One day shy of completing a symbolic 1,500 km. trek through three Middle East countries, as well as Palestinian territories, Australian ultra-marathoner Pat Farmer donned a suit and sipped a pint of beer moments before addressing a well-heeled crowd in Jerusalem Sunday night.
“Many people have hopes and dreams for their lives, but very few materialize those dreams,” the lean, 52-year-old extreme athlete said at a reception for him attended by Australia’s Ambassador to Israel at The King David Hotel.
“I know I have a limited time on this planet, so I want to make it count for something.”
For the former Australian government minister and International Ambassador for the Red Cross – perhaps best known for running from the North Pole to the South Pole – that “something” is to foster peace through sport in one of the most divided regions of the world.
“I realize the need for peace in the Middle East,” Farmer continued. “Israel is a powerhouse, but so is Jordan and Lebanon – and the Palestinian people have so much to offer – and I want to make this [region] the Geneva of the Middle East.”
Noting that talk is cheap, Farmer said he felt compelled to take action via the tour de force 20-day Middle East Peace Run, as a means of fostering hope.
“By putting talk into action we’ve put a positive message out there,” he said. “Even though Australia is so far away, we care about the people of this region and want to do something about it – to make a sacrifice to show we care.”
Accompanied by a documentary team, Farmer has run the equivalent of two marathons a day, beginning in Lebanon, for the past 19 days. As he traversed each region, he was also joined by local supporters at national landmarks.
“There are four goals to this project: To strengthen popular aspirations to peace; to bring people together through sport; to promote the positive value of sport; and to highlight the region’s fine and unique attractions and people,” he said.
However, while the majority of Farmer’s run has been greeted with unity and great fanfare among Jordanians and the Lebanese, its symbolic spirit was briefly broken on Sunday when the Palestinian Authority refused to allow six Israelis to join Arab runners in Samaria.
According to Ari Briggs, director of Regavim – which coordinated Sunday’s leg of the run in advance with the Yesha Council – the Palestinian Olympic Committee in Ramallah threatened to pull out of the Peace Run if the six Israelis joined Farmer and Palestinians there.
Briggs said the Jewish contingent was asked to stop running after one kilometer, as the trek approached the Jewish communities of Eli and Shiloh.
“It’s very sad that the Palestinian Authority would sooner attempt to hide the 375,000 Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, instead of throwing their support behind a genuine attempt to promote peace and coexistence,” he told Arutz Sheva afterwards.
“True peace is made between people, and not by ignoring one and another.”
Nonetheless, the discord did not dampen Farmer’s, or Australia Ambassador to Israel Dave Shamar’s, spirits at the King David reception the evening before Farmer’s final Jerusalem leg.
“What he is doing is tremendously valuable,” said Sharma at the reception. “I think in a typically Australian way, it’s an understated way to make a point.”
Indeed, while conceding that Farmer’s run will not create peace among Israelis and Palestinians, he said it does afford a glimmer of hope.
“Pat’s not presenting his two-state solution, or framework for a peace agreement – his message is quite simple: Sometimes when you are making a long journey, you just need to take it one step at a time.”
The event was the brainchild of Danny Hakim, head of Budo for Peace, a non-profit that teaches ethics and values to children through martial arts. Hakim said he approached Farmer last year to
discuss the idea.
“I thought, what sport does everybody like to do? Everybody runs, so the purpose was not just Pat Farmer running, but people of different ethnic groups from these countries running with Pat,” said Hakim.
Noting the enthusiasm much of the trek has engendered, Hakim said he intends to make the Middle East Peace Run an annual event.
“What this is doing is giving hope,” he said. “People are realizing what we have in common through running.”
Meanwhile, as Farmer took to the lectern to address the packed crowd, he summarized the philosophy that propels his extreme physical undertaking.
“My personal philosophy is that nothing good is easy,” he said. “We care about the peace process, and whenever good men come under the veil of peace, there is hope in the world; and without hope, there is nothing. I hope that if nothing else, I have provided hope.”
Farmer continued: “My message to you is that Australia cares about this region, so please don’t give up on the peace process.”