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Can I keep jogging without the pain of politics?

It’s always so nice to come home to Israel. It was a successful trip away; I fell in love with my new nephew, and I gained some deep insights into my American Jewish community, caught up with family and friends.

After a freezing few weeks, I was thrilled to catch the last of the soft gray rainstorms of Tel Aviv, which are more cozy than they are cold. In fact, spring has almost arrived. And among the joys of coming home was that first beautiful jog along the sea.

The broken running paths of Tel Aviv have been marvelously renovated in recent years, stretching south to the Old Jaffa port, which has also been rebuilt. It has a sleek and understated grace, with nostalgic wooden floor planks (soft for runners), flanked by low hangars of steel and glass, hosting hip, creative art exhibits.

Round the old fishing depots that coexist with the tony nightclubs, through a small parking lot, and the running trail picks up again. Here the path is brand new, an elegantly curved line tracing manicured slopes of grass, with spot-lighting from the ground for the dusk-runners like me. Pale beams of setting winter sun lit up the bottom of the rain clouds as I ran, making the water glow, and my heart ached imagining what Turner would have done with that horizon.

J.M.W.Turner: The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken (Photo: Wikipedia, copyright expired)

Inspired, I began to dream of running the Tel Aviv marathon in five weeks, and these thoughts, together with the breathtaking nightfall over Jaffa, kept me going for around 15 km.

Today, I read this arresting opening paragraph in Haaretz:

Gaza runner Bahaa al-Farra treads carefully, braving the elements and potholed roads ravaged by years of conflict between Palestinian militants and the Israeli army, as he prepares to race at the London Olympics.

I wanted to shake this article from my personal horizon. Please, just keep my running pristine, it’s about the only thing still not tainted with the pain of politics.

But the article’s frank almost feel-good tale, devoid of political manipulation, was unrelenting for me. An unassuming paragraph close to the end read:

Abu Maraheel [Farra’s coach, ds] treasures the trainers he wore in Atlanta and says he rescued them along with other trophies and mementos when his home was hit during Operation Cast Lead three years ago. “The house was hit … and we escaped, but I made sure I took the shoes with me”, he said.

How can I run now? How can I run to the horizon with rhythmic long-distance bliss, when this person had to salvage his shoes from a house bombed in a conflict with us? How can I outrun my cares towards daily freedom, when my country blackens their daily lives?

Someone is sure to dismiss this as sentimental, bleeding-heart guilt. So be it. Someone else is sure to say but there are so many other dire problems right here inside Israel – why the obsession with the occupation that can’t be solved? Yes, Israel has its problems. But Israel is inflicting this systematic political stranglehold on others and therefore I do have to think, always, about how to solve it. So how?

I wondered if I should boycott the marathon as a statement. But I realized that no one would listen. And here’s the truth: I couldn’t stand to sacrifice this personal pleasure, a slice of joy within long days of work. Quickly, I found my own justification and I believe it too: sitting out the marathon would have denied myself something that gives me personal strength to undertake my professional and political activity.

Once, my friend Sari Bashi (who, unlike me, is a serious runner – of ultra-marathons – and a human rights lawyer defending Palestinian freedom of movement), and I got the idea of holding a Peace Marathon along the pristine Gaza coastline, about 41 kilometers (25 miles) long. It was only a year or two ago, but the climate here is far too bitter and non-peaceful to imagine that now.

No, this year’s Tel Aviv marathon won’t become the next victim of boycott nor a personal statement of non-normalization of Israeli life. At best it will give me (and at least one other +972 colleague) a boost of energy to keep our spirits up as we make ourselves ever-more unpopular by criticizing what we think is wrong.

But I’ll be thinking before, during and after the race, about effective ways to renovate Israel’s broken paths, straighten its crooked timber.

And I’ll think of 19-year old Bahaa al Farra making the Olympics  – an international arena of political protest – for the political statement, and for the medal.

