Jerusalem24 – The organizers have stated that the purpose of this marathon is to send a message to the world, as well as to the Israelis, that the Palestinian people have a right to move freely in their homeland. In an interview with Jerusalem24 George Zedan, a founding member of the right to movement campaign, told us of the efforts that organized the first marathon in 2012. “The idea was to make a happy international day in Palestine.” The goal of the marathon was to show life under occupation, as George put “When you live in Palestine, when you go to school you pass by checkpoints, by the wall, by the refugee camps and this is the same when you run”.
The marathon had also attracted runners from around the world, according to George Zeidan, in 2016 of the 4600 runners there were 1200 internationals from various countries participating. Despite the many successes that the marathon has enjoyed in Palestine, there were still many challenges that had to be overcome. Ironically, they were mostly about the inability to move across and into the West Bank. Zeidan informed Jerusalem24 that “a lot of runners were not allowed to come to the race throughout the years, without an actual reason.” Israel’s control of all borders made it difficult for internationals to participate. Another obstacle he mentioned was how Israel prohibited runners from Gaza to participate, in three out of the four marathons he had organized Gazans were not allowed to run with their West Bank peers. Zeidan and his colleagues also faced the issue of Israeli checkpoints that delayed the arrival of the runners, “the runners have to gather together near the Church of Nativity at six in the morning. A lot of the checkpoints in the West Bank would be closed before that time.”
While Zeidan and his colleagues no longer coordinate the yearly marathon, they still organize other activities across the Palestinian territories. They have created several groups in many Palestinian cities that get together to train and exercise on a weekly basis. He told Jerusalem24 that “They are for free, they are organized by volunteers in every city where we call for events and encourage people to come and exercise.” The groups work to promote different messages as well, such as encouraging Palestinian women to participate, raise awareness on the limitations on the Palestinian people’s right to movement placed by the Israelis and building bridges and connections between Palestinians all across the territories. Zeidan also told Jerusalem 24 that they are “trying to introduce an overall happy, healthy lifestyle in the country.”
The Palestinians run the route of the Marathon through the city of Bethlehem, passing by several important locations. One part of the route even passes near the Israeli separation barrier that was constructed in the city. All while demanding their right to travel freely, whether at home or for travelling abroad. With each year the Palestinians return to repeat this marathon in a city surrounded by checkpoints and a wall.