My Word: On marathons and talks
UNRWA cannot be seen to condone the gender discrimination being enforced by Hamas on religious grounds.
Male and female winners of the Jerusalem marathon 390 Photo: STEVE LINDE
It resembled “a dry run” for President Barack Obama’s visit later this month –
most roads in the capital were closed and there was a heavy security presence.
The atmosphere surrounding last Friday’s third International Jerusalem Marathon,
however, was festive. Almost all my friends, colleagues and neighbors seem to
have taken part in some capacity; those not actually running lined the streets
to cheer on the 20,000 or so participants with genuine affection and admiration.
I doubt Obama can expect such a show of support.
On March 15, Tel Aviv is
scheduled to hold its Gillette International Marathon, being billed as a nonstop
party, and also expecting a high turnout. Tel Aviv runners can enjoy the flat
coast and view of the Mediterranean, whereas the Jerusalem participants had to
contend with the famous biblical hills but benefited from the scenic backdrop of
the Old City Walls. Wherever you run in Jerusalem, you run into
I’m not a marathon woman myself. Swimming is my sport. But I
recognize the need for different strokes in both senses of the
The news this week of a marathon canceled indicated a painful
step backwards. The marathon in Gaza sponsored by UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works
Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) had been scheduled for April 10
but the UN branch decided to call it off after the Hamas government in Gaza
barred women from participating.
In past years, the UNRWA Gaza Marathon
raised funds for the organization’s summer camps for local children – although
the camps have also come under fire, sometimes literally, from Hamas
UNRWA cannot be seen to condone the gender discrimination
being enforced by Hamas on religious grounds – especially as the announcement
came just ahead of International Women’s Day, marked today.
members of the Free Gaza movement and its offshoots justify their ongoing
efforts to support the increasingly Islamist regime there – no matter what it
means for human rights – as long as they can fool themselves into believing that
it is Israel that is oppressing the poor Gazans and not the government they
themselves voted into power.
I can’t help but think that the race would
have continued had Hamas officially said “No Jews or Israelis allowed.” But as
it is, Gaza has become effectively Judenrein since the Israeli disengagement in
2005, and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank seems to think this is the
way it too should go, hence the demands to remove all Jewish presence from its
areas in the event of a peace agreement.
I am not gloating at the turn of
events concerning the Gazan runners. Given that just a few months ago missiles
from Gaza hit both the greater Jerusalem and Tel Aviv areas, and only last week
rockets were again fired on the Israeli South, I would much rather see signs of
the Gazan government running forward, in step with the times. Unlike marathon
running, running for shelter during a missile attack is nobody’s idea of
The difference between the Jerusalem marathon and the event in Gaza
that did not make it as far as the starter’s gun could not be greater. For all
that Israel’s detractors like to portray it as an apartheid state and close to
Iran in its religious attitudes to women, participants of all faiths and both
genders put their best feet forward in the Jerusalem event, many running to
raise money for charities including peace projects and women’s causes. And
whether it was the remnants of Purim spirit, or Jerusalem’s own special effect,
several were bedecked in outfits that could also serve them at a costume ball.
The women wore what they wanted – and some didn’t want to wear very
The Palestinian Authority, by the way, called on international
participants to boycott the event. Apparently running with women dressed as
fairies and men in Superman costumes could be perceived as a sign of
“normalization” and the route – which passed such landmarks as the Israeli
parliament, Supreme Court and President’s Residence, as well as the Old City –
might legitimize Israel’s rights to call Jerusalem its capital.
the talk of “time running out” for peace negotiations and the need for
confidence building steps, double standards abound.
Last month there was
an uproar in the Palestinian street over the death in an Israeli prison of
Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian terror suspect – initial forensic signs indicated
a heart attack, but accusations that he died under torture make a better story
in a culture where the terrorist martyr is an icon.
This week, the
Palestinian Authority prevented journalists from covering the death of Ayman
Samarah, a resident of Jenin who was found dead in his prison cell in Jericho
where he was being held on suspicion of stabbing a man during a fight. The man
wasn’t Jewish, hence Samarah lacked the hero’s aura.
Also off the radar
of most of the world media were the arrests by the PA last month of 66 Hamas
supporters in the West Bank, according to the Gaza-based authorities.
arrests are a sign that efforts to achieve a reconciliation between Hamas and
Fatah have failed.
Perhaps one of Obama’s envoys would like to tackle
that breach first so that when Israel is urged to make concessions to the
Palestinians it will be clear exactly who represents them.
peace among the Palestinians, however, requires marathon talks that are unlikely
to reach the finishing line – even limping.
I’d suggest British or
European emissaries try to bring the PA and Hamas together, but I’m not sure
they’d have a better chance of success – particularly in view of the attack this
week on the car of the British consul-general in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean. He
was forced to leave Bir Zeit University after Palestinian students protested
against his presence on campus, claiming, peculiarly to Israeli eyes, that the
British government is ignoring the Palestinian cause and is biased in Israel’s
I deplore the violent demonstration of anti- British sentiment,
and if Sir Vincent wants empathy as well as sympathy, I suggest he sits down and
chats with any of the Israelis who have recently been chased off university
campuses in the UK. The Foreign Ministry could provide him with a list,
including, for example, Alon Roth-Snir, Israel’s deputy ambassador in London who
was last month forced to flee the University of Essex. Israeli emissaries might
have the stamina for marathons, but they need to be prepared for a
Those thinking peace is going to come any time soon are letting
their imaginations run away with them. On The Guardian’s website, for example, I
came across an article on the Gaza event by Nabila Ramdani, “a Paris-born
freelance journalist and academic of Algerian descent,” who apparently “was
named a Young Global Leader 2012 by the World Economic Forum.”
complained: “Hamas’s decision to ban women – 119 from abroad and 266 from Gaza
itself – is wrong for all the most basic reasons. It is sexist, discriminatory
and regressive, but – crucially – it wastes what should have been yet another
huge blow against Israel’s illegal occupation and blockade of the Palestinian
Perhaps I shouldn’t complain that Hamas preferred to shoot
itself in the foot rather than let men and women run freely
It’s obviously going to be a long time before they’re willing
to let Israelis and Palestinians compete together for fun. Luckily, we’re not
The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem