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IDF prevents Gaza runners from taking part in West Bank marathon

Last month the Israeli army pointed to the cancellation of the Gaza marathon as proof of the lack of freedom under Hamas rule. Now the IDF is denying the same runners travel permits to run in the Bethlehem Marathon

The first official Palestinian marathon is set to take place this Sunday, April 21, in Bethlehem. There will be races for 10 km, a half Marathon and full Marathon (42.2 km), all within area A. The start and finish lines are at the Church of Nativity.

Twenty-five runners – 24 men and a woman – from Gaza were planning to take part in the Marathon, but currently they are not being issued travel permits by Israel. Among them is Nader Masri, who represented Palestine in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The Gaza runners were planning to take run the Gaza UNRWA Marathon last month, but a ban by Hamas on the participation of women in the race led UNRWA to cancel the event. Therefore, the Bethlehem Marathon presents a rare opportunity for the runners to take part in such a race.

According to the Israeli NGO Gisha, which deals with Palestinian freedom of movement, the Gaza runners were denied travel permits as a group, without even conducting individual security background checks, which is standard in such cases. In other words, it was not security concerns that prevented the runners from traveling, but a decision that the marathon is not part of the cases in which Israel allows Gazans to travel outside the Strip.

Gisha is calling on people to fax requests to the IDF’s commander for civilian administration, asking him to allow the runners to participate in the race. The fax number is 03-6976306 (more details, in Hebrew, here).

It should be noted that Israel recognized the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as a single unit under the Oslo Accord, and it is obliged to allow Gazans to take part in activities organized by the Palestinian Authority, such as the marathon (after appropriate security screenings). Ironically, when the Gaza Marathon was cancelled, the IDF blog reported on it at length, (rightly) highlighting the lack of many personal freedoms under Hamas rule. Now it’s the IDF that is denying those freedoms to the same runners.

Finally, a personal note: In recent years I completed seven full marathons, and I know how challenging the training and mental preparations are, even if you live in a more comfortable environment than the Gaza Strip. I hope the Gazan runners will be able to take part the marathon next week and experience, even for a short while, the sense of freedom and joy that participating in a long distance race can give.

After marathon is cancelled, will Gaza’s women speak out? 

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    1. aristeides

      International running federations such as IAAF and AIMS should sanction Israel and forbid its athletes from participating until Palestinians have full freedom to compete.

      Reply to Comment
      • Charles-Jerusalem

        Hola Arestides,
        Do you speak about the right to run the marathon and blow yourself as a good, respectful Hamas suicide bomber in the middle of the crowd?
        Refer to the Boston last terrorist show.
        They can blow themselves anywhere in Gaza, not in Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    2. XYZ

      The irony is that it is the West Bank population that doesn’t want the Gazans to have free access to their territory. The Oslo Agreements called for a “free passage” route that would allow Gazans to get to the West Bank without going through Israeli security checks. I believe it was implemented for a short time, but the onset of the Palestinian terrorist attacks ended this, and we never heard the Palestinian Authority making a major issue out of the closure. Deborah Sontag of the New York Times wrote an article at the time the free passage was open that West Bank Palestinians resented the presence of Gazans in their territory and she heard West Bankers telling the Gazans to “go back where they came from” (Gazans speak Arabic with a strong Egyptian accent which is different than the West Bank Palestinian accent so Gazans stand out). She said the West Bank Palestinians didn’t want them there because they would work for lower wages and were culturally different. Thus, this story is more complicated than it seems at first glance.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        XYZ fails again in his attempt to deflect blame from Israel to its victims.

        It wasn’t the Palestinians who refused to let the Gazan runners into the WB. It was Israel.

        Reply to Comment
      • The issue here is a temporary transfer to engage in a competition. But the security apparatus assumes that any deviation from flat uniform denial could become a bridgehead for greater leniency. All security organizations gravitate to this position unless stopped.

        On the issue of cheap Gazan labor (not at issue here), XYZ likely has a point. The underdeveloped economies in both the Bank and Gaza will incite protectionist exclusion. The longer Gaza and the Bank are apart, the harder it will be to intergrate them direct.

        Reply to Comment
        • aristeides

          There were similar issues between the East and West Germans after decades of divisions. It didn’t stop the nation from unifying.

          Reply to Comment
    3. rsgengland

      Why did they not travel via Egypt/Sinai/Jordan to get there.

      Did the runners have Hamas permission to travel to the West Bank, to participate in the race.


      Reply to Comment