Jerusalem24 – When we spoke two weeks ago to Masafer Yatta activist Sami Huraini about an upcoming 5km solidarity race snaking through the south Hebron Hills to raise awareness for the plight of the community threatened with forcible displacement by Israel, and the challenges he expected to encounter during the event, Sami said it was the race itself that was “a challenge to the army”.
“This race is going to happen,” he affirmed.
So just how did the race go that day?
We caught up with Haneen Kinani, international advocacy officer at the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy (one of the organizers of the race along with Youth of Sumud and Right to Movement), and Mohammed Huraini, a Masafer Yatta activist (and cousin of Sami Huraini’s). Both contributed to organizing the race, and both ran the 5km on the day.
“The event went really well,” says Haneen. “It was definitely a great experience to be all together in Masafer Yatta, especially in the month of May where we commemorate the 75th anniversary of Al-Nakba. […] Because of the occupation, it’s not always possible for us to physically meet in one place, so it was definitely a memorable experience.”
It was also Masafer Yatta’s very first marathon, says Mohammad, and participants came from far and wide across Palestine for the day. “We were very happy to host all the people.”
“A clear message”
When Haneen and Mohammad headed to the village of Al-Tuwani, the race’s starting point, on Friday 5 May, they were animated by different motivations. For Haneen, it was the idea of seeing people coming from everywhere and meeting up for this communal event. For Mohammad, it was his mission of telling the world about Masafer Yatta and how its people survive through daily Israeli army assaults.
But both are unified in their love for Masafer Yatta and its steadfast community. It was “heart-warming and empowering” to see people taking a stand with Masafer Yatta through this event, says Haneen.
Mohammad (echoing his cousin’s words two weeks ago) says this race “sends a clear message to the Israeli occupation that we will never stop fighting for Masafer Yatta and the people who live [there].”
A new generation bears the torch
Mohammad says everyone in Masafer Yatta believes it is so important to implement these events, that these different activities and solidarity demonstrations in marginalized areas of Palestine really can make a difference for their threatened communities. After all, Masafer Yatta specializes in producing activists, citizen journalists, and solidarity movements.
An event like Friday’s race “carries the message of strength and our resilience in Masafer Yatta”, says Mohammed. Haneen describes it as “a message of unity and responsibility to continue speaking against forced displacement and oppression.”
And this message is being increasingly carried by younger and younger shoulders in Masafer Yatta.
Among all of the runners, residents and outsiders, locals and internationals, young and old, what really stood out to Haneen was the number of young children participating. On the posts shared on social media by activists, residents, and journalists on the day, children are front and center in nearly every photograph taken.
“This is the nature of the Palestinian child,” says Mohammad. “In participating in these activities, the children of Masafer Yatta get out and discharge themselves of daily suffering [from] the occupation.”
“We might have not experienced Al-Nakba itself in 1948 but we are living it now under the occupation day by day,” Haneen adds. “The younger generation have demonstrated that they are much more fearless and vocal.”
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And did the army ever make an appearance that day?
“Moments before starting the marathon we started noticing the occupation forces and military jeeps began to appear in the hills surrounding the village of Al-Tuwani,” recounts Haneen. “They were probably alerted by our presence.”
They organizers had been “very sensitive and very cautious” about publishing details on social media ahead of the race in order to avoid drawing too much attention from the Israeli military or settlers.
But other than that first (distant) encounter, the event unfolded without a glitch, and everyone was able to cross the finish line of Masafer Yatta’s first-ever marathon.
Listen to the full interview on Vibes.