Jerusalem24 – A group of Palestinian and Danish activists attempted to organize a marathon in Bethlehem in 2012. but were unable to do so due to the lack of a 42.15 km a marathon needs because of the restrictions on movement imposed by the Israeli occupation. Even when they invited international participants their entry was denied, and a dream of a marathon in Palestine was crushed.
“Discrimination is not limited to Palestinian runners; international competitors in the annual marathons are also exposed to harassment. “Internationals have been denied access to the country on several occasions or have been harassed for joining. Not to mention the Gazans, whose permits are routinely denied”
As a response to this obstacle, the Right to Movement project was founded, the name ‘Right to Movement’ that came to symbolize the daily realities of Palestinian constrained movements. Hence, activists decided to map out several paths throughout the city. They discovered a 10-kilometer course and decided to loop it four times to make it a full marathon.
“The movement organizes volunteers to run the same routes people take to school and work, routes that are filled with checkpoints, settlements, confiscated lands, and the apartheid wall”, George Zeidan said, co-founder of Right to Movement.
The initiative aims to use sports to raise awareness of the occupation’s barriers and challenges. While doing simple tasks like running or hiking, there is always the risk of running into settlers and being harassed or discriminated against. Hikes and camping trips to various parts of Palestine are organized by the movement to teach participants about the value of the land, to show them the beauty of Palestine, and to encourage Palestinians to exist openly and unashamedly.
George Zeidan spoke to us with pride about the movement’s participation in international marathons. Since its establishment, about 20 delegations have been sent to compete in sporting events all around the world, from the United States to Europe to other Middle Eastern countries.
“Our aim is to create a society that welcomes both men and women participating in sports together, a society that creates the proper environment for Palestinian women and their families to feel comfortable and safe enough to join and train,” he said. “A society that is happy and healthy, and finally a society that fosters good bonds between Palestinians across the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza, and occupied Palestine”.
Right to Movement has organized the Palestine Marathon for four successful years. Starting in 2017, the Palestinian Olympic Committee took over the event. But even though the right to movement is no longer organizing the right to movement is still on many community and volunteering works in and around the city of Bethlehem where it all started.