Black Power Salute, Olympics 1968 (Photo: Newtown Grafitti/flickr)

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    1. Tammy


      Reply to Comment
    2. Oded Adomi Leshem

      I ran the 2003 Madrid Marathon. Instead of the professional running shirt I put on a white t-shirt with a sentence I wrote on the back using a regular black marker. It read: “I am Israeli and I’m running for peace between Palestine and Israel!”.
      Dahlia – Maybe you can phrase your own sentence and run with it so all can see?

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    3. Great idea, Oded! 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    4. Tammy

      @ ODED: Deep/גָּדוֹל

      Reply to Comment
    5. KM

      Dahlia, as a runner here in Tel Aviv this post resonated with me so deeply. It’s nice to know there’s someone out there running the same route I do, struggling with the same thoughts as the mile markers pass by.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Keep running, Dahlia! I’ll be right behind you.

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    7. If one wants to boycott the Tel Aviv Marathon, the excessive price and lack of subsidies for either locals or the economically-challenged is already good enough a reason.

      But despite all of this, I’ll be there.

      Good luck to all the runners, everywhere.

      Reply to Comment
    8. aristeides

      This isn’t about jogging. It’s about the hypocrisy of living in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Three of my favorite things -Israel, running, and thinking. Thanks for this.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Anon

      I wanted to dislike this post, as being too uncritical or something. But I couldn’t. There’s something simple and beautiful and sad about it. Maybe you have to love running to sympathize. But I do, and I did sympathize.

      Reply to Comment
    11. AYLA

      Dahlia–you have to keep running, if for no other reason than because I’d imagine that running clears you for writing, and we need your voice. If only more people living in Israel were like you; we need you, and here, and running.
      the joint marathon is brilliant. not an israeli run for peace; a joint Israeli-Palestinian run, through many “burroughs”, Obviously, there would be heavy security, and permits, and etc.; it would be hell to plan, and would require at least a year. but I don’t think it’s impossible. Maybe not through Gaza at this time. through east and west jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem…. It’s kind of brilliant.
      can we make a rule that anyone criticizing strangers’ personal life choices on 972 must use their true identity? Just sayin’.

      Reply to Comment
    12. DTA

      Dahlia, since it says in your Huffington post profile that you have moved there in 97 from US or Canada (so I assume you are an immigrant), I am very confused on how I am supposed to feel after reading this article where you are trying to show your sympathy to the people living in the other side of the border, while you are living in relative prosperity. It is always easier to show compassion from a “doing-well” side.
      As Ayla suggests, it is totally not my business to criticize your personal choices, but since you are publishing this article in 972 and asking for comments, I think it is acceptable for anyone voicing similar comments..

      Reply to Comment
    13. AYLA

      DTA–I, Ayla Peggy Adler, moved to Israel only a few years ago from the States as a (very) full-fledged adult. I’m Jewish. I came here, as a Jew, got hooked on the Negev, and after a few years back and forth, quit a good teaching job to move my life here and start over. I am very aware –beyond the economic/development disparity you point to–that my Right of Return is unjust if Palestinians don’t have theirs. To me, this is the biggest political problem with my move. However. I do believe that Jews also have a right to be here as well, and a responsibility to be here with humility, respect, honor for all the people and her land, etc. I’m a thousand times more active in fighting for that cause while living here than I was back in the States, and I understand the conflict a thousand times better because now I actually know Palestinians. Although I certainly respect, and relate to, the choices of those who can’t stomach living here with the injustice and leave, and the choices of those who don’t come, and the choices of those who don’t engage, I’m also very grateful for every Jew living on this side of the greenline who is fighting for justice, and I only wish there were more of us who did NOT see the choice as you do. I care about this whole region; what would become of this place if the only Israelis were those who supported the Occupation? Meanwhile: who are you? where do you live? Why no name? Because it’s hard for me to think of any place, anywhere on earth, where people aren’t living in what we could call hypocrisy. It’s how we live our lives that matters. We make a difference, every day, in our everyday interactions and choices. I could never write the book I’m writing if I didn’t live here, a novel set on this land, and my writing is my calling. What’s yours? I don’t ask that antagonistically; I ask it earnestly. What’s your calling, DTA? Get on with it, and let others get on with theirs. We waste so much energy on this site pointing fingers. If Dahlia is the enemy, we’re in bigger trouble than I thought.

