Israel blocks Gaza runners from W. Bank marathon

J'lem says 22 Palestinian runners don't stand up to criteria for passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

April 18, 2013 03:20
2 minute read.
Palestinian runner Nader al-Masri in Gaza Marathon

gaza marathon 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Israel is preventing 22 Palestinian runners from Gaza from participating in the first Palestinian West Bank marathon scheduled for Sunday in Bethlehem, said Gisha – the Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement, in a statement on Wednesday.

Israel must approve all Palestinian movement between Gaza and the West Bank.

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In the written release, Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, said “an experienced marathon runner who read with sadness and horror reports of the attack in Boston, expressed hope that Sunday’s event in Bethlehem, with participation of all the Palestinian runners, would help restore the image of the marathon as an innocent, popular sporting event that brings out the best in both athletes and spectators.”

The statement also said that the Palestinian Olympic Committee had asked Israel to reconsider the refusal, but had not yet received a response.

The statement noted that Thursday is the last day to receive approval for travel to the West Bank for the marathon.

In response to a query by The Jerusalem Post, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said the request was denied since it did not meet the criteria for approval.

“The request of 26 Gaza Strip residents to participate in the Bethlehem Marathon was examined by relevant authorities and denied since it was decided that it does not stand up to the criteria determined for passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,” the statement said.

“Gaza is controlled by a terror organization waging war against Israel and its citizens. In accordance with the decision of the Israeli government, supported by the Supreme Court, entry by residents of Gaza into Israel is only allowed in extreme humanitarian cases, especially cases requiring medical urgency. The runners’ request is not of this nature.”

NGO Monitor’s legal adviser Anne Herzberg said that “Gisha was silent” when Hamas interfered with their own Gaza marathon by forbidding women to participate – which led to its cancellation by UNRWA – and when “Hamas operatives bombed a crowded Jerusalem bus stop” to “disrupt the city’s March 2011 marathon.”

According to Herzberg, “human rights groups like Gisha” make claims contrary to international law related to movement between the West Bank and Gaza and spend more time policing Israel than they do Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

Among the runners from Gaza expected to be unable to participate are Nader Al Masri, who represented the Palestinian Olympic team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Sanaa Abu-Bahit, a 29-year old woman seeking to run the 5- km race in Bethlehem, said Gisha’s statement.

In a letter appealing the refusal, Gisha claimed that Israel has in the past issued permits for Al Masri to travel via Erez crossing, “to reach trainings and competitions abroad and in the West Bank.”

The letter also said that while travel via Erez crossing is limited, “each month the military allows thousands of Palestinians to enter Israel from Gaza, subject to security checks, and that it has defined participation in events like the Bethlehem Marathon, sponsored by the Palestinian Authority as justification for travel.”

Gisha’s statement also said that a group of Israeli runners have joined the “request to allow their Palestinian counterparts to reach Bethlehem, sending faxes to the military asking it to reconsider the refusal.”

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