Participants run past Israeli barrier during Palestine Marathon in the West Bank town of Bethlehem..
Over 3,000 runners exercised their right to movement on Friday during the Palestine “RIght to Movement” Marathon in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
Race organizers chose Bethlehem as the location for the race, because they wanted it to occur within Area A, so Palestinian police could be in full control. Throughout the West Bank there is not a 42.195 kilometer stretch of land, so the marathon consists of two 21 kilometer loops-- beginning in Manger square, by the Church of the Nativity, then along the Separation Wall, through two refugee camps and past a turnaround point in a checkpoint.
Of the 3,093 runners, more than 72% of participants were Palestinian, and the remaining runners came from 49 different nations. An additional 50 runners from Gaza were able to participate this year.
The race in Bethlehem is the only marathon in Palestine, as the Gaza Marathon was cancelled in 2013 by the United Nations after Hamas banned women from participating in the race alongside men. This was the first year authorities allowed Gazans to participate in the race. Among the 50 Gazan participants was first place finisher Nadar Al-Masri, who completed the 42 kilometer race in 2:57.
The race was organized by Right to Movement, a running organization founded by two Danish women in Jerusalem, that has spread through Israel and Palestine. It is a non-profit, non-religious and non-political social movement that describes itself as a global running community with runners running for the human right to freedom of movement.
“We say it's not political, but I don't think you can breathe down here without it being political,” Founder of Right to Movement, Signe Fischer-Smidt told The Jerusalem Post
. “One of the basic human rights is the right to movement, and we all have that in theory. It’s in the UN Human Rights Resolution Declaration 13. With running you can just put on your shoes and go running. And It inspired me that you can not only claim your own right to move physically as a runner, but you can also make your society move.”
Residents of Bethlehem came out in droves to cheer for the runners, doing everything from passing out water at official hydration stations, to providing homemade treats to runners at the finish line. The mayor of the city took special precaution to ensure that no cars drove along the running routes and Palestinian police and medics were on hand throughout the race.
The eventual goal of the race is for it to be 100% Palestinian owned and managed, and for it to be a sports event that benefits the city. All materials for the race were purchased locally-- like bananas, water, printing and more. The more than 700 international runners also contributed to the economy by eating in local restaurants and staying in hotels.
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