      Reply to Comment
    14. AYLA

      sorry for all the typos. I’ll let you find them ;). I stand by the sentiments. shabbat shalom to those who celebrate–see you on the other side. Take care, everyone. And, run! Run!

      Reply to Comment
    15. DTA

      Ayla: I have reasons for why I am not using my name etc. – see what happened to Dr. Teri Ginsberg in North Carolina State University, Dr. Finkelstein etc., while I do really appreciate how open you are and I feel very bad I am not as open. I see some points in your above reasoning that I am not 100% convinced, but I will stop here; never mind.
      PS. Believe it or not, you are one of my heros in this 972 site – when I read an article usually I quickly scroll down to see if there is a comment of yours (and few other of my favorite commenters.) I have not meant to antagonize you or Dahlia, I was just challenging some reasonings/ideas.

      Reply to Comment
    16. AYLA

      (Dahlia–advance apologies for the length of this post. With this piece, you have made the discussion I’m having with DTA on-topic, and I feel this topic comes up in every other comment thread, so I’m taking this opportunity. Thanks for raising it).
      DTA–first, thank you so much for letting me know that my posts make a difference to someone; that means a lot to me. You are not among those who make me angry on this subject (your tone is respectful), but this subject comes up all the time on these threads: Many people point the finger and say others should move. Right- wingers say to people like me: you don’t like it; move (which only makes me want to fight harder–God forbid those are the only people left, here). I’ve heard people tell *Ami*, who was born in Israel, that he’s a hypocrite if he doesn’t move. 972 writers are accused of not being Israeli and of being Israeli; no one can win. To me it’s a huge waste of our energy for the relatively small percentage of Jews fighting against the occupation (and you have compared yourself to a few, so I’ll count you among us), to in-fight. It also really pisses me off from armchair critics. Not you. They know who they are.
      I can tell you this: when I was living in the U.S., I always felt a sense of numb dis-ease around what my country was doing and how little I was personally feeling it; how little it seemed I could do about it. You know the list, and the feeling after Bush was elected a second time. Then, when I was living in the Negev in 2007, I got involved helping African Refugees who were spilling over the border, some from Darfur, and suddenly I was in it, not sitting at a dinner party in a college town lobbying ideas back and forth with like-minded liberals. When I went back to the U.S. after that year, I went to some J-Street meetings and felt the dialogue among americans over wine and cheese was so irrelevant, so far removed, it was depressing. Then I moved back. Then I stayed. Now, I feel my actions, my inter-actions, actually make some kind of difference, and certainly I learn more and more, and have my assumptions challenged constantly.
      Now, I would *never* say that americans should move, or that J-Street etc. doesn’t matter (this would be antithetical to 972s raison d’etre), or that you have no right to a voice here. But if we can’t respect and empathize with each other, and learn from each other, how the hell are we going to do so with anyone else. And the last people we, 972 readers, should be accusing are 972 writers. Based on the amount of time and energy we spend here, we sure seem to value their work and believe in the Magazine’s ability to make a difference. They are also politically active off-line…
      p.s. I wish you weren’t afraid to speak publicly about your views. There are protections in place in the U.S., even if there is pressure, and it is exactly that kind of pressure that we must fight, because it’s the suppression of criticism against Israel in the U.S. that is fueling the occupation.

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    17. DTA

      Ayla: This was very very powerful; thank you for sharing. BTW, I sent you a facebook message.

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    18. AYLA

      DTA: thank you. I hope you aren’t the only person on this thread reading it… (also, didn’t receive that message).

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    19. Shuli

      DTA is not the only one! I have much to say but struggle to word it, so I just read and absorb and think. You are read, heard and appreciated!

      Reply to Comment