place in Bethlehem and entailed a two-directional run on the same 21-kilometer (13 miles) stretch around the central Palestinian city and nearby villages.
Due to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement and physical barriers such as checkpoints and the separation wall, organizers have had difficulty finding an appropriate, continuous 42-kilometer loop within the occupied West Bank.
Organizers said around 2,500 participants hailed from across the Palestinian territories, while around 700 came from 39 different countries. Besides Palestinians, Denmark, the US, and the UK were the countries most represented in the race.
Israeli jets could be heard flying overhead at the beginning of the marathon, but organizers and runners remained undeterred.
The marathon commenced in the presence of Bethlehem mayor Vera Baboun, Bethlehem governor Abd al-Fattah Hamayel, police chief commissioner Alaa Shalabi, and the secretary general of the Palestinian Olympic committee Mazen al-Khatib.
“By God’s blessing, I pronounce the start of the second international Palestinian marathon in the city of Bethlehem,” Baboun said.
The course took runners around the historic core of the holy city of Bethlehem, looping around the Israeli separation wall as it passes through the city and into Aida refugee camp.
Israeli forces prevented Palestinians from using the speakers at the Bilal Bin Rabah mosque at Rachel’s Tomb near Aida refugee camp in order to help participants with directions on the course nor to play music.
From there, participants ran beside Duheisha refugee camp to the village of al-Khader west of Bethlehem, before turning back at an Israeli checkpoint near the historic Solomon’s Pools archaeological site.
Israeli forces maintain severe restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the West Bank through a complex combination of fixed checkpoints, flying checkpoints, roads forbidden to Palestinians but open exclusively to Jewish settlers, and various other physical obstructions.
At any given time there are about 100 permanent Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, while surprise flying checkpoints often number into the hundreds.
On Tuesday, the Israeli High Court of Justice turned down an appeal by the human rights group Gisha on behalf of Gaza runner Nadir al-Masri, who was denied entry to the West Bank to compete in the marathon.
Al-Masri, 34, was also denied entry to the West Bank in 2013 to compete.
Israel tightened restrictions on Palestinians traveling in and out of Gaza after Hamas came to power in the coastal strip in 2006.
“Nader Al-Masri is another victim of the ‘separation policy’, the over-reaching, arbitrary and vague decision that, every day, inflicts harm on tens of thousands of Palestinians seeking only to live a full and normal life,” Gisha said in a statement on Tuesday.
The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.
(Ma’an – www.maannews.net)